3 Ways to Help Employees Weather a Business Storm Cycle

It’s normal for your business to go through up periods and down periods. When you’re in a down cycle, employees can get worried about their job security and jump ship. Here are three tactics you can use to keep your best employees happy during a downturn for your business. 

The modern economy is in a constant state of change, which means businesses – large and small – must move quickly in response to market shifts.

Even the strongest companies will cycle through good times and bad, says Dave Hopson, managing partner at the information-technology consulting firm Triumphus and author of Surviving the Business Storm Cycle: How to Weather Your Business’s Ups and Downs.

Bringing out the best in employees is a challenge at the best of times. According to Gallup, only 32 percent of U.S. workers felt engaged in their jobs in 2015 – which was a pretty good year for the economy and business growth.

So imagine the struggle of keeping the best workers happy when the business transitions through a down period.

And it will. Hopson says every business goes through four repeating phases: start-up, high growth (what he calls the “tornado”), declining growth (the “avalanche”), and consolidation.

Picture the employees sliding downhill in that avalanche, and you get the idea: It’s up to a company’s leaders to help them hold on, to turn the inevitable transition period from exhausting to exhilarating.

How does a business leader manage that through possible layoffs and pay cuts or, at the very least, major changes to the processes that are used to get the work done every day?

Start putting people in the roles that fit them best.

“This is the time to ask some tough questions,” Hopson says. Who on the staff is so tired and discouraged they can no longer do their jobs well? Who has been moved outside of their normal roles, and how are they handling their new positions? Do they need to be moved back or not? “Once you’ve answered these questions, you can step back and take a more accurate look at your staff,” he says. “You’ll be able to add people where you need them – and remove people where you don’t.” The method to do this is quite simple. You perform a review of the process and find where it doesn’t work anymore or that where changes have been made on the fly. Following this, you can “fix” your process and then reassign your roles. Often businesses need external help to do this as it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

Expect resistance to change.

If this is painful for you as a manager, think about how it is for staff members who have a lot less control over the situation. “How you and your leadership team present change to your staff can make a world of difference,” Hopson says. Employees who feel involved in the change and understand what’s going on demonstrate a more rapid recovery and may even perform better in the end. Business leaders often fail to realize how staff feels when outsiders and “best practices” are brought in to create new processes and workflows without involving those who do the work. This is a recipe for disaster. Use the process method described above to mitigate this.

Clear and frequent communication is vital.

“If you introduce processes that staff members don’t understand or haven’t learned, you’re going to slow things down rather than speed them up,” Hopson says. Invest in your people, he advises. Make sure they always have proper training and equipment. Involve them, they know their job and where the process needs help. Keeping them involve will ensure you minimize resistance and will likely provide a much better process than any outsider could provide alone.

During the consolidation period between high times and low times and back to high times again, a leader’s primary role is to rally those frazzled and frustrated troops.

“Make sure everyone understands you’re in the midst of a normal process,” Hopson says. “And keep waving that flag so that no one gets discouraged.” Resist playing the blame game or calling out leaders or departments where the failures were most predominant. Remember, this is natural. Instead, focus on how you can make your people and processes scaleable so they are resistant to the failures of the previous cycle.

About Dave Hopson

Dave Hopson, author of Surviving the Business Storm Cycle: How to Weather Your Business’s Ups and Downs, (www.davehopson.com) is the managing partner at Triumphus, which offers IT consulting services to companies from startup through exponential growth to IPO. 

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