Employees key to bouncing back after the recession

Few companies have come through the past 2-3 years unscathed by the recession. Leaders should consider the impact the recession has had on those who have survived in your organization. How are your employees doing at riding the wave of the economic crisis?

  • Are they disheartened, barely hanging on?
  • Are they committed to your organization and doing everything they can to maximize revenue?
  • Are they coming to you with innovative solutions to bring new customers?
  • Are they maintaining your reputation or just waiting for an opportunity to jump ship?
  • Have you been so focused on surviving the recession to pay much attention to the needs of your employees?

Most companies cut training and development when times get hard.  At the same time incentives and motivational processes take a hit, leading to a discouraging scenario for employees.  If layoffs or deferred hiring also are used to cut expenses during a downturn, the surviving employees are asked to do more with less. The accumulative effect is a disengaged workforce that puts in minimal effort, feeling that the organization doesn’t do anything to earn their commitment.

Not all of this is fair, of course, since employers have to do something to ride out the storm. It’s important for business leaders to understand the value of learning during challenging economic times. The old adage, “You have to spend money to make money” comes into play here.  According to a 2009 study by The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and i4cp (Organizational Learning in Tough Economic Times), 38% of companies plan to place more emphasis on learning during the economic crisis. The remaining 60% are either maintaining pre-recession levels or cutting back, some drastically.

The reality is that there’s never been a better time to focus on talent development within your organization.  It is your employees that will pull your company through and help your regain traction as the economy begins to recover.  Managers and business owners must become astute at managing performance, growing talent, and leveraging strengths to maximize human capital.

Because people are the cornerstone to any business – the foundation upon which the organization either stands strong or falters, the wisest thing for companies to do is become experts in managing human performance.  A strong human capital strategy includes an assessment of desired verses actual performance, analysis of strengths & competencies and selection practices to ensure the right people are in the right job, and a commitment to developing people that doesn’t waver despite market and economic fluctuations.

The good news is that human performance management doesn’t have to be expensive! And the return on investment pays off quickly. The key is having a plan and sticking with it. Once processes are in place they can be maintained through feast or famine.  Keep in mind the toll that the economic crisis has on your employees and consider budget-conscious solutions that will keep them engaged. Your employees want to succeed, but need to know they can trust management to support them.

As businesses make difficult decisions about how to pull through the current economic downturn, they must think beyond the knee-jerk reaction to slash costs to the bone. In ASTD’s Economic Survival Guide, the message is “Survival of the learning function in a down economy is all about leveraging existing best practices, eliminating redundancies, and creating programs or situations where employees can learn from each other.” You may want to invest in the services of an organization development consultant to initiate your human performance analysis, which will ensure you’re focusing on the most valuable efforts that lead to sustainable performance and position your company for success as the economy bounces back.

A good story

Do you have a friend or family member who is great at telling stories or recounting events? My wife, Jenifer, is an amazing storyteller. It’s one of the things that attracted me to her in the first place. She can take the most mundane encounter and make it into a dramatic tale with an unexpected plot twist and even a moral to the story. I’m envious of her and others who can engage people in what they have to say. They make everyday life interesting and see things that others don’t see.

Stories are powerful and leaders are becoming increasingly aware of how they can shape a company culture. As the workplace becomes more complex we need stories to ground us and connect us to one another. Global organizations span multiple cultures, yet need to have a central theme that bonds them across geographical boundaries.

Zappos has done a great job in leveraging social media to tell their story. Type in “zappos” at YouTube and you’ll get over 5,000 hits! Some of the videos are posted by Zappos leaders and employees, but others are submitted by loyal customers. Same thing goes for TOMS shoes – there are more than 2,000 videos that tell the story about how TOMS shoes was founded, how they give away a pair of shoes for every pair sold, and how they’re changing the way we look at corporate social responsibility.

I’m still practicing my storytelling skills and have made this an intentional focus because I believe the way we tell stories to one another shapes our views and attitudes. I enjoyed listening to Jeanne Baer at ASTD-Lincoln yesterday. She shared 7 reasons why stories work as a tool and 8 different types of stories we can use, depending on our goals and situation. I’m looking forward to hearing Rita Paskowitz share her approach to storytelling at the Omaha Organization Development Network meeting next Wednesday.

The Art of the Start as a Free Agent

Daniel Pink speaking at the Chartered Institut...

Image via Wikipedia

Fellow blogger, Tony Wanless (ReinventionstBlog), gave some good advice about starting your own business. He suggests independents should 1) Commit 2) Learn how to run a business 3) Get a speciality and 4) Picture it. This aligns with what I’ve heard from the dozen or so friends in my network who have generously shared their secrets of going solo, which I’m planning to turn into a book. The gurus I’ve met with have encouraged me to…

  1. Plan on a longer sales cycle – it always takes longer than you think to win business.
  2. Leverage social media and contribute to online publications.
  3. Hone your sales skills and know how to market what you do.

Daniel Pink‘s Free Agent Nation has been recommended by several friends, so I got a copy and am enjoying it immensely. I always like Pink’s writing – he has a great ability to present data in an interesting way. You can pick up a copy through my Amazon store.

Appreciative Leadership – Positively Powerful

We are all familiar with Dale Carnegie’s advice in How to Win Friends and Influence People. First, he says, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming more interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”  He talks about making others feel important by becoming genuinely interested in what they have to say, developing the skill of asking questions to draw others out.  One statement in particular is profound as we consider the type of leadership that really makes a difference: “If you and I will inspire the people with whom we come in contact with to a realization of the hidden treasures they possess, we can do far more than change people. We can literally transform them.”

That’s the power behind an emerging leadership model called Appreciative Leadership. In a book by Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader (Appreciative Leadership, 2010), the appreciative path of leadership is laid out in a compelling case for a positive approach to leadership that builds on the momentum that’s already been created, what they refer to as the “positive core.” Appreciative Leadership was birthed through Appreciative Inquiry, an organization development tool that focuses on what is RIGHT with the organization instead of looking for problems to solve.  David Cooperrider, of Case Western Reserve University, introduced Appreciative Inquiry in the 1980’s and it is gradually gaining traction as a relevant model.  Whitney et al built their leadership model to coincide with Cooperrider’s assertion that

Organizations are centers of human relatedness; they’re living systems, alive with infinite imagination and the capacity to connect to a full and rich omnipresence of strengths. This problem-analytic set of traditions can be traced to the machine metaphors of organizational life, to Taylorism and scientific management, and it helps lead to some incremental learning and improvement to find out everything that is holding a system back, but it won’t make the breakthroughs that we need today. (ASTD interview, 2009)

Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Leadership are the next era in the evolution of management thought. In an August, 2010 article Cooperrider describes a trifecta of change emerging in organizations: a strengths-based revolution, Appreciative Inquiry, and positive organizational scholarship. People are ready for a positive change, a shift from negativity to hope. Appreciative leadership in organizations starts with the kinds of questions we ask. Currently the focus in organizations is on the question, “what’s wrong?”

Many of us are so entrenched in the problem-solving mindset that we evaluate every situation around us for the problems they present. We become judges everywhere we go. At a restaurant we criticize inefficiency, consider the empty glass in need of a refill, read condescension into the server’s tone.  If we manage people we judge our employees for what they contribute to the problem or what they contribute to fixing the problem. We become glass half-empty people, viewing the world around us with a lens of disapproval and start generating solutions to dispatch the problems quickly and efficiently.  This negative lens skews our relationships as we focus on what’s not working, what we wish was different about the other, what we believe they need to fix.

Appreciative leadership is a worldview that turns the judging, problem-centric world upside down and starts asking “what’s going well here?” If we can create habits of positivity we begin to see the world differently. Whitney and colleagues describe an appreciative mindset whereby we “hold each and every person in positive regard…treat all individuals positively…believe that everyone has potential. “  Seeing people in this light allows leaders to address situations as a starting point that can be a building block for future success.

Leaders say it all the time, “our people are our greatest asset,” but do they make decisions that way? Do they ask questions that way? I’ve worked for too many organizations that view employees as easily replaceable commodities rather than individuals with untapped potential. In the problem-centric worldview a value is placed on each person relative to their problem-quotient, or how much of a problem they are.  The appreciative leader, “through their words, actions, and relationships…start waves of positive change rippling outward, often to destinations unknown (Whitney). Dale Carnegie was on to something that’s taken nearly a century to take root on a large scale – tap into the hidden treasures of individuals – their positive core – and see how they truly can become the cornerstone of your organization’s success.