Pulling your organization out of a dip
By Elaine Varelas, 02/04/2008
Dips happen. Despite all the proper planning that is done to avoid them, at one point or another, all organizations experience a dip. It may be expected or come as a complete surprise. Leadership may have prepared for an eventual slump or the team could be caught off-guard.
Whatever the situation, dips are a reality. It is what an organization does in the aftermath that matters most. Does your organization wallow in Dipville, or high-tail it out of town?
There are many different kinds of setbacks an organization can experience-and they may each require a unique response. Some slumps affect business in general: a stock-market crash, a sluggish economy, or loss of consumer confidence can pummel companies across many industries. Other setbacks are specific to an organization: the loss of a big client or the failure of a product can create a domino effect of layoffs or an unwanted merger or acquisition. There are also more "personal" dips, such as the unexpected loss of a leader.
What is HR's role when an organization is in a dip? There are several ways you can offer support or lead the charge:
Allow time to review and grieve - Regardless of the setback, employees need time to experience the defeat. Organizations should address any losses or failures directly, without blame-and not try to minimize them or brush them aside. If there are layoffs, employees may be grieving the absence of colleagues or friends. A product delay or client issue may affect some people or departments more than others. If it is a personal loss, everyone may handle it differently. For example, if a senior leader leaves, employees may wonder what he or she knew that they don't. Some employees worry, while others may feel burned. Individuals need to be allowed to grieve in their own way with the support of the organization.
Pay tribute - Sadly, revered corporate leaders have died unexpectedly, and the organization must respond with HR leading the internal communication and support efforts. In cases of personal tragedy or death, an organization responds formally and informally through their actions, and HR can lead the way. The organization must agree on whether to recognize the individual's contributions to the company in a formal way, such as a ceremony or a scholarship or foundation. Smaller groups within the organization may choose to pay tribute in other ways, and these actions also need to be supported. This way, employees can deal with the impact of the loss, and see a way to move on.
Set manageable goals - While looking at the long term is important, organizations should also set interim goals to track short-term progress. Yearly targets may seem overwhelming, while weekly or monthly goals are more attainable. Dieters trying to lose 30 pounds often quit, but those aiming for two pounds a week are often able to stick with it.
Celebrate small successes - Don't wait for the next mega-client win to pop the figurative champagne corks, but celebrate the smaller triumphs. Offer token rewards, such as catered lunches, coffee cards, or gift certificates when employees or departments reach short-term goals.
Share accomplishments - Organizations are better able to come together after a setback if they feel connected to each other as individuals. One way HR managers can help cultivate this connection is to communicate employees' accomplishments. Share individual or team successes with the rest of the staff, however the organization typically communicates (e-mail, memos, newsletters, bulletin board announcements, or staff meetings).
Push teamwork - Organizations that look to blame won't recover from failure. Instead, focus on building high-performing teams. By getting over the negative, concentrating on the positive, and working together, teams can lead the organization out of the slump.
Learn from mistakes - As well-known management writer Jim Collins recommends, the company should conduct an "autopsy without blame." Examine the setback and learn from it-without assigning blame to specific individuals or teams. Failure begets success as long as you can avoid it in the future. The organization is allowed to make mistakes, just not the same ones over and over.
Get managers on-board - Work with managers to make sure they are in the right frame of mind to help their teams deal with setbacks and get the company back on track. Without buy-in from managers, human resources won't be successful in helping the company pull out of a dip.
Keep the atmosphere upbeat - Many people minimize the importance of keeping an optimistic outlook, but it can mean the difference between people working together and people dreading going to work. Don't underestimate the power of laughter to create a positive work environment. Going to work should be fun and enjoyable, at least part of the time. If employees have whining, blame, and sadness to look forward to every day at work, they may start looking for other opportunities.
Failure and loss are part of the business cycle. There are many types of setbacks and just as many ways for an organization to respond to a dip. HR managers have the ability to help turn things around after a dip and can get the organization working towards its next success.
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