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Communicating In A Recession

It’s no secret. The continuing unfavourable economic environment and increasing scarcity of financial resources have combined to make the attainment of corporate goals even harder.

In tough times like these, companies should be prudent in reaching out regularly to their stakeholders, and especially to their employees, with frank, open discussions on the state of their finances and their ability to stay afloat given the vast uncertainties that abound.

In Barbados we are desperately seeking solutions to preserve the standard of living to which we have grown accustomed. We are especially vulnerable given our size and the fact that with limited natural resources, we are dependent on a few industries to stimulate growth. When these industries falter, there is a domino effect across all sectors. Businesses increasingly strive to cut back on expenses, and more often than not they aim to reduce one of the biggest expenses— staff. The unemployment level rises, jobs are hard to come by and those persons that are employed are fearful of their job security daily and increasingly exhibit low employee morale. How do you maintain employee morale in a time of decreasing budgets and increasing demands? Communicate!

The Nation Newspaper of Thursday October 3, 2013 prompted me to ponder on the management/communications strategies engaged at this time. The reports reflected doom and gloom across all sectors from tourism, to hospitality, retail, education, construction and financial services in at least six separate stories:

And one question is foremost in my mind: Are managers and business owners communicating the company’s financial position and involving staff in probable solutions or are employees hearing about the problems that the company is encountering only via the grapevine or newspaper? Some managers find it difficult to communicate in tough times and sometimes fall silent because they themselves feel the pressure of job insecurity or the pressure of having to let go of a long time friend and colleague.

Communication is thought to be a “soft” management tool, not up there with finance, sales or human resources. But more and more, it is being demonstrated that how a company communicates to its constituents is just as important to its survival as the other management functions.

Here then is my take on what all companies should be doing in this environment:

  1. Organise monthly staff meetings and encourage participation– Staff meetings for large organisations may prove a challenge but where there is a will there is a way. Meetings can alternatively be done via teleconference and recorded. Staff who cannot participate because of time zone, or time of work should be able to view the recording at a convenient time and contribute questions if necessary.
  2. Make the company’s performance known– Most staff do not know whether the company is meeting its targets or not. If the company is a private entity, details of the financials do not have to be given but a broad view of whether budgets and sales targets are made is enough to get staff thinking of their own contribution.
  3. Have regular staff performance reviews— Managers can better assess individual staff performances and they can in turn let employees know how they themselves are doing so that there are no surprises if they are asked to go.
  4. Ask staff at all levels to come up with solutions to help the company stay or get back on track– The staff in the trenches know intimately of any haemorrhaging and areas of unproductivity the company may have. Encourage them to bring solutions to the table and take action.

There is substantial evidence to support the need to communicate frequently, honestly and openly with staff. If this is done well, then layoffs may even be avoided.

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