Friday, October 14, 2011

Positioning Your Company for Success in a Yo-Yo Economy

Today’s economy is like a yo-yo. We have been dangling on a string in a “sleeper” recession for quite some time. The world economy continues to spin at the bottom. Everyone has been wondering how long the spin can continue at the abyss before experiencing a collapse of the market. Thriving in the new economy requires a business model that matches the values and spending habits of customers today. It could entail a complete change in the way you do business.


When I was a young boy I liked to play with my yo-yo. I became fairly proficient at performing fancy tricks with interesting names like “rock the baby,” “walk the dog” and “skin the cat.”

I also could do a yo-yo trick called “the sleeper.” This motion entailed throwing the yo-yo down without bringing it back up immediately. If the string tension was correct, the yo-yo would spin for several seconds at the bottom of the string. The difficulty of the trick was knowing when to pull the yo-yo back up before the spin petered out. If I left it down too long the yo-yo would collapse and die at the end of the string.

Today’s economy is like my yo-yo. We have been dangling on a string in a “sleeper” recession for quite some time. The world economy continues to spin at the bottom. Everyone has been wondering how long the spin can continue at the abyss before experiencing a collapse of the market. It’s hard to tell whether the economy is improving or not because the economic indicators keep yo-yoing between signs of improvement and signs of continued economic decline. The recent combative legislative debate over the debt ceiling just added to the economic confusion.

Survival Requires a New Business Model

Sadly, too many companies have been sleeping too long. At the beginning of the Great Recession some businesses refused to accept the notion that things could get this bad. They responded slowly to the crisis, hoping the downturn would be brief. A significant number of these companies no longer exist because they refused to take the necessary actions to save their enterprise.

Some companies did respond to the crash – typically by lowering prices to continue to attract customers – but they never changed their actual business model. Perhaps they thought the spin at the bottom would be short, and they could pull their prices back up when it looked like the sleeping economy was nearing an end.

Fortunately, a few insightful companies realized early on that the economic downturn was going to last a long time. They wisely learned the trick of keeping their company spinning strongly so there would be enough strength in their business after the long spin to pull the business back up. They changed their business model to survive in a sleeping economy. They adjusted what they do to match the conditions of the new world. And they realized that when the economic spin does come to an end, the world will be much different that it was before. Consequently, they repositioned their products and services to appeal to customer needs and expectations in this new market reality.

Changing Priorities of Customers

The world has changed and any company who refuses to change their business model to match the new world is in danger of petering out. Customer behaviors have changed forever and they will not return to where they were before the recession – at least not in this generation.

The majority of customers have changed their spending habits. They now perceive their discretionary money in a different light. They have a completely different view of the value they expect for the money they spend. Customers are putting a lot more thought into their purchases to make sure what they buy is the best possible value for the price. They are less impulsive and more cautious about how they spend their money. They want to be assured that they are spending their money wisely.
If your company wishes to survive in the new world you must change your focus to align with the changing priorities of your customers.

For the most part, companies in the past focused on providing tangible and intangible products that appealed to the excessive and indulgent nature of their customers. Manufacturing companies produced cell phones, computers and other electronic gadgets with more bells and whistles than a person could possibly use. Casinos built massive, opulent resorts with every amenity imaginable to immerse guests in a sensory experience that appealed to their base desires. Restaurants sold the sizzle instead of the steak, emphasizing presentation and ambiance over the quality of the food. Customers spent thousands of dollars for an “experience” or access to products that would make them feel hip or cool. People paid far too much for far too little and flashed their materialistic possessions as indicators of their social or economic status.

What Customers Want Today

Today’s value-conscious customers want more than window dressing. They want ASSURANCE that what they are buying is worth the expense. They must feel confident that the investment of their hard-earned money will provide something of significant value. They need justification – or an excuse – for spending their discretionary money at a time when saving their money may seem like a more prudent action.

No longer are name-brand products or the “premier resort destination” the automatic purchase choice of many customers. People are evaluating their options and scrutinizing which choice gives them the biggest bang for their buck. They’re reviewing previous customer comments for assurance they are making the right purchasing choice. They are seeking to connect on an emotional level with products and services that match their current values.

Customers also want assurance of the RELIABILITY of your products and services. They want to buy products that work. They want whatever they buy to perform at the level promised. And, as the old throw-away attitude diminishes, customers are looking for products that last longer and won’t have to be replaced in a few months with a new generation product.

Customers want service companies to actually deliver quality service. They expect your employees to be friendly, efficient, knowledgeable, attentive and helpful. They want their hot food hot and their cold food cold. In many cases customers expect even higher levels of service during tough times because they expect you to truly compete for their business.

They expect you to stand behind your products and services and guarantee you will deliver what you promise. And if, for some reason, there is a problem with your delivery, today’s customers expect RESPONSIVENESS from your employees who quickly address their concerns and to fix the problem.

In tough times customers expect you to have EMPATHY and understand what they are going through. Very few people in this country have been untouched by the tough economy. Many people have lost their jobs, their home and even their possessions. They’ve downsized their lifestyle significantly. They’ve postponed their retirement. Those who are still employed may be underemployed, having had their hours or their wages cut. Some families may have more than one wage earner who has been affected by the downturn.

Consequently, when these customers do spend their money on a vacation, at a restaurant, bar or theater, they expect your employees to show APPRECIATION for the investment the customer is making. Stressed out customers expect your employees to understand their need for escape, relaxation, rejuvenation and a life free from the hassles of their daily grind. If they purchase a product from you, they want that product to be easy to use and not add any additional burden to their life. If they have to interact with your employees, customers want the experience to be pleasant and problem-free. They expect your employees to be totally focused on ensuring they have a good experience patronizing your business.

Aligning Your Business Model to New Customer Demands

It’s time to pull the yoyo back up and regain control of your company’s economic future. Innovative Management Group can help position your company for success in the new economy based on the realities of the market conditions you can expect over the next 3-5 years. We will help you:

• Define your strategic focus and outline your strategic intentions

• Reclaim your brand identity or redefine a new one based on the new market realities

• Identify your value premise and unique product differentiation

• Determine which of your current products and services match current customer needs

• Identify new products and services needed to create customer demand

• Align your marketing strategies and tactics with the new world

• Ensure consistent product and service delivery to create customer loyalty

• Engage your employees in making the changes necessary to succeed in today’s competitive world

• Ensure the commitment of your executives, managers and employees to focus on the things that matter most

During difficult times your company needs to stay focused, or refocus if your current strategies and tactics are ineffective or no longer appropriate. Now is the time to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Tough times require clear, creative thinking to minimize the weaknesses and threats and take advantage of the strengths and opportunities in order to drive value to your business. It is a time to rediscover the fundamentals of the business — the critical success factors that will keep your organization spinning successfully for many years to come.

Good leaders make good decisions in tough times. Call Innovative Management Group today to help you maintain or regain a strong competitive position in a weak economy.§

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Three Ways to Evaluate Employee Performance

The best way to monitor performance is by solid, objective measurement. Measurement is the one performance monitoring technique that works.


There are three primary ways to evaluate the performance of your employees. The first two methods listed below usually are less effective than the third. Yet these two methods are the more prevalently used by most managers.


Many managers believe the best way to assess the effectiveness of their employees is through Observation. They feel by observing an employee’s performance and behavior they can assess whether or not the employee is effectively and efficiently fulfilling one’s assigned duties and responsibilities. However, there are some problems associated with using observation as a performance monitoring tool.

First, observations can often be inaccurate. Most observations only provide a brief snap-shot of an employee’s performance at a specific point in time. That brief look may not provide a clear picture of the employee’s true performance. Unless you spend a great deal of time observing the employee in a variety of situations over a lengthy period of time, you may draw some false conclusions about the employee’s performance.

For example, I once witnessed four kitchen workers flipping towels at each other. I became irritated because I thought they were dangerously messing around when they should have been working.

The “snapshot” I saw was of the employees flipping towels. I did not observe what immediately preceded the towel flipping incident. Had I been there to observe what happened right before what I considered to be inappropriate, off-purpose behavior, I would have realized the kitchen staff had just successfully put out the highest volume of meals they had ever cooked in one shift at that restaurant. The towel flipping was them celebrating their accomplishment. Had I responded as my observations led me to believe, I would have chastised the employees for their celebratory behavior, instead of praising them; which possibly could have destroyed their desire to work so hard.

Another time I observed a security officer at a casino hiding behind a bush in the convention area of the property reading the newspaper. I was sure he was slacking off at work. When I saw him in the exact same location at the exact same time the following day I knew I needed to rectify the situation. I called his manager to report the infraction.

When the manager saw who the employee was he turned to me and patiently told me that the employee’s shift didn’t start for another hour. He said the employee always came into work an hour early so he could relax and read the paper before starting his work day. Once again my observations had been wrong.

The second pitfall of observations is that observations may not be relevant to the situation. As previously noted, your observations usually represent just a few frames of the overall picture. Just like a movie preview can often lead to disappointment when the actual movie is not as good as it appeared in the theater trailer, so also your observations of an employee’s performance can give you a false read regarding one’s proficiency. Observations are like judging a book by its cover. What you see may not be exactly what you get.

Managers sometimes wrongly believe that certain observable behaviors lead to specific performance results. One might feel, for example, that a salesperson must get out in the field and physically visit potential customers in order to make sales. But this extroverted behavior may not be necessary. An introvert may be just as successful, or even more so, by contacting customers through less gregarious means.

Third, observation is a difficult way to measure and monitor performance because you often don’t know what to observe. Since there is so much about your employees’ behavior and performance that you could observe; it is often hard to know what you should observe.

Observation entails taking in superfluous information that has no bearing on whether or not an employee is performing well. When an employee sits with his feet up on his desk it is impossible to tell whether he is neglecting his duties or formulating a creative idea in a moment of silent reflection. When a Card Dealer in a casino is not smiling, it may be because she was asked to stop doing so by an unlucky customer who was not in the mood for such cheerfulness.

Conversely, an employee who is feverishly working may be spinning his wheels and not be productive at all. Just because an employee looks like he is working doesn’t mean he is.

Finally, observations are generally negative. Typically, it is much harder for you to “catch people doing things right” than to see what people are doing wrong. It is much easier to see the dirty spot on the carpet than notice where the carpet is clean. It is easier to see the exceptions to the rule and the discrepancies than it is to see exemplary performance. Most managers expect their employees to perform well. Therefore they usually look for examples of where an employee is deficient, not where she is proficient. Errors are easy to spot; competency is not.


The second way to evaluate performance is by using one’s Judgment to determine whether or not an employee is performing satisfactorily. Unfortunately, there also are flaws in using your judgment as a monitoring and measuring tool.

Judgments are typically based upon one’s personal values. Some managers believe employees who come to work early and stay late are dedicated workers. This, of course, may not be the case. A worker who has to work long hours may just be inefficient. Or he could be a “brown-noser.”

You need to be very careful when you identify your expectations of your employees. Sometimes your personal biases can cloud your judgment about what is good or bad, helpful or not helpful, or effective or ineffective at work. Some insecure managers feel their employees are being insubordinate when they question the manager’s orders. Some managers question the loyalty of their workers when they put family obligations ahead of work responsibilities. Some managers feel employees must keep their nose to the grind stone, while others believe they need to provide a fun atmosphere to maintain employee morale. Neither philosophy is necessarily true or right.

Since judgments are values-based, judgments usually remain static and unchangeable.

When one believes as they believe, it is often hard to change those beliefs. A manager who believes an employee is untrustworthy, for example, may find it very difficult to ever trust the employee even when evidence suggests the employee is trustworthy. An employee who commits a serious infraction may find it hard to change the judgment of a manager who refuses to forgive or forget the indiscretion. Black-balled employees seldom return from their banishment. Once judged as incompetent, it is often hard to prove one’s competence.

Finally, judgments can lead to prejudice and blindness.

Many judgments are actually a result of a pre-judgment. Some managers come to quick conclusions about what they see, hear or feel. Their judgments are based upon long-held beliefs.

To pre-judge before gaining solid evidence or proof is prejudicial. Prejudices, by their very nature, entail some elements of blindness. Having judged quickly, it is often difficult to change a person’s preconceived notions without significant evidence or personal involvement to override the prejudice.

I once consulted with a telemarketing firm in the Midwest. As I was walking among the work stations I noticed an employee with a huge butterfly tattoo on his forehead. The wings of the butterfly wrapped around his bald head. I was absolutely amazed. I have an opinion about people who have butterfly tattoos on their foreheads. They are not at the top of my list of ideal employees. Yet, when I suspended my judgment, I realized the customers of the telemarketing firm had no way of knowing what this phone solicitor looked like. Nor did they care. For all I knew the butterfly guy could have been the top performer at the company. Judgment is a poor indicator of whether or not an employee is performing well.


The best way to monitor performance is by solid, objective Measurement. Measurement is the one performance monitoring technique that works.

Actual performance measurement is a more effective way to evaluate performance because measurement is relevant to the situation or process. When you measure performance you look at a specific situation or step in a process and assess your employee’s progress accordingly.

Measurement assesses an employee’s performance now, in this situation, under these conditions. It does not matter how well a basketball team performed last week when they are facing a new rival this week. How employees perform at another company may or may not be relevant to how your employees perform at your company. Your performance measurements must be uniquely tied to the distinct conditions of your work areas and they must be designed around the specific conditions of your business.

Measurements are conducted in exact terms and real numbers. Stating that you want to increase production by 200 units per day is much more effective than saying you want to increase production by 20% per day. People have difficulty grasping abstract information. The more specific and succinct your measurement criteria, the more likely your employees will succeed at achieving the results you desire. Measurements that are easily counted count more than obscure indicators.

Performance measurements focus on results, not behaviors. Sometimes managers get caught up in how their employees perform rather that what they produce. Too much focus on how work gets done, rather than what gets done, can often lead to an emphasis on work processes rather than work results. In most cases how an employee performs doesn’t matter. The issue is whether or not they achieved the desired outcome.

In many cases you actually should ignore the behavior of employees because it has very little bearing on actual performance. Behavior is difficult to measure because much of it is covert. How “hard” employees work, for example, may have no relevance on the results they achieve. Some students get straight A’s with very little effort while others studiously pour over their textbooks and still get a C-grade on the exam. A soldier may hold his rifle “wrong” and still hit the target accurately. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, some employees can appear to be working hard when they really are not. Behavior is only relevant when results are not being achieved; and even then behavior may not matter.

Measurement provides a way to win. The measurement indicator tells the employee exactly how to score. It tells her what really counts. Specific measurements show specific accomplishments. When you measure performance it is very clear what is achieved and who achieved it.

Measurement criteria should be set around the goals, objectives and expectations you’ve established for the employee. In another article I wrote, entitled “How to Establish Clear, Specific, Measurable Performance Goals”, I outline nine measurement categories you can use to measure every element of an employee’s performance. You should constantly monitor the employee to ensure she is performing as expected and achieving the results you want. And, of course, you monitor the employee’s performance by evaluating her results against the measurement criteria you’ve established, not by observing or judging her behavior. §

Innovative Management Group offers a variety of executive, manager and supervisor training programs on performance management issues. Please contact us for a list of the customized training courses we offer.

Criteria of Effective Goal Setting

Focus the performance of your employees by following some basic guidelines of effective goal setting.


The first competency of management is the ability to identify and set specific performance goals for your employees. You need to establish realistic and valuable performance goals that focus your employees on achieving the results that matter most for the organization.

Effective goal setting is a management science, not an art. There are no mysteries or hidden secrets to establishing employee performance goals. Focusing the performance of your employees through clearly defined goals is as simple as following ten basic guidelines of effective goal setting:

1. Goals must be written. Goals that are not written are merely wishes. The mere act of writing goals down and reviewing them regularly makes them real. Winning teams do not make up their plays during the game. They write their plans down and regularly review their performance against the plan. Games are won and results achieved when plans are followed and goals achieved.

2. Goals must be your OWN and "owned". The greatest performance successes are a result of individual commitment to personal success. Goal setting and goal striving are most effective when team and company goals become the same as personal goals. Results are achieved when performance goals become "my goal" for "my company".

3. Goals must be positive. The goal is not to avoid a loss; the goal is to win. Winning corporations focus on achieving increased market share, not on protecting their current advantage. Goals need to be visualized and the only way the goal can be visual is if it is positive. The mind rejects negative goals. Give people a positive benchmark for which to strive.

4. Goals must be measurable and specific. Specific goals produce specific results. Clear goals produce clear results. Indefinite goals produce no results at all. Goals must answer how much, how many, by when, and by whom.

5. Goals are best stated in inflation-proof terms. In football a touchdown is always six points and a golf stroke always counts as a stroke. Goals are best stated in units of measure that do not change. For example, “units sold” is a non-inflationary number, while “revenue generated” changes with the economy. “Pieces produced per employee” provides a clearer measurement of production than “total number of units produced,” since staffing levels may fluctuate. “Revenue generated per number of table covers” in a restaurant provides a clearer picture of actual production than mere “total revenue.”

6. Goals must be stated in the most visible terms available. When goals are measured in real, countable things, everybody knows the score. Goals must be measured in something you can see. Percentages are too vague. Instead, identify in real numbers what a 10% increase in production means in terms of units produced. In the heat of competition, communication has to be direct and simple, like a football team calling an audible at the line of scrimmage. Goals should not have to be translated by the manager in order to make sense to the employees.

7. Goals must contain a deadline. If there is no deadline, there is no goal. Deadlines are the foundation of commitment. Deadlines are adrenalin boosters and the instigators of achievement. Deadlines provide the pressure necessary to push people to attain the goals. Goals without deadlines are mere philosophical statements.

8. Goals must allow for change. People and situations evolve. Goals must allow for flexibility and adjustment in strategy throughout the game. Winning teams know how to alter their game-plan while the clock is still running. Don’t make goals so rigid that people cannot adjust their tactics when conditions change.

9. Goals must contain a statement of benefit. Goals and benefits go together. Goals need to tell performers what's in it for them. A benefit statement explains the WHY to people and provides motivational value. When there is a tangible reward, reaching a goal becomes a "want to' instead of a "have to" experience.

10. Goals must be realistic and attainable. Big results are achieved by incremental goals, not by quantum leaps and unrealistic expectations. Achievement of small goals provides the motivation to strive for bigger results. Success breeds success.

Employees are more productive when they have clearly defined performance goals to achieve. One of your primary roles as a manager is to define the production you want from your employees. When performance goals are defined based upon the ten guidelines outlined above, your employees know exactly what is expected and they become more focused – and more motivated – to achieve what you want. §

Innovative Management Group offers several executive, management and supervisory training programs on effective performance management, including how to set clear, specific, measurable performance goals. Please contact us for more information about our custom-designed courses.

Strengthen Your Interpersonal and Working Relationships by Pitching In, Helping Out

Imagine how wonderful it would be to work in an organization where people willingly help out and serve one another without being asked. Think how the employees would feel about their colleagues if everyone willingly pitched in to accomplish the work.


In November my wife and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary. Our love and commitment to each other grows stronger every day. I attribute the success of our marriage, in part, to our mutual willingness to unselfishly help out and serve one another without hesitation or reserve.

In the first few months of our marriage I formulated a philosophy that has guided the way I act toward my wife. It has helped me to refocus in moments when selfishness or lazy notions enter my head.

Whenever I see work that needs to be done around the house, a question consciously enters my mind that I placed there many years ago. As I see dishes that need to be washed or items that need to be picked up, I ask myself who’s going to do it by saying: “If not me; who?”

If the answer to that question is my wife’s name, rather than my own, I then ask: “If her; why?”

Is it because she’s a woman? No, that would be chauvinistic of me and wrong.

Is it because she’s a homemaker and it’s part of her “job”? Yes, that may be true. But why is it only her job? In real partnerships there are no his or her roles. There is no “mine” or “yours”. In a partnership, whoever sees that something needs to be done should just do it. And they should do it without having to be asked or told.

Consequently, when I ask myself why someone else should do the work instead of me, the only real answer I can contrive is because I’m too lazy (or too tired)to do it myself. But that is not an acceptable answer — not to me or anyone else.
Finally, when I’ve resolved that I’m the only one who should do the task, I commit myself to doing it by asking: “If not now; when?” The only acceptable answers to that question are either immediately or very soon.

Imagine how wonderful it would be to work in an organization where people willingly help out and serve one another without being asked. Think how the employees would feel about their colleagues if everyone willingly pitched in to accomplish the work.

Far too frequently people respond to requests for assistance with excuses as to why they can’t help. Comments such as, “It’s not my job”, “Find someone else”, “I’m too busy”, “I’m in the middle of something”, or ‘I can’t right now” permeate our language. Saying no seems to be the natural inclination and normal response rather than stepping forward to volunteer.

We need a new language for today’s workforce. Listed below are some phrases I feel we all need to infuse into our daily work conversations. I’m sure they would make our bosses and colleagues very happy.

Here are some phrases that should become a normal part of your vocabulary at work:

When Someone Asks For Help

• “Sure. I can do that.”
• “Thanks. I’d love to help out.”
• “I’d be glad to do that for you.”
• “No problem. I’ll get right on it.”
• “You bet. I’ll be right there.”
• “I appreciate your asking.”
• “I don’t mind. I enjoy doing it.”
• “You can count on me.”

Better Yet, Before Someone Asks

• “Let me do that.”
• “I volunteer to do it.”
• “Let me help you with that.”
• “I want to help.”
• “Do you mind if I work along with you?”
• “I have a minute. I’ll do it.”
• “I can take care of that.”
• “Let’s do it together.”
• “I can stay late and do it.”
• “How can I help you?”
• “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
• “Why don’t you go ahead and go home. I’ll finish up.”
• “What else can I do for you?”
• “I resolved it.”
• “It’s already done.”

We need people in the workplace who say to themselves: “If not me; who? If not now; when?” We need workers who see what needs to be done, and then do it. We need people who step up to the plate and pitch in without being asked.

I’m one of those people who like to whistle or sing while I work. One song, in particular, seems apropos while I’m laboring:

"The world has need of willing men
Who (share) the worker’s (zeal).
Come help the good work move along
Put your shoulder to the wheel.
Put your shoulder to the wheel;
Push along.
Do your duty with a heart full of song.
We all have work; let no one shirk.
Put your shoulder to the wheel."

What could contribute more to building strong working relationships than unselfish service toward one’s coworkers?

Two things happen when you willingly help others. First, you make the person you serve happy. My wife tells me all the time how appreciative she is of the things I do around the house. She thanks me for helping and tells me how good it makes her feel.

The greatest benefit from serving others, however, is the second thing that happens from that service. Although I love my wife and want her to feel good as a result of my helping, I’m not just doing it for her. I’m really doing it for me; because when I help out, it makes me feel good. §

Monday, October 10, 2011

How to Maintain Employee Motivation and Commitment after a Layoff

Downsizing the business is a fast and effective way to reduce expenses, maintain profitability, and ensure the continuation of the business. But how you lay people off will a have long-lasting effect on those who remain with your company. Poorly handled decisions today can impact productivity and morale now and for a long time in the future.


More and more companies are forced to lay off employees as the world economy continues to tumble.

Downsizing the business is a fast and effective way to reduce expenses, maintain profitability, and ensure the continuation of the business. But how you lay people off will a have long-lasting effect on those who remain with your company. Poorly handled decisions today can impact productivity and morale now and for a long time in the future.

Employees who stay with your company after a layoff often have confused emotions as they wrestle with the changes brought about by the reorganization. A paradox of conflicting loyalties stirs within them. Feelings of concern for former colleagues are juxtaposed with feelings for oneself. Previous feelings of loyalty to the company now conflict with loyalty to oneself. Employees question their previous work effort as they worry about whether they have a future with your enterprise.

While employees are going through these internal emotional struggles several other factors impact their future motivation and commitment.

Invariably surviving employees are expected to take on more work. Normally they are asked to do more work for the same pay or, worse yet, for less pay because of the company’s declining financial position. Since most layoffs are undertaken to cut costs, the downsizing often results in salary freezes for those who stay with the company. Moreover, some former motivators may also have been eliminated, such as company cars, travel and entertainment budgets, or professional development expenses. Finally, there may be less career advancement opportunities after a downsizing, making one’s future with the organization less certain.

The Importance of Communication

The most important thing you can do to maintain morale and commitment after a layoff is to openly communicate with your employees.

Many managers are hesitant to share information with employees after a reorganization, particularly if the information is of a negative nature. However, your workers expect you to bring up all relevant issues in a straightforward manner, especially any negatives that might impact them directly. Avoiding these issues sends a message that either the issues are not important or, worse yet, the employees themselves are not important enough for you to share information with them.

The absolute worst thing you can do after a layoff is to send a message to remaining employees that they are not important. The more information you share with your employees during difficult economic times, the more they will feel you are concerned about their future. Likewise, the more employees feel you are concerned about their future, the more they will be concerned about the future of the business.

One critical thing to remember during a reorganization is that when people lack real data, they make up their own. Usually what people make up is far worse than reality. You can stop the rumor-mills that typically run rampant during a downsizing by being up front with the employees.

There are three crucial objectives you should have for your communication with employees during a reorganization.

First, you should do everything you can to mitigate the usual fears employees have when an organization is in transition.

Second, you should view every employee contact as an opportunity to build rapport with your workers.

Finally, your message should be formulated and presented so well that it focuses the energy and effort of the employees where you want it – on the customers – rather than on the company. What you say must eliminate from the employees all doubt, worry, gossip, wondering, and hesitancy.

At the conclusion of your message you want the workers worrying about their work, not worrying about their jobs or their employer. To do this you must understand the psyche of the employees and address the concerns they worry about the most during a layoff.

What Employees Want to Know

Invariably there are five predictable questions employees will have during a company downsizing. Although the specific verbiage of the questions highlighted here may not be exactly how the employees would articulate their concerns, the answers to these questions will address most of the issues employees will be wondering about. When you know these questions in advance you can target your communication to address the employees’ concerns before they come up. This in turn shows the workers you are empathetic to their needs, thereby building rapport between you and them.

Your answers to five critical questions will determine whether surviving employees will remain motivated and loyal to a company after a layoff.

The questions are: 1) Was the downsizing integral to the business’ overall strategy to survive?; 2) What does the future look like for the company?; 3) Is there still a place for me in the company with continued opportunities for advancement?; 4) Will those employees who are let go be treated fairly?; and 5) What is expected of the employees who remain at the company after a downsizing?

Integral to Business Survival

Employees want to know that the reorganization is not random or whimsical. Remaining employees have to be assured that the layoffs were necessary and not just done arbitrarily. A clear business need for the change must be supported by facts and figures. Employees need to know and understand the business reasons for the layoff and what the consequences would have been had the layoffs not occurred. The layoffs must be logically tied to the future business needs of the company and should have only affected those departments that were non-productive or no longer essential to the business.

At the same time employees must perceive there is a clearly identified and well-thought-out strategy to return the company to stability and long-term profitability. They need assurance that by downsizing and taking hits now the company will be much better off in the future. Perceptions of unnecessary or illogical reductions in staff cause employees to lose confidence in your ability to protect the future viability of the company. Fears of future layoffs persist when employees see no clear linkage between the reduction in staff and management’s plan to return the company to profitability.

You must be adept at understanding and explaining the business imperative for the change. Employees can buy-in to a reduction in staff, even the elimination of their own positions, given a reasonable business need for doing so. Managers who want to motivate surviving employees must take workers into their confidence and clearly outline the logic behind the downsizing decision.

Outlook for the Future

In a down economy when layoffs are necessary the future is often unknown. People generally are afraid of the unknown. To alleviate their own fears, the remaining employees will latch on to any information they can get about the company’s future plans to return the business to profitability. This is why rumors run rampant during a reorganization. It is the natural human need for information – any information – even if it is false. Surviving employees will remain fearful about the future until they have information that will assuage their fears.

Before addressing the employees you should have a clear vision of where you want to take the company in the future. Leaders who possess and can communicate a confident view of the future can infuse confidence within surviving employees by sharing their vision. Employees are more apt to follow leaders who have a clear view of what the future entails.

Although you may not have a clear view of the future when economic conditions have not yet stabilized, you must share what you know, assume or hope for the future. You must help employees to see the future themselves. Let employees know what they can expect to see and experience in the months ahead. Explain what changes or non-changes the company anticipates over the next one, three, six or twelve months. Share your plans. Be as open, specific and precise as possible. Any hesitancy or waffling from you will damage the confidence and commitment you will receive from your employees.

Future Opportunities for Advancement

Surviving employees want to know what their future prospects are with the newly reorganized company. Since traditional career paths may have been eliminated, new opportunities for “advancement” must be created. These typically entail such things as compensation for performance rather than position, greater autonomy and decision making authority, or opportunities to improve one’s “employability” through exposure to more aspects of the business. Employees in the new organization will want to work on projects that develop their skills while achieving company goals.

You need to identify the advancement opportunities that will be in play after the reorganization prior to implementation of the change. Nothing demotivates employees faster than to have career options for which one has been striving to attain suddenly become unavailable because of elimination of positions or layers within the company.

Treatment of Downsized Employees

Surviving employees are greatly influenced by how downsized employees were treated when they were let go. Surviving employees want to be assured, should it happen to them, that laid off employees were “cared for” through severance pay, outplacement services, ample advanced notice, and fair and consistent treatment throughout the reorganization. Employees predict how they will be treated in the future based upon how the company treated displaced employees in the past. You will be wise to remember that employees have a long memory when it comes to company reorganizations. They recall exactly what was said back when and who did what to whom. Be very careful when making decisions about how to treat downsized employees.

Expectations of Remaining Employees

Finally, although employees may not know they have this last need, and therefore generally may never articulate it, workers who stay with the company have an inherent desire to know: What is my charge?

Once employees have decided they want to stay with the company after a reorganization, they need clarity on what the company expects of them. What do you want them to do? Should they carry on as they have been doing in the past, or should they do something different? What are their new marching orders?

If you expect employees to change, you must tell them so. If you expect employees to continue doing what they have been doing in the past, you must tell them this also. Never assume that the employees will conclude what you want them to conclude. You must tell them.

After you have gone through a downsizing you must give the surviving employees their charge. You should share with your employees the things that matter most in the new business model. Tell them:

• What it takes to win in the new company

• What they can do to contribute to the success of the company, as well as to their own success

• What is in it for them if they do contribute to the future success of the company

People need hope in the future. Employees need to know that their future will once again be bright as they work to return the downsized company to profitability. Everything you do during a reorganization must be designed to build hope, not destroy it. When you answer point-by-point every question outlined in this article, you mitigate the fears of the employees, you build tremendous rapport with them, and you refocus their energy and effort on the future success of the business. You get people focused on the customers instead of focused on themselves. §

Innovative Management Group is adept at bringing about successful organizational change, particularly on how to maintain employee commitment after a downsizing. We know how to engage your employees at every level of your company and get them to commit to the new organizational conditions. Please call us to learn how we can help focus your employees on the things that matter most.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to Avoid Wasting Your Time in Unproductive Meetings

Managers across the nation report they spend between 60 to 90 percent of their time in group meetings. Yet much of this time is wasted or inefficient.


Do you ever feel like you waste a lot of your time sitting in unproductive meetings?

Managers across the nation report they spend between 60 to 90 percent of their time in group meetings. Yet much of this time is wasted or inefficient. Many managers have a misconception that employees need to meet often in order to ensure effective communication and coordination. Yet, in reality, much of what is done in meetings can be achieved through less time consuming methods.

Innovative Management Group offers a one-day training course entitled “Effective Meeting Management” that helps managers realize that effective teams don’t have to meet together as often as one might think. During the workshop participants learn how to produce quality results without having to spend a lot of time in meetings. They recognize that production occurs on the shop floor, not in a conference room. Consequently, they find ways to share important information and solve group problems without attending long meetings.

The first thing participants learn in the Effective Meeting Management workshop is how to determine whether or not to hold a meeting in the first place. Several innovative and inexpensive techniques for communicating without meeting are explored during the course.

Once it has been decided that a meeting is necessary, there are several things a meeting leader can do to make the meeting more productive and less time consuming.

First, there needs to be a specific goal or desired outcome for the meeting. The topics to be addressed during the meeting should be designed to achieve the goals for which the meeting was called. Topics that do not move the group toward the goal should be eliminated from the agenda.

Meetings are more effective when the participants come prepared. Advance notice of the meeting’s purpose and the topics of discussion should be given to those who will be attending the meeting. The meeting leader should send out the agenda in advance. When the goals of the meeting and topics to be addressed are published in advance both the meeting leader and the participants will be able to ensure that the right people attend the meeting. There is nothing more wasteful and frustrating than not being able to make a needed decision during a meeting because the right people were not in attendance.

Attendees at IMG’s Effective Meeting Management course learn how to accelerate their meetings by sending out pre-meeting announcements that fully prepare the members to participate in the meeting. The information also ensures the meeting members stay focused during the meeting.

Another skill taught at the workshop is how to quickly move through the agenda by sequencing the agenda items to accomplish the best possible results. They also explore ways to create an open environment of trust and respect during the meeting so attendees feel comfortable participating in the meeting.

One of the greatest complaints about meetings is that they either start late or go longer than scheduled. This frustrates those who try to plan their day or manage their busy calendars. Attendees in the Effective Meeting Management course learn the value of time control and are given specific tools for focusing and controlling the discussion during meetings.

One method of controlling off-purpose discussions during a meeting is to manage the expectations of the participants during the meeting. Too often meeting attendees turn minor agenda items into major points of debate. Typically this occurs because the meeting members had an expectation that every topic was open for discussion. Conversely, sometimes meeting attendees are silent when advice or open discussion is warranted.

This problem can be rectified by letting people know in advance the type of agenda item being addressed. Normally there are four types of agenda items in a typical meeting.

“Informational” agenda items are not open for discussion. These items usually entail merely sharing information for clarification only. During informational agenda items participants should listen quietly or ask questions for clarification. No other discussion of the agenda item should take place.

During “advisory” agenda items the leader is soliciting input from the members. The group’s role is to give advice. They should not expect to make the decision or to argue or debate after the advice is given and the decision is made.

“Problem solving” agenda items are placed on the agenda when the group is needed to discuss the item and make the decision during the meeting. Obviously, problem solving issues are the most time consuming items on the meeting agenda, while informational agenda items should be brief. Long meetings result when attendees try to turn informational or advisory agenda items into problem solving issues.

The fourth type of agenda item is “Solicitation for Help.” This is an item that is not open for discussion during the meeting, but brought up by an individual who would like help from someone inside the meeting later outside the meeting. Too often in meetings people bring up these type of issues and people end up providing the help inside the meeting when the item should have been addressed outside the room.

During the Effective Meeting Management workshop meeting leaders are provided with tools to manage the meeting to achieve productive outcomes. They learn how to control off-purpose behaviors that may arise in meetings. They also receive techniques to ensure action items are assigned, followed-up on, and completed.

Someone once said, “When the outcome of a meeting is to hold another meeting, it has been a lousy meeting.” Attendees leave the Effective Meeting Management workshop with everything they need so they won’t have to attend another lousy meeting. §