With increased business pressures in an uncertain economy, supervisors are often required to accomplish more with fewer resources. By learning from the strategies managers have employed in past downturns -- both those that worked well and those that did not -- companies will be better prepared for when the economy eventually rebounds.
Following are seven of the most prevalent mistakes managers make in a downturn and how to avoid them.
1. Thinking your staff can't handle the truth. If you haven't before, now is the time to treat employees like business partners. Talking openly about the effect of the downturn on your firm can help staff members feel they have some measure of control. Discuss issues that arose during the last business slowdown. How did things turn around? What was learned from that experience?
2. Blaming those at the top. If you're a middle manager who has to deliver bad news, you may be inclined to tell employees that you would have done things differently, but the choice wasn't yours. While this may temporarily take the heat off of you, it sends the message that you are out of sync with the company's leaders, which may be disconcerting to staff. Instead, present changes and the reasons behind them, including how your firm will persevere.
3. Feeling people are lucky just to have a job. It may be true that many employees feel fortunate to have a stable position, but this doesn't mean managers can ignore staff members' desire for positive recognition and career support. Top performers, in particular, require extra attention; not only are their contributions especially critical now, but they are always attractive targets for competitors.
4. Not asking for employees' help in expanding client relationships. Ask staff members to think about things they can do to help achieve business goals without sacrificing productivity. You may be pleased to discover how resourceful they are. When appropriate, involve your team in efforts to generate new business. This can mean expanding relationships with existing clients as well as identifying and pursuing new prospects.
5. Making work "mission impossible." Hiring freezes and tighter budgets may mean that one person is doing the work of two or more people. If this is the case, help your employees identify which projects are mission-critical. Delegate remaining tasks, bringing in temporary
professionals if necessary, or put these items on hold. This will help you avoid overwhelming your staff.
6. Shifting the focus from the front lines. Client service matters even more when times are tough. Are you doing everything possible to make sure your front-line professionals have the right attitude and send the right messages? If these employees come across as indifferent or
inexperienced, you could lose both prospective and existing customers.
7. Waiting to try new things. Even in uncertain times, playing it safe can backfire. If you have a promising new service offering or client niche you want to pursue, don't wait for a turnaround to act. By taking well-calculated risks, you can get a jump on competitors and possibly carve out an additional revenue stream.
Mike Gooley is manager of Robert Half International’s Toronto operations. Robert Half International, www.rhi.com, has more than 360 staffing locations worldwide. The company has just released its guide, The 30 Most Common Mistakes Managers Make in an Uncertain Economy. Readers can request a free copy of the guide at www.rhi.com/30Mistakes.