I’ve been asked a couple of times recently what I would do if I was still managing a communications department. It was an interesting question and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. In simple terms, I guess I’d say “play the long game”. But what does that mean in the short term?
Keep your best people at all costs. As a leader, I’d be fighting to make sure that if layoffs came that I did everything I could to protect my best people — particularly the generalists, the workhorses, those with great attitudes and the most senior people. In tough times those generalists are worth their weight in gold. They will tackle anything and usually do a great job of it. The workhorses are those folks who ALWAYS deliver by working hard and smart. Again, when forced to choose, these are people you can’t afford to lose. And, it may be a challenging time so who needs negative Nellies around? Positive attitudes count for something! And, although you won’t always choose the most senior people to hang on to, you will want as much experience as you can get, as long as the other elements are there as well.
Invest in supporting, coaching and developing your people and your processes. This is a good time to polish up your own leadership skills and be the best leader you can be. That means in person coaching, supporting and mentoring of your people. I led a team in the early 90s when the Alberta economy was in the dumps. It was brutal! But, it was also one of the best leadership learning experiences that I’ve ever had. It is also a good time to think about your service levels. Are you clear about what your team does and doesn’t do? Have you made that clear to internal clients? Sometimes in tough times you need to take another look and refocus on your core offerings.
I have some clients who are using this time to invest in training the people on their teams (good news for me since I teach Strategic Communications Planning seminars, Communicators as Consultants and other workshops). In the short term they will be working smarter than they were before and when things perk up again, those team members will remember the investment in their training. This contributes to long term loyalty.
And, what am I doing to weather the storm as a consultant? Playing the long game. I’m investing in building and fine tuning my data base of communications candidates for my search practice. I don’t expect as many searches this year, but I’ll be ready when the employers need to get back to hiring! I’m focusing more of my effort on reaching out to previous clients to remind them I’m around. I’m pitching training seminars. I’m reminding clients of my work as a meeting facilitator. I’m focusing on service offer and organizational structure and design work. I’m being open to new possibilities. And, I’m holding my fees at their 2012 rate. Above all I’m simply being there for many of my clients who have become my friends. This too shall pass.