Fear. Uncertainty. A growing sense of panic every time the president delivers a national address about the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus.
Chatter around the workplace these days is filled with questions like: Will I get sick? Will I have a job tomorrow? Can I afford to pay my rent?
What can one do when facing fear in the workplace? The good news is that one can turn to four key principles: transparency, financial discipline, trust and respect for people, and a forward-focused approach. To take fear out of the workplace, consider the following steps:
Embrace transparency. “Open-book management” is the idea that everyone inside an organization will be taught to understand the numbers that drive its success. Many growing business owners can be reluctant to share the truth about the financials inside their business. But they don’t realize the kind of risks they take on by doing so. They take on the burden of keeping the business alive — solo. In many cases, CEOs and owners are forced to shut the doors of the business to the shock of their associates, who are then left to wonder if they could have done something to contribute to a different outcome.
That’s why it’s amazing what happens when a business leader has the courage to share the news — good and bad — with his people. Treat them like adults. Get their attention directed toward what they can do to help — versus panicking. Plus, the more eyes on a problem, the more ideas there will be to solve it. It’s an automatic check-and-balance on the security of your business.
Discuss the business’s cash position. It’s been frustrating over the past few years as we’ve watched startup companies under the guidance of universities, incubators and even investors embrace the idea that the only way they could grow was to take on debt. Some of business owners may find themselves in an over-leveraged position, but that can also be an opportunity for them to engage their workforce and tell them the truth about the situation. Those who do find themselves in trouble may find it helpful to ask their associates for ideas about how they can contribute to cutting costs — and increasing cash flow to the point of actually covering debt obligations. It’s amazing what can happen when business leaders teach their people the rules of the game.
Protect jobs. Attracting talent and retaining it can be tough. We don’t have a future without people. In the not-too-distant past, executives sometimes became idols when downsizing jobs became the new mantra, laying off people at a time they needed those jobs the most. Something similar could happen today. Difficult times can convince companies to resort to layoffs to survive. But it is wise to think differently. Whoever has the most talented workforce will dominate their markets as soon as 2021. The time to get one’s organization ready for the next upturn is today — not when it’s already arrived. By then, it may be too late.
Get ready for the upturn. As bad and as uncertain as things look today, here’s a secret: It’s actually harder to get a company ready to take advantage of an upturn than it is to prepare for a downturn. Downturns can actually be opportunities to fix things inside a business that it couldn’t afford the time and resources to invest in when the economy is booming. While it might seem counterintuitive, the current down market comes as a kind of short-term relief.
It’s giving us a chance to catch up — to make investments in our people and facilities — and to prepare ourselves to capitalize on the economic uptick that we expect to hit in late 2020, early 2021. By then, our workforce should be more stable and productive — and ready to take full advantage of the available opportunities. They have every incentive to do so, because, as owners of the business, they have a true stake in the outcome.
We know how painful things are today. But there’s no reason business leaders can’t also dare to be successful. And learning how to build a culture based on transparency, financial discipline, trust and respect for people, and a forward-focused outlook, is a great place to start removing the fear that’s pervading many a workplace.
Rich Armstrong is the president of The Great Game of Business Inc., and co-author, with Steve Baker, of GET IN THE GAME: How To Create Rapid Financial Results And Lasting Cultural Change. This book is the how-to application of Jack Stack’s 1992 bestseller, The Great Game of Business. Armstrong and Baker co-authored the update of Stack’s book in The Great Game of Business – 20th Anniversary Edition. Armstrong has nearly 30 years of experience in improving business performance and employee engagement through the practice of open-book management and employee ownership.
Steve Baker is the vice president of The Great Game of Business Inc., and is a top-rated, sought-after speaker and coach on the subjects of open-book management, strategy, execution, leadership and employee engagement. Baker is a career marketing and branding professional and an award-winning artist.