Higher Returns in Harder Times
The company is facing a difficult time. You are tense about the future of your department. Your staff is getting nervous, and as a result, no one is concentrating on productivity. Here are some ways to stop feeding the worry cycle and get your ship righted:
Keep fear from causing you or your staff from disengaging. Remember, the degree to which employees are concerned about losing their jobs varies inversely with the degree to which they are concerned with doing their jobs, and taking care of customers. And they’ll be looking to you, the management, for signs—Are you conveying fear or hope?
Don’t buy in to the myth of saving money on training costs. One of the first shoes to fall in a questionable economy usually lands squarely on top of the organization’s training budget. If you’re doing training that doesn’t need to be done, then you should stop it anyway, but the notion that we can somehow help the business by deferring necessary training is intellectually bankrupt. Dumbing down your workforce in difficult times is not the way out of this downturn.
When Starbucks began to see slower sales growth last year, it responded in lots of different ways, but not by scaling back on its legendary training, which centers largely on presenting a consistent product and customer experience worldwide. You still don’t get to call yourself "barista" at Starbucks and serve a latte or caramel macchiato without the requisite 24 hours of training in the art, and science, of making the perfect coffee drink.
Have you stopped recruiting? Consider this: Warren Buffett, one of the savviest investors of all time, closed deals to buy two businesses in the last two weeks of 2007, when economic forecasts were already taking on a gloomy tone. He’s been on a buying spree because, with a shaky economy, things are getting cheaper, including good businesses that he’d like to add to his Berkshire Hathaway portfolio. The same principle applies to rounding up talented people. They’re out there. Go find them, and start a conversation with them now.
The one thing that distracts people more than anything else is uncertainty about what’s going on. As psychologist Karl Jung observed, "When facts are few, opinions loom large." Encourage the CEO to talk candidly with the organization about how the business is doing.
Get personal. Going through a difficult economic period isn’t just about business. It’s personal, too. This is an excellent time to show that you care by spending a bit more quality time with the people on your team, listening to them and making sure they have what they need. Make sure your employee assistance program is ready to respond and help where needed.