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What Are You Waiting For? Four HR Initiatives You Can Do Now to Reach Your Post-Recovery Goals

Posted by Elaine Varelas  October 4, 2010 08:00 AM

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By Elaine Varelas

As Tom Petty elucidates in one of his hit songs, “The Waiting,” well, it’s the hardest part. Waiting is not fun to do, yet many organizations seem to be in a holding pattern these days. Many HR initiatives are being put on the backburner until a future time (when the economy improves, cash flow loosens up, or just one more client comes in). Some organizations are putting off projects because investing now is too risky. But if HR managers and company leaders wait too long to implement important HR programs the risk can be even greater.

I have a friend who has big plans for herself once she loses weight. She says, “When I lose 20 pounds, I’m going to learn to dance, take a beach vacation, start dating again, and buy a new pair of jeans.” Meanwhile, her life (at least her fun life) is passing by. We sometimes make excuses for waiting, when it really isn’t in our best interest.

That is definitely true for organizations that are holding projects until the economy improves. According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession ended in June of 2009. Many businesses didn’t feel any immediate relief from the downturn’s official end and we still don’t know how quickly the economy will recover from the slump. Of course, there may never be a “perfect” time to reinvigorate stalled programs, but now is a great time to identify those projects we would do (if the HR budget fairy paid a visit) and get started.

While it’s true that some initiatives require a significant financial investment, organizations may be able to do others less expensively by rolling out a pilot program, using resources they already have available, or starting small. There are creative ways to embark on programs in uncertain times. It may be more costly for organizations that don’t. According a survey from Regus, 40% of the American workforce is displeased with their organizations and are planning to change jobs as soon as the economy improves. If you want to hold on to your people—and be in a position to recruit others—look into ways to revive your HR programs now.

Here are four common initiatives that many organizations are currently putting off and ways HR managers can get them going:

Recruit new talent
Your organization may not be in a position to take on additional salary costs, but imagine if it were. Who are the people you would be targeting? Who will help your business grow? Identify that talent now. Will you be looking to add recent college grads, one experienced leader, or a select few with specific technical skills? Once you’ve determined the type of hires you would need, revamp your networks. Reestablish relationships with college alumni offices, recruiters, and possible targets. Look for opportunities to “grow your own” by cultivating people already within your organization who may be right for these positions. Create a presence where your target people are so you’ll be in a position to make decisions quickly.

Start a wellness program
Wellness programs are extremely popular with employees and can cut future healthcare costs for employers. Yet, some HR managers are overwhelmed by the price tag and time investment it takes to begin a comprehensive program. One option is to introduce a pilot program. You could start with a project that would make the biggest impact, such as a smoking cessation program. You could also try creative ways to get more employees involved in different programs, such as morning or lunch-time walking programs, weight loss or quit smoking “buddies,” or a “Biggest Loser” challenge.

Recognize employees
While it would be ideal to begin giving employees bonuses once again, it isn’t in every company’s budget. Yet, bonuses are an acknowledgment for a job well-done and there are other, less expensive ways to recognize employees. HR professionals can encourage managers to celebrate small successes—with coffee cards, lunches, and long weekends. You can also institute incentive programs, where employees are rewarded for bringing in clients or finding ways to reduce overhead. Employees want to feel engaged and have a sense that the organization is invested in them, so be sure to encourage transparent leadership and open communication throughout the organization.

Ramp-up training and development
Training and development programs are a surefire way to keep employees engaged (and retained), but they may seem out of reach for HR managers. There are creative ways to train and develop employees on a shoestring budget. Look at your teams: could you do any cross-training (IT teaches sales how to use a new software and sales teaches the marketing department about public speaking). Consider starting a lecture series with guest speakers from your client base, vendors, or local universities. Mentor programs are an organic way to foster learning. Horizontal stretch assignments can also challenge and educate people and get them ready for the promotion when it is financially feasible. By showing an interest in employees’ development you are demonstrating an investment in the person and that person’s future with the organization.

If you take small steps to implement important HR programs now, your organization will be better poised to engage and retain employees when the economy takes off.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

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