Help employees weather business storm cycle

The modern economy is in a constant state of change, which means businesses — large and small — must move quickly in response to market shifts.

Even the strongest companies cycle through good times and bad, and bringing out the best in employees is a challenge during the best of times. According to Gallup, only 32 percent of U.S. workers felt engaged in their jobs in 2015, which was a pretty good year for the economy and for business growth. So imagine the struggle of keeping workers happy during a down period.

And there will be a down period. Businesses go through four phases: startup, high growth (the “tornado”), declining growth (the “avalanche”) and consolidation.

Picture employees sliding downhill in an avalanche: It’s up to a company’s leaders to help them hold on, to turn the inevitable transition period from exhausting to exhilarating.

How does a business leader manage that through possible layoffs and pay cuts or, at the very least, major changes to the processes used to get the work done every day?

• Start putting people in the roles that fit them best. This is the time to ask some tough questions. Who on the staff is so tired and discouraged that they can no longer do their jobs well? Who has been moved outside of their normal roles, and how are they handling their new positions? Do they need to be moved back? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can step back and take a more accurate look at your staff. You’ll be able to add people where you need them — and remove people where you don’t.

• Expect resistance to change. If this is painful for you as a manager, think about how it is for staff members who have a lot less control over the situation. How you and your leadership team present change to your staff can make a world of difference. Employees who feel involved in the change and understand what’s going on demonstrate a more rapid recovery and may perform better.

• Clear and frequent communication is vital. If you introduce processes that staff members don’t understand or haven’t learned, you’re going to slow things down rather than speed them up. Invest in your people. Make sure they always have proper training and equipment.

During the consolidation period between high times and low times and back to high times again, a leader’s primary role is to rally those frazzled and frustrated troops. Make sure everyone understands you’re in the midst of a normal process, and keep waving that flag so no one gets discouraged.

Dave Hopson is managing partner at IT consulting services firm Triumphus.