As signs of a recovery continue to emerge, it may be a good time for company leaders and job seekers to look back over the past two years and ask "What have we learned from this recession?" As history has shown, we will inevitably go through another downturn and looking back at your decisions, may help you develop a game plan for the next time you or your company is faced with economic adversity. Having been through many recessions and their associated impact on the employment market throughout our 38-year history, we at Winter, Wyman have a unique vantage point of seeing how we, our clients and candidates have successfully negotiated these rough waters. Here are some key components we feel should be part of your game plan:
React quickly — When the storm clouds gather and it becomes apparent that the economy is heading into a tailspin there is a tendency to hold off on making tough decisions in the hope that the clouds will soon pass and everything will be back to normal. Cutting expenses is a necessary part of weathering any downturn but it cannot be done over night. Many of these expenses take weeks and months to fully take effect. During a recession, cash is king. Reduce expenses quickly to adjust to changes in top line income; if the downturn ends up lasting two or more years, you will be glad to have the reserves.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best — Many changes such as hiring freezes, staff cuts, plant shutdowns, benefit adjustments or salary freezes need to be implemented during a recessionary period. All of these decisions can be alarming to your employees and have a negative impact on company morale. It is infinitely worse however if these changes are stretched out over a period of months or years and your people are constantly subjected to an ongoing drumbeat of negative news. Decide what in all likelihood will need to happen and get it done. Take your medicine and then focus on the positive and competing in the marketplace with a leaner and more efficient company.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate — Your employees are bombarded with negative news from TV, the internet and newspapers and most likely have friends and family who have been laid off. Do not underestimate their need for information from company management about the state of the organization and plans for riding out the recession. Without information they will fill in the blanks themselves. One rumor leads to another and productivity and morale are impacted. Communicate frequently both good and bad news. Transparency leads to trust and eliminates fear of the unknown.
Embrace your best employees — Planned turnover of staff is painful, but usually necessary during an economic downturn. Unplanned turnover of key employees, though, can be disastrous. Take your key employees aside and make sure they understand they are valued and needed. They should feel confident regarding their job security and also understand that you are committed to their long-term success and advancement as the economy improves.
Stay close to your customers — When revenue is down, the pressure on your sales force can go up. When customers aren't buying or have cut back spending, and prospects are few and far between, there can be a tendency for sales reps to get more frantic and saturate existing customers with calls or emails. This can come across as desperate and annoying. Instead of repeatedly contacting customers looking for additional business, try to make each call valuable. In most cases they are feeling the same pressure and stress that you are. Use each call as an opportunity to pass along some market information or business intelligence that might make their job easier. Relate to them as a valued long term partner. Each call should reflect an attitude of what can I do for you versus what have you got for me.
Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes — During the course of trying to stay afloat every company has numerous opportunities to make decisions. Hopefully most will be right, but inevitably some will be wrong. It’s okay to talk about the good and bad decisions that were made and where appropriate get input from employees at all levels. The fact that you are open, transparent and willing to talk about the decisions will buy you loyalty from your employees and help you avoid making the same mistakes the next time the economy goes off the tracks.
FOR JOB SEEKERS
Never let your network lapse — Job seekers who had strong pre-existing networks were better positioned to take advantage of the few jobs that were available during the economic downturn. Conversely, their counterparts that had let their networks lapse, or hadn’t searched for a job in years, needed to start from square one reaching out to former colleagues, classmates and contacts — without sounding desperate or needy. Not an easy challenge! With today’s technology and the multitude of social and professional networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, it’s much easier to keep your networks up-to-date and connected.
Don’t burn your bridges — Any HR professional will tell you that a critical part of the hiring process is checking references. You will also hear them say that fair or not, an employed candidate is often the preferred choice. During this past recession, we saw many organizations much more willing to look at unemployed job seekers, especially those with stellar references. Always know which former supervisors, colleagues or customers can provide you with a great reference — and know how to contact them. No matter the situation or how bad things were at your former company, don’t burn any bridges as you will need these references in the future.
The importance of keeping your skills and knowledge current — There are only so many hours in a workday, but the people that volunteer for new projects, take on new responsibilities and try to learn new things on the job (whether it's a new timecard system, new business process, new technology, new regulation, etc.) have a better chance of landing a new job. When unemployed, especially for a long period of time, it's imperative to keep your skills fresh through classes, certifications or seminars. Check out low or no cost alternatives offered by your state's Department of Employment and Training.
Stay positive — Even in a down economy, companies still hire. Being negative not only will hurt your chances during an interview, but a negative attitude can also affect your job performance. You might not be able to control your circumstance, but you can control how you react to it. Staying positive is sometimes difficult to do, but important for your job search and career.
When you have the benefit of hindsight it is not a bad exercise to look at all the plans and decisions that were made and learn from them. By seeing where you or your organization could have reacted quicker, communicated better or planned more effectively, you will be better positioned for long-term success, no matter the economic conditions.
News & Views: Don't Let a Good Recession Go to Waste -- Lessons Learned from the Latest Downturn - Winter Wyman - The Northeast's Leading Staffing Firm