What are Businesses Getting Wrong in the Recession?

Everyone ‘s falling about with worry. The recession has us all cautious about spending more money than we absolutely have to, taking on new staff, renting more premises or bringing in too much product in advance.

How can we hang in there? How can we thrive? How can we ensure that our largest and possibly most expensive resource is working to maximum capacity?

This resource wears a suit/uniform/protective gear/jeans. It has a brain and things to say. It needs to feel connected and requires information input in order to function. It responds well to certain stimuli. It prefers options and will appreciate the opportunity to chill. This resource is your employee.

The number one mistake businesses make when dealing with employees is that they don ‘t listen.

If you thought of your colleagues as ‘internal customers ‘, you ‘d never dismiss what they say. When is the last time you came out from behind the etched, glass cage and really listened to your team?

  • Do your colleagues have something to contribute to a new project? Could you use new people for new responsibilities, when other staff have been made redundant? Think sideways. MBWA managers are more in tune with what is really going on. They can act more quickly. Gossip is minimal. This is a time for active listening!
  • Think radical for a moment. If you prioritised your colleagues, as you do your customers, how would things be different? Your well-practised communication skills – such as empathy, attentiveness and connection – would be on display. There would be greater trust and therefore exchange of ideas. Sound a bit schmaltzy? A bit ‘American ‘? A bit Colleague of the Week! Well, yes. You live and work in a Northern Ireland workplace, so it probably does. Check out the statistics. The owners and professionals who highlight and address their colleagues needs, integrate their opinions, value their contributions and reward their efforts have greater retention rates and lower numbers of disgruntled staff. This is a time for being ‘American ‘!
  • Now would be a good time to introduce 360-degree feedback to your appraisal system. Why should the conversation be all one way? You need to know how you ‘re doing. But most managers are too afraid (or arrogant) to ask. You forget that self-awareness is the first step to emotionally intelligent management. The best team leader I had was one who listened to my feedback on her aggressive manner. She was ultimately professional, but entirely unaware of her threatening stance. She took the feedback calmly. Probably because I ‘d eaten about three books on assertive feedback over a period of about three weeks before confronting her. This is a time for honesty.

The second biggest mistake organisations make is that two-way communication is lacking. Exchanging ideas? Forget about it!

  • In a context where others are dropping like flies, those organisations that are striving to succeed will have to take a different tack on communication. This will attract the right people and keep the existing ones loyal, engaged and committed. Memos and emails will sometimes have to be replaced with ‘huddles ‘ and ‘pow-wows ‘. Lists of directives are old-hat; collaboration is on the increase.
  • What does it take to do a little chit-chat? If you ‘re not willing to really engage with people as people, then you ‘re ultimately going to lose colleagues, and then you will lose business.
  • In an age of massive redundancies, staff will want to be kept informed. There is nothing more damaging to morale and creativity than silence. Have you ever heard someone referring to their team as The Mushroom Department? Fed ‘manure ‘ and kept in the dark? If there is no sense of ‘team ‘, people get disorientated and disloyal. Ultimately, that will lose you business.

The third biggest mistake organisations make is that they don ‘t know what motivates their staff.

  • I ‘m working with a client to enhance their online presence, in order to help work towards increased revenue. The one motivator they ‘ve tried in the past is reducing prices, which was not working. What they failed to recognise is that motivation is rarely about money, whether you ‘re talking about a customer making an emotional decision like purchasing or an employee being happy and fuzzy where they work. Money is at best short-term motivator.
  • For staff however, family friendly policies are long-term motivators. The possibility of going part-time (even, temporarily) is crucial to some people. Condensed hours (4-day week), Wednesdays off? This type of motivation will attract people into the key positions, and keep them there. It makes financial sense. Trained staff are less expensive to look after than recruiting, training and coaching new staff. Just like marketing a product to customers, to retain your key people, you need differentiation, especially where the financial rewards may fall into a similar bracket.

The fourth biggest mistake organisations make is lack of flexible working conditions.

  • If you ‘re not considering flexible working, then you ‘re pickling in Dickensian workhouse theory. Think! Could staff do what they ‘re doing now, at home? Would you consider social networking tools as a method of keeping in regular contact? Could your business save money by employing these tools? Yes! Free online tools mean meetings, seminars and even conferences need not have all participants in the same room, or even, country.
  • Compare supplying someone with a laptop and internet connection with the cost of renting the portion of a larger office needed to house them and their equipment. Could you potentially manage with a smaller office, with (some) staff working from home? Have you considered hotdesking (where staff and visitors share desks based on a flexible rota system)?
  • Traditional Northern Ireland is intensively opposed to things such as online communication tools, hotdesking, virtual offices, business parks (smaller, cheaper units) and sharing office space. But, some of the largest companies (who you ‘d think have the larger budgets) are doing it. This is a no-brainer, money-saver and helps keep staff happy. Win-win!
  • I know, ‘But, how shall we measure productivity? ‘ How do you normally do this? Keep an eye on what is being produced via the normal procedures. If you trust your staff and you should, otherwise, get rid of them – you will find that few will exploit your liberality in a negative way. My experience is that staff will probably work harder and longer at home, as they fear being castigated for not working. Or value the new working conditions so much, they are eager to keep them. Perhaps you could start with a trial period? Productivity will be up, as they will not have to deal with as many interruptions.

The fifth biggest mistake organisations make is forgetting to build relaxation into the working day.

  • What are you doing to relax your workforce? (I can picture the collective sucked in cheeks.) In this context, ‘relaxed ‘ is not a synonym for ‘slapdash ‘ but for ‘stress-free ‘. Relaxed doesn ‘t have to mean sneakers in the boardroom, although it may mean a more casual dress-code. In any case, nine out of ten cats who are permitted to choose their own dress-code are more productive. What ‘s to argue about? Unless your staff are customer-facing, there is no need for formal gear. You may need to introduce a few basic rules though, such as no flip-flops, no muscle vests, no hotpants and no boob tubes! (Yes, I have seen all of these in a various workplaces! Some not-so-youngsters never quite grow out of dressing for clubbing.)
  • Are there any opportunities for creativity, or dare we say it, play? One of the best workplaces I encountered was one where Wii was available in the boardroom at lunchtime, as long as there were no meetings scheduled. The more intelligently nerdy guys played online games together via their laptops. There was a dartboard at the end of my desk. And, a spacehopper should anyone require it. There were showers in the building, for those fitness freaks you get everywhere. They ‘d organised a proper mobile coffee van to visit at 11am every day. And, a proper gourmet sandwich guy arrived at 12 noon. All these things were not necessary for developing the company ‘s product, but they made the workplace more fun. And, employees who are relaxed, are more productive.

Big uncertainties. Big vision. Big returns.

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Image source: kasperweibel.