David F. Giannetto, by any measure, has a tough job. A high-level business consultant who specializes in operations efficiency and management effectiveness, Giannetto is one of those guys executives call when they realize their company is in freefall and anything they do will only make matters worse.

When I worked in a steel mill, now the site of a strip mall, we could have used a guy like Giannetto. It was the early 1980s and the U.S. steel industry was in steep decline. Relations between management and operations were so strained that the two groups stubbornly maintained their routines, going through the motions that brought them to the endgame in the first place.

Whether or not Giannetto would have made a difference is a moot point. By the time I got there, the mill was in such disarray, I don't know if anyone could have saved it. Realistically, the only thing that may have been gained was some postmortem knowledge that could possibly help others avoid the same mistakes.

I suspect this is the motivation behind Giannetto's new book — The Performance Power Grid: The Proven Method to Create and Sustain Superior Organizational Performance — a self-help guide that exposes companies not yet on life support to a healthier way of doing business. Through his book, Giannetto can help companies while they're still able to help themselves, especially now with talk of a recession.

From Giannetto's perspective, industry's inevitable downturns are, in fact, springboards to growth. “You can actually use an economic downturn to create a better organization,” he insists. “It seems counterintuitive, but great companies expand during slowdowns. Remember, everyone deals with the same challenges. As weak companies cut operations and release critical assets, growth-oriented organizations are there to snatch up anything of value. They also increase their sales, marketing, and advertising efforts so newly ‘available’ customers turn to them first.”

Giannetto also advises companies to get closer to their customers during slowdowns. “Figure out what the tough times mean for your customers,” he says. “Look at your organization from their perspective and make sure everyone, not just the product and service department, is treating the customer right. Go the extra mile even if it means spending money, especially for your biggest and best customers.”

Lastly, says Giannetto, in downturns, companies need to stay current and creative. “During slowdowns many companies cut back on new products and services, the very future of their business. When the market then rebounds, they cannot catch up to demands and expectations. Tragically, many businesses fail, not during the dip, but while the market is turning around because they are left with outdated products and services.”

These are wise words from a guy who's seen the painful consequences of not doing the right things at the right time. In a few years, and a few hundred strip malls from now, it'll be clear who followed his advice and who chose to ignore it.