How to Successfully Manage a Business in an Inflationary Time

Share this via:

Sam Klaidman (

Close to 50 years ago, GE hired young Professor Ram Charan and a small team of other experts to create and deliver a training course for GE managers. The topic was difficult to talk about, but it was necessary. The subject was running a gainful, growing business during a period of substantial inflation.

Recently Chief Executive magazine asked Charan to update the playbook, and they published it in their March 9, 2022, executive briefing. The whole 42+ pages of the playbook can be found here, but to save you some time, I prepared this summary that highlights what I consider the most critical takeaways in Charan’s articles. However, I strongly recommend that you read the complete document and then share it with your co-workers and discuss the key actions you should take to position yourself for the long term.

The Current Situation

Prices are being raised in all sectors or, as an alternative, B2C businesses are reducing the amount of product in a package to keep the same price and maintain their margins. For example, when I first heard this, I was mildly shocked: Dunkin’ Donuts stores recently stopped putting a thin slice of lemon in their iced tea drink.

Chief Executive reports: “A recent survey found 61% of small businesses in the U.S. had raised prices for their goods and services in January — the highest percentage since 1974.”  

Macro causes of the current inflation include:

  • * A protracted time of interest rates that are near-zero
  • * COVID-driven spending by government
  • * Broken supply chains
  • * The Great Resignation (Churn)
  • * The Russian invasion of Ukraine

What’s Coming Next

“Inflation consumes cash, eats margins, and lulls managers into a false sense of security as inflated revenues rise,” says Charan. “A company’s situation can erode very quickly, leading to takeover or bankruptcy. Those who are fast to react and flexible in their approach can not only survive but prosper in this challenging environment as they seize opportunities afforded by less nimble and smart competitors. Those who react slowly or choose the wrong strategy and tactics will be weakened and may even go bankrupt.”

Most current business leaders who do not remember how to manage inflation will further pressure the global economy.


1. Critical Business Objectives

  • Continuity of the business — Invest only in activities that ensure the company remains solvent and beats the competition.
  • Digitize the business — Today, all companies are in the software business. By digitizing, you can quickly react to change and retain key employees.
  • Fix the bottlenecks — They may be in production, the supply chain, the hiring process, or the ship to cash cycle. As inflation grows, any waste or friction will become more expensive.
  • Innovate — Find new ways to create value for your customers so you can charge more for what you sell.
  • Don’t forget maintenance — This includes buildings, machines, customer relationships, employee mindsets, and knowledge.

2. Things the CEO Must Focus on

  • Grow real volume, real revenue, not inflationary revenue. Master and manage the balance sheet.
  • Focus on your most profitable segment and seriously consider exiting the parts that do not produce real growth. Coincidentally, I just saw an article titled “Why It’s Time to Develop Customer Break-up Strategy.” The article’s premise is that the cost of maintaining some customers exceeds the cost of acquiring new customers.
  • Review your long-term contract. Go back and renegotiate the ones preventing you from achieving your primary objective — survival.
  • Set goals for working capital and cash. Do not let inventory and receivables grow or even remain where they are today. Squeeze out every bit of money.
  • Now is the time for cost reduction, consistent with the critical business objectives.

3. Communication

  • You are changing the way your business works, and you are asking your employees to follow you on this journey. Well, they will be confused. Why are you working to free up cash while still digitizing the company and investing in innovative products and markets?
  • The CEO, CFO, and CHRO must be very public in the business and constantly share their insights and reasons for many of your decisions.
  • Trust is critical, so share as many of the numbers as possible. Explain what you are going to do and how you will get there, then update the results at least quarterly.
  • Don’t forget to communicate with your key outside stakeholders: customers and suppliers. Be open and remember to ask about how you can help them since they, just like you, are on the same journey.

4. Sales & Marketing

  • Set up a pricing team consisting of pricing professionals reporting jointly to the heads of marketing and finance. They should set prices to ensure that the overall business objectives will be met.
  • Ensure strict oversight of all discounting. Sales should not issue discounts to win unprofitable business.
  • The product mix should be closely reviewed to eliminate poor or no margin contributors.

5. Finance and the CFO

  • During inflationary times cash is king. Finance should set up a dashboard that reports the KPIs that most affect cash flow and update it daily. The essential meetings in every organization should review the dashboard and take corrective action as soon as a deviation from the plan is spotted.
  • Sales should review all existing orders to look for unusual payment terms. Efforts must align all terms with the CFO’s cash flow projections.
  • Accounts receivable will be under pressure to reduce outstanding payments. The pressure will not let up as long as inflation affects company planning.
  • The risk management team will have to proactively review all current accounts on an ongoing basis to spot businesses that will fall behind on their payments or, even worst, default. They may need additional resources, but that will be a worthwhile investment.
  • The CFO must ensure that the senior staff understands the numbers and uses them to contribute to its long-term success.

6. Human Resources

  • If “cash is king,” the employees are “the queen.” They need and deserve the attention of the senior staff. And the CHRO will be under as much stress as the CFO.
  • Charan says, “2% of the people in a company have 98% of the impact.” Everyone on the senior staff better know these people’s names and better be over-communicating with them. Not just in a friendly way but talking about the business decisions they are making and implementing and ensuring they have the tools and information to succeed.
  • The CHRO must focus on helping the employees succeed in this unfamiliar environment. Also, there will be employees impacted by cost-reduction efforts. The CHRO must ensure that the decisions about who will be affected are based on actual performance and the needs of the business and not on favoritism or biases.
  • Employee training must include new courses or sessions about how inflation works and affects individuals.
  • Compensation plans need to be changed to reflect what is happening in the company and the world. HR must ensure fairness and explain the changes so that everyone can understand and accept them.

Strengthen Your Company

Inflation is rising, and governments are taking steps to slow it down. In mid-March, the Federal Reserve Bank implemented a 0.25% increase in lending rates and said they plan to increase rates six times this year. The Bank of England boosted its loan rates by 0.25% the next day.

As Charan said, a company’s financial condition can change very quickly. The solution, batten down the financial hatches and prepare for the oncoming storm. If it comes, you are ready. And if it passes us by, you’ve strengthened your company, making it more effective and efficient. You will have also developed a playbook for when inflation comes because one of these days, it will land with a crashing thud.

Sam Klaidman is the founder and principal adviser at Middlesex Consulting. He helps his B2B product manufacturing clients grow their services revenue and profitability by applying the methodologies and techniques associated with the Customer Value Creation and Customer Experience professions to assist his clients in designing and commercializing new services and the associated business transformations. Contact Sam here.

Image Credit: Visuals6x/

Leave a Reply

Translate »
Skip to content