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July 16, 2009

When the Economy Recovers…Will your Best People Still Be With You?

Filed under: General HR Buzz3:00 pm

Imagine a time when your business was flourishing. New customers seemed to magically appear, innovative ideas were popping like little firecrackers in every corner of your operation. Everyone in the company was charged with the excitement of possibility. Those were great times, weren´t they? You were fulfilling your purpose, and it sure felt good!
Then what happened? The boom busted, and many organizations scurried into their protective shells of necessary cuts and belt tightening. Markets that once flowed strong have dried to a trickle. So, you cut back, asked a little more of everyone in the company. You sat back and waited for things to turn around, hoping you could last long enough to make a go of the new economy.

Ugh! That sounds so utterly depressing. Yet this is the precise route many companies have taken, seeing it as a sort of winter hibernation. Just wait until spring comes! Unfortunately, when spring does come, you won´t be the only one who´s a little hungry. If you´ve made life miserable for your best employees, they´ll also be hungry – hungry for work that´s personally satisfying and emotionally rewarding.

They´re the innovators – the people you need most to keep you standing out in the crowd in an increasingly competitive market.

While hanging out in the digital camera section at Best Buy, I overheard a conversation between two of the sales people. Both of them had been approached by “representatives” of their competition, who were looking for people with experience. Apparently this is a common tactic in the retail industry. Both individuals said they had no intention of leaving. The work was fun, interesting, and they felt very well cared for.

Curious about this, I wandered over to their competitor, who unlike Best Buy, has their sales people working on commission. As a customer, I felt pressured to buy something. My “sales associate” didn´t seem to be having much fun either. I can only imagine how many times he´d been out looking for a better job. Best Buy is thriving, and most of their competition is struggling.

No wonder, considering how much they value their employees.

Best Buy is an example of a company who´s disregarded the tortoise syndrome of a “slow economy”, instead opening themselves to new ideas as a way to continue expanding. As they´ve shown, a slowed down economy is the PERFECT time to innovate and try out new ideas. Think of it this way: if every time the economy slowed, Ben and Jerry decided to sell only Vanilla Ice Cream, they´d be out of business in no time. Keeping your best people satisfied not only convinces them to stay, it allows you to expand during lean times.

Here are 5 ways you can keep your top performers happy:

1. Give them the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. By all means, watch expenses – every expense – very carefully. But, when your expense cutting causes your best people to wish they were somewhere else, that´s exactly what will happen when the economy turns around. You don´t have to do things that cost a lot of money, and can even include your employees in some of the planning, asking them to shop around for the best deals. It´s amazing what you can find on Ebay these days, so there really isn´t much reason to cut everything.

2. Involve them in key decisions. Nobody likes “being done unto”, and if they feel they have no say in the direction of your company, they´ll leave first chance they get. Why do you think there were so many startup companies in the 90s?

3. Organize the whole company around your core values. Everyone understands the necessity to cut back once in awhile. However, cut back on what´s important to them – integrity, honesty, being of service, creativity – and they´ll no longer be by your side. And don´t just make up the values on your own! The values have to be universally agreed upon.

4. Create a compelling vision of where you´ll be when the economy recovers. By involving your top people in the creation of a vision, you´ll ensure their continued commitment to doing everything they can to make it happen. “Survival” is not a compelling vision. Being the first to the top of the mountain is.

5. Focus all your attention on what´s working and how to expand that into the likeness of your vision. Far too many companies try to fix what´s broken, which only leads to frustration and discouragement. Who wants to spend all their time on problems?

Think about all the reasons you started or came to work for this company. What´s the essence of those reasons? Security? Wealth? Community? Are these things still present for you? Are they alive and well, and living boldly in the vision, mission, values, and purpose of every individual who works for you? If not, then you might consider spending some time now writing those advertisements for “creative innovators, who like a dynamic, forward-thinking environment”. You´ll need it, because your competition will suck up your best people faster than you can say, “paradigm shift”.

Tighten your belts, yes. Tolerate a survival mentality, no. There´s a difference, and if you can learn how to keep it light, easy, and fun, you´ll stay way ahead of your competition.

Source: HR.com-Sid Smith/Achieve Coaching

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