Leading People In A Down Economy

Yes, the economy is slow to recover and things are tough all over.

But now the workforce cuts have largely been made and the question for business owners is – how do I do more with less?

The following are two major trends I’ve noted in working with small businesses (generally less than 200 employees) in the western United States:

EMPLOYEES HAVE TRANSFORMED THEIR MENTALITY… A few years ago, the typical employee had an ‘entitlement’ mentality – they felt their employer was lucky to have him or her. Unhappy employees could (and did) pick up and leave for a better opportunity at the first sign of disappointment. The typical attitude was not that of a team player – but as an individual who is owed a promotion, salary increases and more attention. This was nowhere more apparent than the “Generation Y” workforce.

Now, things have changed completely on its axis. Everyone has worked with people and are friends with people who have lost their jobs with little hope for a similar compensation program in a future job. As a result, employees now feel privileged to have their job. Everyone knows that layoffs have been pervasive, and they could be the next to go. This will result – if managed properly – in employees who will complain less, work harder, and become more appreciative of the job they have.

BUT THEY ARE REALLY, REALLY UNHAPPY…

Employees are simply grateful to have a job right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy in their job. A survey from Adecco North America, released just this week, shows:

  1. Two-thirds (66 percent) of American workers are not currently satisfied with their compensation.

  2. 76 percent are not satisfied about future career growth opportunities at their company.

  3. Almost half (48 percent) of workers are not satisfied with the relationship they have with their boss and 59 percent saying they are not satisfied with the level of support they receive from their colleagues.

Workers are also critical of their organization’s brain trust, with 77 percent saying that they are not satisfied with the strategy and vision of their company and its leadership.

We’ve noticed the number of complaints from workers are way down. People are still being harassed and discriminated against, but they’re afraid to complain because of fear of job loss.

By the way, most large companies have laid off more employees than small companies; that’s because it’s easier to lay off workers at bigger businesses because employees at smaller companies typically perform multiple tasks.

That means when the economy starts kicking into gear, and there are more job opportunities, those employees are going to either leave or file major complaints.

WHAT TO DO?

Lead. The number one thing that business owners and managers can do is actually lead. You’re a leader. You are on stage. You’re not allowed to show frustration or weakness. Leaders lead – they say “here is the way I believe we need to go,” and then go. This is the attitude you must take when managing change. Virtually any change breeds opportunity – the key is finding the opportunity and act on it.

Communicate. It is imperative that frequent and clear communication lead the way to your success. There is fear in the marketplace. Employees are wondering if you’re going to cut staff, perquisites, and their free coffee. Employees are heavily invested in the success of the business, and they have a right to know what you’re doing. Even saying, “I don’t know” is preferable to not communicating. And it’s more than a memo or company-wide e-mail; managers and supervisors must be empowered to candidly talk with their staffs as well.

Performance Management. If you’re maximizing the people you have, you won’t need so many people! You can get more done with fewer people by knowing what your people do best. Evaluate your talent. Carefully consider your need for every one of your employees. Most businesses are not maximizing each and every employee they have. There are techniques available to ensure talent maximization – so find and replicate your best performers.

In 2009, the business owner and leader who has the ability to honestly evaluate talent, performance and make the decisions necessary to sustain the business not just in the short term, but for the long term, is the leader who will be highly successful both this year and beyond.

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