Nobody needs to tell you that we’re in hard times. A pandemic is sweeping the nation, a trail of personal and economic devastation behind it, and frightening uncertainty ahead. Businesses are struggling to figure out the best path to survival. For many leaders, the impulse is, understandably, to lessen their organizations’ financial load with layoffs.
The good news is that eventually, through the efforts of courageous health care workers and our technology, we will defeat the virus, and life and work will return to a version of normal. And many economists predict that when this happens, our mothballed world economy will snap back to life, unleashing a wave of pent-up demand.
Will your company survive and be ready for this?
After all, consider what happened post 9/11. After the attacks, the world economy reeled, oil prices surged, and the stock markets plunged as the world braced for war in the Middle East. Many companies, fearful about the future, indulged in a layoff binge, slashing their workforce without thought to who their top talent was, or what current and future skills the organization might need to remain viable and recover with the economy.
But then the economy quickly rebounded, and the downturn turned out to be what economists call a “V-shaped recession.” The sharp decline in GDP was followed by an almost equally sharp increase in business activity. At this point, companies found that the talent they let go was desperately needed. They scrambled, and the result was a massive hiring binge to fill the gap that they themselves created.
The fact is that fundamentally, there was nothing significantly wrong with the underlying economics on September 11th, 2001. The economic downturn was not caused by normal business cycle considerations, the firing binge was followed by a scramble to replenish a depleted workforce.
Today, the pandemic is cutting a swath through what otherwise had been a robust economy, so the mistakes of 9/11 are a cautionary tale.
If you are among the business leaders queuing up the pink slips in reaction to this unprecedented crisis, I urge you to stop, take a breath, and think your next steps through — lest you sacrifice valuable employees in your rush for short-term relief.
While I understand some companies are in crisis and don’t have the luxury of time to pause for analysis, most do have the wherewithal, and I would argue, a duty to their workforce and, if public, their shareholders to proceed with wisdom and caution.
So instead of rushing to throw off what might feel like human ballast, consult with your HR executives to put together a strategic workplace plan, or crisis plan, by performing a three-dimensional review of your current workforce, considering more than headcount and cost. Instead of responding in panic only to the here and now, look ahead, 6 to 18 months in the future, and decide:
- What skills your people have today and what your organization will need
- How to ensure you have an adequate supply of these skills and where to deploy them
- Your succession plan for key leaders
Upon sober reflection of these needs, you probably will find that you can keep most of your workforce in place, and you will be ready to make clear decisions based on your data and forecasts. Additionally, doing a strategic workforce crisis plan will set you up for the future by seeing how you can maximize the productivity of the workforce you have. From this plan you will be in position to drive higher performance and workforce engagement, creating what I call “PEIP capability,” where PEIP = People Engagement, Innovation and Performance.
PEIP is a strategic capability that not only creates higher performance, it creates a more engaged workplace, which naturally leads to greater productivity. Who doesn’t want to work in an organization that wants to optimize employees and work with their skills and their career aspirations? A workplace that tries to align people to what they do best? An engaged workplace is a fun place to work, but it is also a competitive advantage. Some of the highest performing companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Accenture, IBM, and SAP, have implemented PEIP strategies to create competitive advantage, and this is reflected in their people engagement scores as well as share-price performance.
PEIP can also help future-proof your organization. New smart technologies and AI perme.ating the workplace create another opportunity for the workforce and the organization to align the right people with the right skills to harness new technology. This creates a “turbo-charging” effect, driving more engagement, innovation, and productivity, as well as return on investment on IT spend.
We are at the fork in the road — once again. It’s a scary time, but rife with opportunity for companies that respond with foresight. We can do as we have done for decades before and continue the hire/fire binge, or we can step back and be more strategic and thoughtful in addressing the current crisis, while at the same time positioning our businesses to thrive in the future — whatever it brings.