Michigan, having been hit harder by the recession than allother states due to its heavy reliance on auto manufacturing, is just now beginning to emerge from the economic devastation that ensued. However, you’d think from all of the attention put on venture capital and government financing that the solution to recovery is all about money. To find out what really is needed for success, Robert Pasick, Ed Holinski, Computerbars   and I surveyed business leaders in Southeast Michigan about their most pressing problems. Three hundred leaders of mostly small businesses were sent an online survey; 45 people responded. We asked them a series of questions to determine which of these 20 challenges concerned them the most:

  1. Setting a strategic direction for the organization
  2. Aligning employee activities with strategic goals of organization
  3. Capitalizing on changes in the marketplace and evolving customer expectations
  4. Managing changing expectations of diverse stakeholder communities
  5. Managing how organization responds to new government regulations
  6. Adjusting to the slow pace of economic recovery
  7. Identifying new sources of revenue
  8. Creating an environment that fosters innovation
  9. Growing business without diluting leadership and culture
  10. Managing risks to the brand and to the enterprise
  11. Attracting, retaining, and leveraging talent in the organization
  12. Ensuring that managers are involved in coaching, mentoring, and developing employees
  13. Developing an environment that helps employees learn more rapidly
  14. Getting business results from investment in employee training and development
  15. Developing a more engaged and productive workforce
  16. Managing people's time and energy effectively
  17. Facilitating effective and candid communication among employees
  18. Managing generational differences among employees
  19. Having adequate information and an effective process to make decisions
  20. Responding to and leveraging rapid changes in technology

Respondents indicated that while having sufficient operating revenue was, of course, top on the list, having a strategic direction that was aligned with employees was a close second. These leaders have a strong need to redefine their strategic direction and ensure that they attract and retain the talent to achieve those goals. “Nothing exceptional will happen without this.  A strategy is only as good as its execution,” said one business owner. In this time of economic uncertainty, business growth and sustainability depends on having a well-thought-out strategy and aligning talent with that strategy. Revenue is critical but if companies don’t also have a clear direction and the right people doing the right things to get them there, they will not emerge out of this economy successfully.