By Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker
Fear. Uncertainty. A growing sense of panic every time the president delivers a national address about the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus.
Chatter around the workplace these days is filled with questions like: Will I get sick? Will I have a job tomorrow? Can I afford to pay my rent?
What can you do when you’re facing fear in the workplace? The good news is that you can turn to four key principles: transparency, financial discipline, trust and respect for people, and a forward-focused approach. If you want to take fear out of the workplace, consider the following steps:
Embrace transparency. “Open-book management” is the idea that everyone inside your organization will be taught to understand the numbers that drive its success. Many growing business owners can be reluctant to share the truth about the financials inside their business. But they don’t realize the kind of risks they take on by doing so. They take on the burden of keeping the business alive — solo. In many cases, CEOs and owners are forced to shut the doors of the business to the shock of their associates, who are then left to wonder if they could have done something to contribute to a different outcome.
That’s why it’s amazing what happens when you have the courage to share the news — good and bad — with your people. Treat them like adults. Get their attention directed toward what they can do to help — versus panicking. Plus, the more eyes you have on a problem, the more ideas you’ll have to solve it. It’s an automatic check-and-balance on the security of your business.
Discuss your cash position. It’s been frustrating over the past few years as we’ve watched startup companies under the guidance of universities, incubators, and even investors embrace the idea that the only way they could grow was to take on debt. Some of you may find yourselves in an over-leveraged position, but that can also be an opportunity to engage your workforce and tell them the truth about the situation. If you do find yourself in trouble, ask your associates for ideas about how they can contribute to cutting costs — and increasing cash flow to the point where you can actually cover your debt obligations. You’ll be amazed at what can happen when you teach your people the rules of the game.
Protect jobs. Attracting talent and retaining it can be tough. We don’t have a future without people. In the not-too-distant past, executives sometimes became idols when downsizing jobs became the new mantra, laying off people at a time they needed those jobs the most. Something similar could happen today. Difficult times can convince companies to resort to layoffs to survive. But it is wise to think differently. Whoever has the most talented workforce will dominate their markets as soon as 2021. The time to get your organization ready for the next upturn is today — not when it’s already arrived. By then, it may be too late.
Get ready for the upturn. As bad and as uncertain as things look today, here’s a secret: it’s actually harder to get a company ready to take advantage of an upturn than it is to prepare for a downturn. Downturns can actually be opportunities to fix things inside your business that you can’t afford to invest the time and resources in when the economy is booming. While it might seem counter-intuitive, the current down market comes as a kind of short-term relief.
It’s giving us a chance to catch up — to make investments in our people and facilities — and to prepare ourselves to capitalize on the economic uptick that we expect to hit in late-2020, early-2021. By then, our workforce should be more stable and productive — and ready to take full advantage of the available opportunities. They have every incentive to do so, because, as owners of the business, they have a true stake in the outcome.
We know how painful things are today. But there’s no reason you can’t also dare to be successful. And learning how to build a culture based on transparency, financial discipline, trust and respect for people, and a forward-focused outlook, is a great place to start removing the fear that’s pervading your workplace.