Managing in the Meantime: Reconnecting with Staff During the Recession

High Voltage Ideas for Staff

Despite the fall of the Celtic Tiger, some executive teams have not yet faced into the reality of change management and remain vulnerable to virulent low cost competition from Bangalore to Bogotá. Ga Ga land can be an interesting place to hide out for a while, but the real world eventually intrudes; that timebomb is ticking.

Cutback Kings: However, most executive teams have moved beyond denial, making more cuts than an average shift in an Abattoir. Pay, pensions and benefits have all been through the ringer and liquid lunches are the stuff of ancient history. Staff are reeling from the impact on take home pay and from the general influenza of gloom caught from every media outlet. It’s a time of austerity and paying for past sins (even if most people believe that they are stumping up for the sins of others). Because of the above, most staff are stuck in a vortex of negativity – looking at their shoes rather than the sky. The classic symptom of depression is low energy and, arguably, the entire country is suffering from low level depression, despite Enda’s ‘State of the Nation’ address. The managerial challenge is clear: how do you get low-energy staff pumped up?

Managing in the Meantime: Some organizations are beginning to look beyond the current scenario. They know that there is a tomorrow as well as a today and have started to consider a range of creative, low cost ideas to re-engage the workforce. To pump some air into employee’s tires, the best-managed organizations are working on a range of positive exercises. Here’s a couple of potential New Years’ Resolutions. Feel free to steal shamelessly!

a. Dress Code: Formal dress codes (shirt and ties etc.) are increasingly being abandoned in favour of ‘smart casual’ wear at work. It’s dress down Friday, everyday. Relax the company rules on this outmoded practice.

b. Climate Survey: Take the major presenting issues in your most recent survey and ensure that visible progress is being made. General rule in employee relations = ‘It’s no good giving people more and more of what they don’t want’ i.e. the issues have to be material to staff.

c. Eat Cake: Look for small celebratory events to say thanks to staff for a job well done. Perhaps give each functional manager a small budget for this. Look at restoring a small ‘drinks’ budget at Christmas to allow managers take the staff on a night out. Not flamboyant, but sending a signal that the company recognizes effort. It’s the thought that counts.

d. Sports & Social: Put some real managerial effort into making this work well. Typically, low cost and high impact (assuming it’s led by a manager who has a pulse).

e. X-Factor: When the ‘internal talk’ is a bit gloomy, it might be worthwhile to consider something a bit more light-hearted e.g. an internal Talent competition. Judged by Paul Harrington, ex Eurovision Winner (or someone similar). Initial management and staff response will initially be a ‘groan’ – but these competitions are fantastically energizing. Low cost, high impact. Tops of the Town – reformed!

f. Employee Voice: Develop methods for staff to voice ideas and concerns openly. There are a range of options – from Lean to Employee Engagement; when it works it can be really productive (caveat: this is not pseudo democracy; don’t start unless you mean to continue).

g. Annual Benefits: Reaffirm the company’s pay philosophy and show how salary movements are tracked by issuing an annual benefits statement – highlighting the full monetary value of the package for each employee. It’s a timely reminder of the ‘deal’.

h. Share Ownership: A particularly useful method to underscore the ‘upside’ of future high performance i.e. staff will share in the reward. If you are a Plc., the current share ownership of the executive team will be well known; this can help close the ‘them’ versus ‘us’ perception gap.

i: Supporting Education: As part of the cutbacks, some companies no longer support external education. For younger staff, in particular, this is a difficult pill to swallow and has a knock-on impact in relation to talent retention (the policy might actually cost you more money than the savings made).

j: Internal Passport: Some staff rate opportunity highly on their list of what makes an organization a ‘great place to work’. Historically, many companies trained people in silos – with an emphasis on acquiring depth rather than breadth of skills. It is possible to develop a system whereby staff rotate between departments to ‘learn the business’ e.g. have a passport to travel anywhere across the company. Works great in places with ‘low ceiling’ jobs e.g. call centres.

k: Individual Accommodations: Some organizations demonstrate the ‘caring’ element of their role during times of retrenchment and pay cuts by offering individual accommodations (e.g. loans to staff members facing difficult family circumstances). Usually the take up is miniscule, but the gesture of making the offer can signal a senior team that is attuned to the reality of people’s lives.

i: Active Listening: At a time of cutbacks, the senior team need to demonstrate a personal interest in staff, listening to what’s happening on the ground. Your antennae need to be particularly sharp during this time (hard for a CEO to put sufficient effort into this, when s/he is more used to people listening to them).

High Costs? A concern in reviewing the above list might be ‘What are the additive costs?’ In practice, most of the suggestions made are either low or no cost. Making this work has more to do with managerial attention and creativity rather than dollars. You just need to pay attention to that great management philosopher, Kung Fu Panda who said: “The past is history, the future’s a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present”. During the continuing global financial meltdown (which shows no sign of easing up anytime soon), we all need to ‘manage in the meantime’. The message is clear. Jettison the philosophy ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves’ and get your people back into 5th gear by paying a bit more attention to this area. Isn’t that why they’re paying you the big bucks?

Paul Mooney

PS Joke from my Niece (she’s 8): “My pet spider died yesterday, but I’m getting a new one on the Web”. That kid has real potential!

Know someone who’d benefit from reading this blog? Forward it on or ask them to contact me paul@tandemconsulting.ie and we’ll add them to the mailing list.

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About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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