Of course not every business has a great year, every year. The reality of growth is that is rarely a nice straight line. So when things aren't going as well as you expected, what are the things that really matter?
It’s getting closer to Christmas, your family is organising the traditional get together, your social calendar is full, but perhaps your mind keeps coming back to the latest cash-flow forecast.
You know the feeling when the outlook doesn't look as bright, and the numbers aren't healthy. That bloody Christmas cheer just seems to be mocking you!
The first thing to remember is that things always seem to work out for you. However, it can be helpful to be deliberate about where to focus your attention, and your people and your brand are, ultimately, what really matters.
When working within a great work culture, people have a knack of banding together when things are tough, particularly your best people. When we feel appreciated for what we do, when we’re given the autonomy (trust) to do our best, and when we feel supported, we pay that back tenfold.
We’ve heard people say that your people are your best asset. We know what people mean when they say that, but we are very uncomfortable about calling people an asset because an asset is just a financial instrument; something of value that you own.
When business gets a little tougher, this thinking can lead managers astray.
Unfortunately, when business gets tough, some managers – and we’ve seen it happen – panic and look at their employees as a cost to be managed. To the employees, it looks and feels like they're being blamed.
These managers become aggressive if someone leaves, yet they instruct their people to inform on their colleagues if they’re not happy or they’re unproductive, and they look for opportunities to cut "head count" in a 'me versus them' response.
This approach always results in the best people leaving first, as the workplace becomes a toxic environment. In fact, the people who stay are those who are prepared to undermine their colleagues and facilitate the toxic culture for fear of losing their job. This is not the workplace that encourages willing contribution, ownership thinking, or a collaborative approach to business challenges. It is a spiral downwards, to stagnant growth and entrapment by financial pressures that never seem to go away.
Yuk. Is there a better way?
The most effective leaders, really appreciate that they do not, in any way, shape, or form, own their employees. Those leaders acknowledge that their people, particularly the best people, can choose to stay or choose to go.
Those leaders therefore choose to engage their people in the challenge, and seek their ideas and suggestions for business improvement. They see employment as a relationship first and a contract second, and it changes how they approach challenging situations.
It’s very good business sense to understand what drives willing and inspired contribution. Getting to know and apply the principles of engaging leadership, allows your people to support you in the best way, especially when times become tough. They’ll have your back if they feel you have theirs, and vice-versa.
We only need to look at the approach employed by the US company, Southwest Airlines during the GFC in 2008. Many airlines were facing bankruptcy and most adopted the mindset of employees being a cost to be managed.
Southwest adopted a different strategy; of putting their people first. They continued to pay their people well, and they built on their reputation for fostering employee commitment. They increased communications to get feedback from their people about how the company could improve, and set about implementing many of the suggestions.
This strategy lead Southwest Airlines to increased productivity and employee retention. It created stronger brand identification as relaxed and fun, and passengers were attracted to them by their business culture. They didn't just survive, they thrived.
We could very easily just say “refer to 1 above", as your people, your business culture, and your brand, are so entwined.
Your brand is not just what you say it is, it’s not just what your logo looks like, and it’s not just your tag line. Your brand is actually what happens when people interact with your business, especially if you are in a service business.
Oh wait, aren't all businesses service businesses?
Your brand is how people feel when they interact with your team. Your people are what make the difference between success and failure, because they, and you, are the ones who will deliver your brand.
Therefore, when times are tough, it’s more important than ever before to encourage inspired contribution.
The H Factor was built on this belief: We believe that everyone has the right, and innate capability, to create the extraordinary. We’re all about helping you and your team create a resilient business culture that enables your business to thrive.
H Agents write about the joys and challenges of entrepreneurship and managing people.