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A recession antidote is people-enhancement
James F. Bracher
The San Jose Mercury News, Viewpoints
Monday, April 29, 1991
BOMBARDED by bad news, disturbed by threats of terrorism,
confounded by an economy that has skidded into recession
and angered by elected officials who posture and pontificate
rather than step up to the hard questions of deficits,
ethics and accountability - people are upset. These people
are the nation's employees - whether on the production
floor or in the boardroom. And when employees are upset,
so is business, and so am I.
People have good reason to be upset when the problems
seem to emanate from nearly everywhere: problems arising
from war jitters, from drought jitters, from the savings
and loan debacle and other financial jitters, from anxiety
Are we Americans simply too sensational? Anything less
than extremes seems unworthy of the news, the public's
attention or the government's concern. Unless it's the
worst hurricane of the decade, the most serious drought
of the century, the vilest serial murder, the biggest
financial disaster, the most massive air bombardment
or the longest-winning streak in NFL history -
we seem uninterested.
Listen daily to the "commercial heartbeat" of
some of America's most dynamic, growth-oriented businesses.
I'm hearing this: America needs to focus today on "people
enhancement" so we might ensure a better, more productive
nation tomorrow. If this is the truism it seems to be,
then why is it so difficult for anyone to take action?
There is no cure-all, but business leaders are telling
me these are working: Do your organizational spring cleaning
now. The recession has broken the routine; use it as
an opportunity to stop and reflect. If business is slow,
view it as an opportunity to re-evaluate your business'
attitudes toward your employees and your customers. Is
your organization set up in the best way to serve both
well? Survey and assess your management's personality
and leadership styles: The results will allow your leaders
to enhance effectiveness by learning ways to accommodate
and complement diverse styles when the economy rebounds.
Resolve to communicate better with your employees. Start
holding more regular meetings. Find out what is on your
employees' minds. You can't reduce the uncertainty, but
you can reduce the tension. Place greater emphasis on
an optimistic future. Devise and implement new people
strategies that will improve understanding and interaction
among diverse team members. Employees who have been laid
off are already among the ranks of the unemployed; the
people you need to worry about are the employees who
remain but are growing more anxious. Move now to reassure
them and help improve production. Is there anything wrong
when levels of anxiety plummet and productivity soars?
Resolve to communicate better with your customers. Reach
out. Encourage your employees to reach out, too. Take
the time to renew common bonds with the customers and
clients who have made your business an economic reality.
Such opportunities take many forms: professional organizations,
service groups, sporting events, a follow-up letter or
simply a telephone call. Make that extra effort to keep
the channels of communication open by returning all phone
calls sooner rather than later. Go ahead and contact
your customers, even if it is only to commiserate with
them: "I'm all right. How about you?" Acknowledge
openly that now may not be the time to travel and that
travel savings realized today could evolve into permanent
cost-saving measures. The threat of terrorism can be
as devastating as terrorism's actual attacks. For those
in business who must fly, anxiety levels are reaching
all-time highs. Acknowledge those concerns. The gulf
war gave video-conferencing a jump-start. Electronic
communications have an added benefit: They make us communicate
more crisply and succinctly.
Seek "balance." These are not the times to
be, or to encourage those who tend to be, sensational.
Do your part to offset the overload of bad news fed to
us by the media morning, noon and night. If children,
employees and people in general are more productive and
creative when reminded of what they are doing well, then
why shouldn't we practice some of this same positive
reinforcement? We all want and need to know what is going
wrong, but we also benefit from reports about what is
going right. Bad news feeds on itself. If allowed to
run unchecked, it darkens the attitudes of your employees
and your business' future.
Recession breeds frustration, and frustration retards
progress. Frustration diverts our attention to failures
and away from Successes. People become upset. Even so,
recession can help us rechannel our energies to surmount
whatever wall or restraint we encounter. It can teach
a person a new way over the wall, a way that may entail
finding an "Invisible" door rather than embarking
on a conventional climb. Smart leaders know the whereabouts
of such doors, and "people enhancement" is
one of them. If we enhance individuals, we can revitalize
business and society.
James F. Bracher, creator of the Bracher Center for
Integrity in Leadership, is the founder and chairman
of Dimension Five Consultants, Inc. a management consulting
firm in Monterey, California.
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