The natural inclination of business leaders during an economic downturn is to cut people, programs and reorganize. Examples of this are in the newspapers and web sites daily: banks, technology companies, construction firms, retailers and even so-called growth industries like healthcare and sustainability plus countless medium and small business which never hit the media. There are alternatives to cutting and pulling back during this on-going recession.StrategyReview your business’s strategy. Does it make sense? Can it be executed? Is it too “pie in the sky”. And how does it address your markets and your businesses core strengths? A clear strategic plan is the basis for success in good times – and bad.ExecutionThe best strategic and business plans are worthless without execution. Do you have measurements or metrics in place to measure performance against financial AND operational targets (objectives)? Which are hitting the mark and which are not? Why? Who is accountable? And what is being done to address weak areas of performance?CustomersIt seems that during a downturn in the economy businesses of all sizes are quick to put customers – those who pay the bills – last. No! This is the time to re-evaluate what your business is doing to delight your customers. No matter the business, product or service – your customers have choices. Take the steps necessary to make you business their FIRST choice. To do this, ask THEM how you are doing and what can be done to improve it.Cost and ExpenseBusinesses are quick to cuts expenses and people when there is softness in the economy. This is so easy, that a kid with a lemonade stand can do it. But it is often NOT the right answer. First look at where resources are deployed. Most resources should be involved in driving revenue and delighting your customers. Keep you overheads to a minimum. If that means redeploy and retrain, it should be done. Secondly, before there are lay-offs cut the contractors and consultants first and do the work in-house. Also, cut salaries and bonuses at the top of the organization first. The biggest cuts should be among the biggest bosses – not the customer-facing clerks and sales reps. Finally, ask for input, the people on the floor and in the back office usually know where the biggest opportunities for REAL efficiencies exist. Ask them, act on their recommendations and recognize them for their ideas.SpeedIt is amazing to me to read what the USA did to mobilize resources in a very short time during World War II on the home front. Factories went from making cars and refrigerators to making tanks and aircraft in huge quantities in amazingly short time frames. This was before computers as we know them today. So why does everything (except perhaps the internet) take so long today? The time frames required to develop new products and services are often years rather than months. Look at whatever time is required in your business today and cut it by 25% to 50% while maintaining the same level of quality if not better. It can be done. And it is a competitive advantage.InnovationIt is the natural tendency of businesses of all sizes to take fewer risks when times are lean. This includes new and innovative ideas for products, services, marketing and doing business. The BEST time for risk taking and innovation is when the economy is challenging. While most businesses retrench, those that take risks and push innovation stand out among their competition. And innovation is not limited to research and development or marketing, it should encompass all functions and aspects of any business.Downturn, recession, soft economy. All of these terms drive chills through most business people at any level. In fact, even money is tighter and market opportunities shrink, there are winners and losers in both good and not so good economies. By addressing the areas of: strategy, execution, customers, cost and expense, speed and innovation, any company – regardless of size, market or industry – can be a winner during this recession.