|Economists and media pundits are suggesting that the recession is nearing its end — and I am finally seeing signs in the metro DC area that indeed they may be right. My buddies at search firms and recruiting agencies are getting requests every day to fill more jobs, and prospective clients are looking to me to help them in their management challenges. I’m thrilled to no longer be hearing the words: “yes, we want you — but not now,” but rather, “yes, can you conduct a training session next week?”
It’s a relief to be back in the saddle, but I’m also pondering the lessons learned from this challenge. This is something that I regularly ask my clients to consider, for the exercise of reflecting on the actions that led to a success or failure can contribute to deep learning that will guide you through future peaks and valleys.
So, what lessons have you learned in the last 12 to 18 months of economic misery? How can you use this learning to shape your future? Make a list and ruminate on it, for I am confident that the things you come up with will be enlightening and useful not just today, but in the future.
I’m also in the process of thinking about the road ahead, so read on for some forecasts. You’ll also find my bi-monthly interview with an expert and this month’s profile is John White, president of JD White & Associates, Inc. He is a man I have known for decades and deeply respect for he has more than 25 years experience in Human Resource management and in his answers offers keen insights into the recovery at hand. And finally, you’ll find three of my top picks for this month’s Workforce Learning Book Club.
Wishing you a lift in your business, and a lift in your day.
Dr. Alice Waagen, President & Founder
|THREE SCENARIOS FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY
Insight into what’s come and why, so you can be prepared to manage your preferred future
By Dr. Alice Waagen, President & Founder
The scope and magnitude of the economic downturn of 2008-2009 exceeds anything most of us have experienced, with the exception of a few seniors who lived through the Great Depression.
This reality became abundantly clear last spring when I participated in a network meeting attended by about 40 business professionals. The speaker began the program by asking who in the audience was in transition (out of work and seeking employment). About a third of the group raised a hand. He then asked how many had family members out of work — and another third raised their hands. How about close friends, neighbors, colleagues? Not a hand in the room was down.
I asked myself then what would be the impact on the collective consciousness? If we all were experiencing a heightened level of financial anxiety and fear for future employment, how would that affect decisions in the workplace? Even now, we can’t truly know the impact, nor can we determine the long-term financial, psychological, and emotional fall-out of the recent recession.
Given that, here are three scenarios to consider:
SCENARIO 1: Stress levels and their impact on work will continue to plague organizations for years to come — even as employees rebuild their financial portfolios.
Here’s why: In extreme cases, businesses ceased to function, and in others furloughs or pay cuts were required. Even those who are relatively recession proof instituted hiring freezes and budget cuts for fear of future negative conditions. Most people I’ve talked with understand the need for financial caution and even accepted mandatory furloughs if it meant saving jobs. But how these cutbacks were communicated and the quality of leadership exhibited in the tough times will be crucial for survival once we are back in growth mode. Those employees who felt the organizations did not handle these bad times well or who saw indications of faulty leadership or bad decisions will be out the door as soon as recovery stabilizes.
My crystal ball says: Look out for massive employee movement and job shift of the best talent, as we get further on in the recovery.
SCENARIO 2: Questionable compensation practices in the business world will have an impact on compensation market data.
Here’s why: Like the residential housing industry, traditional compensation practices rely on comparative market pricing. Anyone who’s tried to buy or sell a house in the last six months knows that home prices are down due to foreclosures and short sales. Likewise, organizations that have hired individuals below their market value, who have combined positions due to hiring freezes or who have instituted mandatory across-the-board salary decreases, have their work cut out for them when it comes to getting their compensation structure back in order. (Those of us who remember the dot-com crash of the early 2000s will have bad flashbacks of what happens when talent shortages cause companies to pay way over market to fill key positions.)
My crystal ball says: It may take some time to normalize compensation data and practices, but by late 2010 we will again see labor shortages, especially for key talent, just as we did before the recession.
SCENARIO 3: As the recovery progresses, business leaders will continue to clean house by holding poor performers accountable by instituting best practice standards for performance and requiring more from the management team.
Here’s why: With all the doom and gloom in the press, this is the real silver lining to the recession clouds. I believe that this window of financial distress has caused many business leaders to question wasteful or inefficient practices. That’s good news, for now organizations will be leaner and meaner, and managers will be not only expected but also required to do their jobs well.
My crystal ball says: If businesses, in general, are managed better we will see a net gain from these last few years of distress and chaos.
|BOOKS FOR LEADERS: Alice’s Books of the Month
By Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon
I read Make Your Contacts Count years ago when it first hit the bookstores. I would not be exaggerating to say it dramatically changed the way I approached networking. That’s because before I read Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon’s incredible book, I thought networking meant attending business functions for the sole purpose of distributing and collecting as many business cards as possible. I never knew what to do with the cards once I got back to the office, but I was exceedingly proud of the huge pile I had amassed.
Make Your Contacts Count, however, provided me with a new, highly logical, systematic approach to making my way through the packed crowds of business luncheons and trade functions. Following the authors’ step-by-step process, I started to assess my networking skills and I shifted my mind-set about what it meant to meet all those new contacts — some of whom I hoped would be potential clients. Indeed, their detailed self-assessment (in Chapter 1) gave me an overview of the specific behaviors, attitudes and strategies I had going in.
In subsequent chapters, they guided me through a process to refine my purpose for networking, and helped me learn and understand how to better develop trusting relationships that would grow. I have never forgotten their terrific advice about proper body language, tone of voice, and opening conversations. Their “netiquette” tips also are forever ingrained, for they gave me pointers on seeking relationships rather than contacts.
So whether you’re looking to build a network of colleagues to help with career advancement or to grow new business opportunities, Make Your Contacts Count is a valuable desk reference and how-to guide for this most misunderstood, misused, and essential interpersonal skill.
The Sixth Lamentation
If you enjoy historical novels and mystery thrillers, you will love The 6th Lamentation, by William Brodrick. The story has a seemingly innocent opening. Friar Anselm is approached one day by an old man asking for sanctuary at his Lakewood Monastery in England. To his and his Prior’s horror, the man to whom they granted sanctuary ends up being a suspected Nazi war criminal.
Meanwhile, the story turns to a dying woman, Agnes Aubret, who worked with the French Resistance helping Jewish children flee the Nazi persecution by finding sanctuary in a sympathetic monastery. The threads of these two narratives unfold, bringing all characters to converge in their search for what truly happened more than 50 years ago. This is Brodrick’s first novel and a real tour de force in revealing the challenges our perceptions can play on events of the past. Quite simply, this is an amazing work.
Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace
Books on corporate creativity mostly leave me cold. Spouting tired clichés about “out of box” thinking don’t do much more than repackage truisms. I was thusly wary when my book club picked Orbiting the Giant Hairball this month.
But thanks to Viking Press, Orbiting is bursting with quirky hand-drawn illustrations, many of them printed in brilliant colors. Text fonts vary for emphasis, and the book itself is a work of art — one that I found immensely enjoyable to read. The author, Gordon MacKenzie, is a former Hallmark Card executive and his message is an important one: Corporate hairballs are the entangled patterns of behavior and bureaucratic policies and procedures that create Corporate Normalcy and stifle creativity and imagination.
Rather than fight the hairball, MacKenzie proposes that we orbit around it, exploring ways to operate creatively while maintaining the spirit of the corporate mission. He uses each chapter to tell a parable from his career at Hallmark, and elsewhere, which illustrates “responsible creativity.”
Mind you, Orbiting is not a how-to manual about creativity. It is a series of offbeat, inspirational stories that show us how to survive working in hairball-bound organizations by rising above the mundane where ideas flourish. Don’t miss it.