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A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

     Remember the last economic “crisis”?  It occurred in the 1980s.  The response from companies was to cut staff and operate “lean.” As the economy improved and entered the extended growth period of the late 1990s and 2000s, most companies didn’t return to the staffing levels they had before the crisis.

     Remember the last economic “crisis”?  It occurred in the 1980s.  The response from companies was to cut staff and operate “lean.” As the economy improved and entered the extended growth period of the late 1990s and 2000s, most companies didn’t return to the staffing levels they had before the crisis.  They discovered that “doing more with less” was very good for the bottom line and companies continue to operate with fewer employees then are required to properly get the work done. Human Resources doesn’t even look for replacement employees until after the need for them is extreme and the workforce is pushed to the limit of their ability to get the work out the door.  Work teams are short handed and only get the job done with extensive overtime and the use of temporary/agency employees.    

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     Unfortunately, this has caused Front Line Leaders (Core Employees) to accept employees that, should not be hired.  A good illustration of the this occurred several months ago during a focus group with third shift supervisors. I asked them to break their work team into Core, Temporary and The Others.  After they quickly completed the list (no one has a problem identifying which group employees belong in; you should try it with your work team), I asked a supervisor (a 30 year Core Employee) why he placed two employees in The Other category.  His response: “Because they only come to work three days a week, when they are supposed to be here five days a week.”  When I asked why he had not taken disciplinary action against these employees, he responded that, because the crew was always shorthanded and overworked and the pressure to get the work done was constant, he was better off having them work three days a week than not at all!  While I strongly disagree with his position because of the ripple effect these Others have on a work crew – de-motivating Core Employees and turning Temporary Employees into Others – I can certainly understand why he did what he did.  The real question presented by this example is: Will companies take advantage of the current economic crisis to change this bottom line strategy and mindset that has been very profitable for the last decade?  

     When things are going well there is seldom enough impetus to force change on a successful operation.  After all, why tamper with and, perhaps, mess up a good thing?  Yet that attitude stifles operational improvements and ignores operational shortcomings.  The current economic crisis presents a perfect opportunity for companies to dramatically improve their operations by changing the organization’s mindset about the workforce.  Some suggestions to start the improvement process are:

Ø      Make a through evaluation of the workforce and purge The Others, regardless of their seniority or the position they hold.    

Ø      Eliminate the pressure of work teams being perennially shorthanded by improving the hiring process based on “Hire Fast – Fire Faster”, “cherry picking” and the inclusion of Core Employees in the hiring process.

Ø      Create an Onboarding Process that inculcates new Employees into the company’s culture.

Ø      Create a Pay for Performance System that directly connects performance and compensation to achieving the company’s Strategic Plan.

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Ø      Realize Work-Life Balance isn’t just a catch phrase invented by consultants, but is a legitimate concern for WorkQuake© workers – especially the Generation Yers who are the company’s Employees for the next two decades.          

The Bottom Line is:  What is your company going to do to turn this crisis into an opportunity to improve the workplace?