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Nick Golding

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Preparing your organisation for the upturn


The survivors of a redundancy process are the springboard for the future of the organisation, so employers must ensure they remain motivated and loyal to enable the business to come out on top when the upturn eventually arrives. Nick Golding reports.

From politicians to journalists and from business leaders to academics, many have put forward their predictions, but no one knows exactly when the UK will break free from the recession’s grip.

But it will do at some point of course, and when the downturn becomes an upturn it is vital that HR has aligned the workforce so that it is in the best possible shape to take full advantage.
Clearly defining job roles, which have become blurred following waves of redundancies, and ensuring that employees are clear on their individual responsibilities within the company, is one crucial way that organisations can get staff focused once again.
According to the Engaging Times 2009 survey, by talent management firm Taleo, almost a quarter (23%) of employees do not understand how their current role helps the business to succeed.
Alice Snell, vice president at Taleo, says: "From our research, we have seen that many employees don’t have a clear idea of what their role is currently or in the future. The tools aren’t in place to have that visibility, and this is very important."

Trust levels

Adopting an ‘open’ policy when it comes to communication will also help HR and senior management to re-build levels of trust between top and bottom staff that may have been eroded during the downturn.
The constant threat of job loss, meetings behind closed doors and the workplace rumours all help impact on trust at the workplace, and restoring this must be a top priority for HR when preparing for the upturn, explains Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD).
"Our research has shown that only about a third of employees actually trust management, so clearly there is a lack of confidence here. Involve staff in the process of change, if you want them all to pull in the same direction meaningful consultation is absolutely essential."
To successfully remove any trust barriers between senior management teams and other employees, the communication needs to be interactive and two-way, not simply a block email to all members of staff.
Snell adds: "Communication with workers needs to be interactive, the internet use today and social networking mean that it’s unrealistic for companies to put out one email saying ‘this is where we are’, and consider that communication."
Though just as vital when preparing for the upturn is holding on to top performers, because whilst at the moment it may not be a good time for staff to be eyeing up a move, once business improves employees could see it as a good opportunity for change.

Opportunities for progression

Training could be key here, and even though training budgets may have been cut during the recession HR must target certain areas of the workforce and ensure that they are receiving the attention and opportunities for the progression they crave so badly.
Jonathan Perks, MD of board executive coaching at HR consultancy firm Penna, explains: "Many firms adopt the ‘if we train them they’ll just leave’ attitude, but in reality staff are more likely to leave if they don’t receive training.
"Making staff more employable in the marketplace sounds like madness but if you don’t they’ll leave anyway."
Aside from top performers the training should be pushed in the direction of line managers as well, these are the members of staff that close to employees and can ultimately can get staff back on their feet, motivated and ready for the upturn, insists the CIPD’s Willmott.
He says: "We [the CIPD] think that investing in line manager capability is critical, it is the behaviour of line managers that determines whether staff go the extra mile for the company."
Clearly the message from experts in HR is not when companies should be preparing their employees for the upturn, but rather how it can be done in the most effective way. The recession has impacted on trust as well as damaged motivation levels and eroded engagement, but now HR along with senior management has the chance to re-build relationships at work and invest in staff so that they are up and running at full pace by the time the economic cloud lifts.

Top tips on preparing for the upturn

  1. A recession is an ideal situation for jobs to be lost and to merge, with few members of staff really knowing what is in fact required of them. HR must clearly define roles and responsibility for employees.

  2. Training can help to keep top performers focused and motivated at work and prepared for the upturn. Without training or any sense of progression, morale and loyalty will soon wither away.

  3. Levels of trust, eroded by the recession, must be re-built. Private meetings, sudden redundancies and constant office rumours create a suspicious non-productive atmosphere, and one that must be dealt with prior to the upturn.

One Response

  1. Appropriate staffing for the upturn
    Ensuring you are staffed appropriately for when the upturn comes is critical to company success, but few companies are as concerned about retention as they should be, subscribing to the fallacy that retention is not an issue in a recession as employees are just happy to have jobs. This is simply not true as your best employees always have options. And the waves of reductions have seriously hindered the upturn prospects for many.

    Appropriate staffing is a delicate balance, expressed best by Fred Crandall of Watson Wyatt Worldwide: “The biggest issue our clients face right now is regaining momentum when business picks up, while having to hire the fewest number of new people.”

    The company best poised to take advantage of the eventual upturn is the one that does not have to seek out new talent, train them, incorporate them into the company culture, steep them in the strategic priorities, and only then begin to see results.

    The Watson Wyatt report and additional thoughts on this topic are available here:


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