Moving Forward Together
If you’re like most managers, for the past year, two years, even four years, you’ve been running yourself and your staff ragged trying to do more with less. Now that things are beginning to ease up a bit, you may be starting to consider hiring again, or investing in new equipment or new outside services. You might also be feeling a mix of caution and relief and thinking hopefully about growth as you move on from the grinding pressure of the recent and not-so-recent past.
But even though the days of extreme belt-tightening may be behind you, don’t loosen up so much that your pants fall off. Here are a few realities to bear in mind as we look to the future.
Your Staff Knows the Score
Your staff pays at least some attention to the news. They know employment is edging up and more companies are complaining about not being able to find skilled or experienced workers. They also know that corporate profits are generally growing. So don’t be surprised if some of your best staff people decide it’s time to look for greener pastures.
Even the ones who prefer to stay with you – or who have fewer options – may start expressing pent-up demand for the pay increases you held back a year,18 months, or as long as 36 months ago – or for raises that are above the 2 percent that has become the norm. If your staff thinks that your company’s owners and shareholders are finally making money but not sharing the profits, or if they suspect that management is being rewarded and they’re not, the negativity can become overwhelming.
And don’t forget about the underemployed part-timers who don’t have health insurance, or the full-timers who are paying a greater percentage of their health care expenses than they did before the recession: These are also needs that might come out into the open as business picks up.
Something’s Gotta Give
During this intense period of stress, many managers have been leaping from one initiative to another, trying one gambit after another. But all too often, staffs that are too thin have been whipsawed from one flavor-of-the-month to the next one, and they’re showing signs of wear. You might be noticing more errors, more illness, more intensity (of the negative kind), more backbiting, less tolerance of others’ mistakes, more distraction – you name it.
So it could be time to think about hiring again, but it certainly isn’t a time when you can afford a hiring or placement mistake. Good fit – organizational, cultural, and role – is crucial. You’ll probably need to dust off or retool your old selection criteria and interview processes, and buff up your onboarding and training programs.
Be sure the candidates you consider have faced challenges similar to the ones your business confronts; it’s not enough if they’ve held jobs with similar titles. Behavioral interviewing techniques are very effective at bringing out information about their ability to work well with a team, their experience with handling your kind of pressures, and their potential for ongoing contribution and growth.
Try to involve potential colleagues in the interviewing process as well. A peer may pick up on grandstanding or a lack of open-mindedness that may not come out in discussion with a potential superior. It’s also to your benefit for job seekers to know exactly what they’re getting into, and peer interviewers will often explain the current reality of the job more concretely than anyone else can.
The Bottom Line to Moving Forward: Honesty
You’ve survived some very tough years with some of the very same people who are still working in your shop. How do you keep them at their best now that more options may be opening up for them? How do you encourage them to reach even greater heights now that you have a few more resources to spread around?
The first step is to find out what they think. Don’t assume that you know. They’ve been as careful about maintaining their jobs during this tough period as you’ve been about maintaining your job – and the business.
If you haven’t been checking in regularly, it’s time to have some real heart-to-heart talks with your staff, with both sides exchanging information about expectations – and hopes – for the future.
Once you know you’re on each other’s wavelength, you can renew your plans for building that future together. Make sure you fill your folks in about what’s going on: how much progress you’re making, or
where you want to be but haven’t gotten to yet. And think twice and three times about what kind of recovery they (and you) need – or additional resources that will help ensure success – in preparation for leaping into significant new efforts.
Liz Kislik helps businesses successfully address challenges and make the most of opportunities in customer service and sales, workforce performance and leadership development, and organizational structure and culture. Liz also writes and publishes Workplace Wisdom,a weekly blog and monthly newsletter about management, service and self-care. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
As the economic picture begins to brighten, it’s time for managers to take stock: Are you prepared for the staffing and organizational challenges that an upturn can bring?