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HR Defined: How Hard Times Can Lead to the Best of Times

Posted by NEHRA  April 27, 2009 09:00 AM

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By: Russell J. Campanello, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Administration at Phase Forward

HR is critical to great businesses in the good times. It defines them in the hardest of times. The rules of HR are not being rewritten under these dark economic times, but these times give every company – and its HR organization – a chance to show what it’s made of.

Naturally, many companies today are keenly focused on profit margins and sales pipelines. But companies content to focus on these areas alone might miss their big, game-changing moment – a moment that starts with improving the quality of their relationships with their workforce through HR best practices, and thereby increasing the value of their “people investment.”

Boosting and keeping employee morale high is important now more than ever. In today’s service-based economy, employees must feel good about where they work for it has a positive, tangible impact on a company’s bottom line. Productivity is at its highest when people feel most aligned and engaged. Moreover, engaged employees are that much more likely to spend discretionary energy in pursuit of the organization’s goals.

And the path to success can be paved with little economic investment – with even the most minor adjustments yielding big returns. And don’t forget to dust off what you learned in kindergarten, for the basics will serve you well.

Back to Basics

It’s true; everything we learned in kindergarten is the foundation upon which a solid organization should sit. Playing well with others, sharing and how highly regarded you are in these fundamental areas are essential to success.

Delivering bad news is never easy. It’s natural to prefer an email message over standing up in front of your entire team. But from your employees’ perspective, the news, as difficult as it might be to receive, will be better received by the respectful manner in which it is delivered – in an open, honest forum and with authenticity.

To capitalize on these basic principles – especially in these hard times – it’s important to understand what kind of company you are before embarking on change (little or big). What level of openness do you have? How transparent are your communication channels? Being very clear about who you are, and understanding where you want to go, is critical to success.

Don’t Let Others Define Your Success

Efforts that lead to a company’s success in the marketplace do not automatically translate into employee satisfaction. Inclusion in one of the many Best Places to Work lists is an accolade worth celebrating, but don’t let that alone be your definition of success regarding employee satisfaction. Be honest and ask whether it’s a “best place to work” for the masses or just a select few, and be careful not to fall into the trap that some HR organizations succumb to – declaring success because some external recognition or new HR program now somehow defines you as a great place to work.

The real work is in the campaign of understanding that must be waged to ensure that all the stakeholders within your company see it the way you want it to be seen. We live in a world of mass customization; your policies must satisfy the various constituent stakeholders of your organization (across generations, high performers, high potentials, etc.). And you must be able to accomplish this while reinforcing your company’s defined principles. Basic strategies begin by understanding the stakeholder’s specific needs and requirements and the difference between the organization’s perceived and desire state.

A simple first step could be to arrange for regular employee and manager roundtables to discuss key issues and areas that need improvement. Start to chart concerns to new initiatives and improve the outdated/neglected policies.

Crystal Clear Communications and Transparency

Communication requires an openness that encourages dialogue and rewards participation with change.

Simple as some communications may seem, a lack of clear and consistent messaging with regard to goals, responsibilities and performance is a steady concern among managers and employees. Inconsistent and incomplete communication is often the source of much employee angst and confusion.

To help, consider launching an internal communications program (website, portal, blogs, etc.) where employees have access to up-to-date company information. Encourage employees to check back regularly and draw more traffic/exposure to the site with fun facts, engaging questions, and monthly or weekly contests. Post videos of company meetings so remote employees have equal access. Consider publishing org charts and team goals for all to see. Ask employees to contribute their ideas to make the engagement more of an active dialogue.

For a modest investment, consider arranging for all managers to receive regular training – and help to elevate the standard under which all managers are held. In addition to ensuring your performance review process effectively maximizes company talent, work to improve the hiring process to ensure that all new employees are a perfect fit not just for the requirements of the job but for the demands of the culture/environment/work style.

Engagement – A Good Gauge

Look beyond low voluntary turnover rates for a pulse on how employees are feeling.

Are employee-run events on the upswing? Are historically disengaged employees signing up for company-sponsored activities? Do your employees recommend their friends for employment? Do they bring their families to work for events or for lunch? Do employees volunteer for charitable campaigns or programs?

Regular polls and queries are good resources for information as well, in both quality and quantity. But it’s also up to the company to act on employee feedback. A consistent lack of results or a related lack of communications will backfire, and has the potential to do more harm than no polling at all.


Today’s economic unrest is unnerving to even the most experienced among us.

Not surprisingly many companies are turning to cost reductions as way to weather the storm. Certainly it may seem necessary to eliminate bonuses and freeze salaries; to hunker down and report only on the good news.

But this is the best time to begin to make new investments. Now is the time to dig deep and consider new initiatives, to help lessen employee concerns and reward and motivate high performers. The return will be exponential. What’s given to employees now, in tough times, will be how the company is defined in the good times.

We need to reject idea that it’s time to pull back from investing in our people. Leadership demands that we grow with an eye on the future, and build the foundation for improving relationships with our employees. This is the best time to nurture our teams, and recruit and hire superior talent. We must continue to innovate in support of our employees – the industry’s best and brightest. Our success depends on it.

Author Biography:
Renowned for his expertise on the strategic role of human resources in business, Russell J. Campanello brings to the position more than 25 years of industry experience and is responsible for all human resources (HR) and worldwide organizational development activities at Phase Forward.

Russ will be the KEYNOTE SPEAKER at NEHRA’s Conference Series Program on May 21st, entitled “Becoming an Employer of Choice - Best Practices that Drive Bottom Line Results”. For more information on this exceptional day of education and networking, visit NEHRA’s May 21 CONFERENCE WEBSITE today.

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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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