SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – 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 employers do when they’re facing fear in the workplace? The good news is that business owners can turn to four key principles: transparency, financial discipline, trust and respect for people and a forward-focused approach. If employers want to take fear out of the workplace, they can consider the following steps.
“Open-book management” is the idea that everyone inside the 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 a business owner has the courage to share the news – good and bad – with their people. Treat them like adults. Get their attention directed toward what they can do to help – versus panicking. Plus, the more eyes that are on a problem, the more ideas an employer will have to solve it. It’s an automatic check-and-balance on the security of the business.
Discuss the business’s cash position.
It’s been frustrating over the past few years, watching 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 small-business owners may find themselves in an overleveraged position, but that place can also be an opportunity to engage their workforce and tell them the truth about the situation. If an employer does find themselves in trouble, ask the associates for ideas about how they can contribute to cutting costs – and increasing cash flow to the point where the business can actually cover its debt obligations. Business owners will be amazed at what can happen when they teach their people the rules of the game.
Attracting talent and retaining it can be tough. Businesses 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 an 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 the business that a business owner can’t afford to invest the time and resources in when the economy is booming. While it might seem counterintuitive, the current down market comes as a kind of short-term relief.
It’s giving people a chance to catch up – to make investments in their people and facilities – and to prepare to capitalize on the economic uptick that is expected to hit in late-2020 and early-2021. By then, the 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.
Things are painful for businesses today. But there’s no reason they 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 workplaces.
Rich Armstrong is the president of The Great Game of Business Inc., and co-author, with Steve Baker, of “Get In The Game: How To Create Rapid Financial Results And Lasting Cultural Change.” This book is the how-to application of Jack Stack’s 1992 bestseller, “The Great Game of Business.” Armstrong and Baker co-wrote the update of Stack’s book in “The Great Game of Business – 20th Anniversary Edition.” Armstrong has nearly 30 years of experience in improving business performance and employee engagement through the practice of open-book management and employee ownership.
Steve Baker is the vice president of The Great Game of Business Inc., and is a top-rated, sought-after speaker and coach on the subjects of open-book management, strategy and execution, leadership and employee engagement. Baker is a career marketing and branding professional and an award-winning artist.
For more information, visit https://www.greatgame.com.