The Three Keys to Success in a Tough Economy

Posted On: June 9

When times are tough, the number one thing that will help you survive is your staff. That’s right. There is no way that you can make it through the current economic turmoil alone; you need your employees (or team if you aren’t running the place) to be motivated and dedicated to helping the business succeed. How do you keep these important people on your side? To me, there are three keys: Honesty, Vision, and Culture.

Tell your folks the hard truth. In difficult times the greatest threat to an organization is a lack of open, honest and robust communication. When there is a void of credible information, rumors and worst-case scenarios rush in to fill the vacuum. Make sure everyone in your business hears a clear, consistent message about exactly how things are going and what each of them needs to do to keep the business strong. In team meetings, one-on-one discussions, via e-mail, company newsletter, blog, voicemail, whatever… the goal is over-communication.

Communicate a clear and compelling vision. The people on your team desperately need to know that you have a plan to keep the organization on a strong, positive track. This does not need to be some elaborate strategic business plan; they just need to hear you explain what they need to focus on and what actions they should take every day when they come to work—so that they can continue coming to work.

Make your company a great place to work. You may not be able to tell your folks where the business will be a decade from now, but you absolutely can lay out an exciting and motivating vision of the kind of culture your organization can start building today. Several national surveys have shown that the following elements are critical to a culture that will motivate your employees to do their best:

Fun. This does not mean there are whoopee cushions under the chairs and you have a keg party every afternoon; it simply means there’s an enjoyable atmosphere in which people do challenging and rewarding work.

Family. The people in your organization treat each other with genuine caring and concern. They feel like the people they work with are their friends, often times their best friends.

Fair. Employees get reasonable compensation (the same as they would at an equivalent job at a similar company), are treated with dignity and respect, and feel like their opinion matters.

Freedom. Employees are given the training, resources and support necessary to do their job well, and then have the freedom from micromanagement and bureaucracy to deliver on their goals.

Pride. They are proud to tell their friends and neighbors where they’re employed. For example, instead of just saying, “I’m an engineer” they say, “I work at Microsoft.”

Praise. Each person on your team gets some sort of genuine and specific praise every seven days or so for a job well done. This does not have to be from the boss or manager, simply an honest show of appreciation from someone in the organization.

Meaning. Employees need to know they’re doing more than just “maximizing revenue.” It is okay to run a highly profitable company, but people want to feel that what they do every day is important and makes a difference in people’s lives.

The exciting thing about the list above is that these are what I call “atmosphere issues.” You do not need additional funds or a fancy title to make any of these areas better – you can work on these with zero new dollars in the budget and from any part of the organization. Focus on improving in these areas, you’ll help create an absolutely wonderful place to work. Which will lead to more engaged and satisfied employees. Who will deliver great products services and produce high levels of customer satisfaction. Resulting in more engaged and loyal customers!

Robust and courageous communications , a clear vision for the future and a fantastic culture… these are exactly the things every business needs right now in order to stay strong, healthy and successful.

Hope these ideas helped, I look forward to your feedback and comments — take good care, John Spence

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  1. Thanks John,

    You do a wonderful job reminding us of the incredible return we get by valuing our team and allowing them to feel appreciated, respected and empowered. In this challenging economy, too often employers reduce their investment in their people, just when those same employees are being asked to do more for less.

    I believe this is not a short term situation, but the natural evolution of a system that failed to make these sound investments in its people and recognize the seismic shift to the knowledge worker era. From this moment forward, understanding that our teams represent our most important stakeholder and treating them as such will be crucial if we are to thrive in the new economy.

  2. John,
    I like your “atmosphere” factors – a more expanded and complete list that resembles Herzberg’s ‘motivators’ (as opposed to hygiene factors). Given satisfactory levels of basic lower-level needs (pay, safety), most of us are motivated to higher productivity, innovation, and initiative when the higher level motivators are present – usually referenced by leadership, company policies, increased recognition & responsibility. I think your atmosphere factors are a better use of the idea – more useful and emphasize the low cost of their use.
    Good stuff, as always,

  3. Great article. I also found this statement very encouraging in these perilous days, “The exciting thing about the list above is that these are what I call “atmosphere issues.” You do not need additional funds or a fancy title to make any of these areas better.” That’s good news!

    When I saw the lead in my email box, I just saw the three keys listed as Honesty, Vision, and Culture. I immediately thought to myself, “Yes, but it has to be HONEST communication.” You covered that and I’m glad, as I’ve noticed employees are often reluctant to express their fears and concerns and they can fester.

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