Rabbit or headlight? Which are you?

Rabbit or headlight? Which are you?

How well are you managing your people through recession? Lesley Hunter has some pertinent advice.

I’m sure I’m not the only person glad to see the back of 2009 and the associated doom and gloom that has been portrayed for businesses in our region. Let’s look forward instead to the potential of a year of positive business development and growth.

Let us also stop for a moment and think about the people in our organisations who we’ll need to help to bring about our business goals and lead us to recovery and prosperity in the North East.

Several of our public sector organisations have undergone radical change and restructuring that has resulted in significantly different profiles, accompanied by upheaval and adjustment in their operational structures.

In the private sector, redundancy has been a big issue, and every week a different headline has screamed the message about job losses and company closures. Perhaps you have had to take difficult and unpopular decisions regarding staffing levels in your own organisation.

Or you may have been on the receiving end of the message that your job was simply no longer viable. Either way, it is an uncomfortable situation to be in, and inevitably fraught with emotion for everyone concerned.

For some people, redundancy turns their world upside down as they struggle to come to terms with their perceived loss of worth and security. For others, it’s an opportunity and a catalyst to move on and try something different, often involving retraining and a change in career direction.

There are many sources of support for people in this situation - rightly so - but what about the people they leave behind? Too often, these colleagues are expected to assume additional roles, and take on extra responsibilities at the precise time when they typically feel guilty about still being employed, yet remain anxious about their own future.

This combination of emotional and psychological demands can create vulnerability and confusion. It is now time to stop and consider their needs. Asking someone to pick up some of the workload of an absent colleague is one thing.

Asking them to assume the responsibility of a soon to be ex-colleague is a totally different matter.

Failure to recognise this, or to focus on developing and supporting the skills of the retained workforce, could well be the distinguishing factor between the organisations that are successful and flourishand those that fail to grasp the challenges the current economic climate presents. To succeed, organisations will need to make conscious decisions to support the staff they have, and make sure they are equipped with the right blend of skills.

Many people may find themselves in situations where, having been a successful manager in their previous role, they are now expected to provide leadership to others.

This is typically where problems start, because being a good manager doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will be an effective leader.

Yet too many organisations expect their staff to make this transition with little or no training or specialist intervention.

“Budgets are too tight.” “There is a freeze on spending.” “We will do our own training in-house to save money.” These are typical statements from a number of local businesses that have all recently shed staff and reduced their workforce.

At what stage will they realise that the dynamics in their organisation have shifted, and that people’s expectations have changed? And what precisely are they doing to make sure their existing core staff have the skills they need to drive the business forward? Basically, taking a short-term view and cutting investment in the key people who are central to long-term sustainability is a recipe for disaster.

This insular approach may appear to save money on paper, but will do little to develop and promote the leadership characteristics that will see our business community thrive again. A recent report by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) - Delivering in a Downturn: What Does it Take? - identified that. “Most businesses won’t be adopting a positive mindset; many will be a rabbit in headlights. Companies that develop a positive but realistic mindset will prosper.” So is your business going to be a rabbit, or is it going to be driving forward in 2010 with a positive mindset and a well-equipped leadership team? It has never been more important for organisations to focus on developing a leadership mindset to ensure that their workforces have the fundamental skills required to give them a competitive edge.

Lesley Hunter’s book, Who Put You in Charge? has just been published by AuthorHouse, priced £9.99. Based in Washington, Lesley specialises in leadership behaviour, working with individuals and organisations to develop managers into leaders, improve leadership performance and train in-house leadership coaches and mentors. A copy of the full ILM report quoted, and a range of resources, are available as free downloads at www.lesleyhunter.com