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September 30, 2008

Not So Sure About You

Does anyone trust their company's leadership anymore?  With the present financial crisis, your CEO may have contributed to the public problem through your company's business dealings or is contributing to your personal problem by bandying about the possibility of layoffs. In addition to blame, there's also a lot of suspicion going around.

This business environment, which reminds me of a game of Clue or one of those mystery theater dinners where a "murder" is staged and the guests have to determine the culprit before the end of the evening, is rife with unease. Who's going to be loyal to their co-workers before a matter of self-preservation--including the CEO. They were so supportive in high times, praising the efforts of the company's "team," and encouraging their workforce to strive for "merit increases" in pay. With hard times, or what you might call "low times" at hand, they may be thinking, if not outright singing, a different tune. How can they not with their own job and reputation on the line?

As loathe to spend money for learning and development as companies are when finances get tight, this might be a good time for team building exercises to shore up trust among your workforce. I wouldn't recommend any of those outdoor adventures that involve swinging from ropes with colleagues or falling off the limb of a tree as a co-worker waits to catch you, but maybe an afternoon working together on behalf of a local charity, or even going out to lunch once a month or once every other month, might help emphasize the need for camaraderie in challenging times. Incentives, such as gift card awards or additional vacation days, for coming up with innovative collaborative projects, also might help. Whatever  approach you take, you need to ensure a message sinks into your workers heads about the true dynamics of their professional survival.

For the company, including their own job, to continue to happily exist, they have to collaborate, rather than compete, with one another. True, you're asking them to work with limited resources, but rather than fighting for those resources, explain the importance of teaming up to fill in what may be missing from one another's "supplies."  Maybe two employees or two groups of employees, for instance, are working on projects with complementary aims or efforts. Is there any way you, as a trainer along with your HR colleagues, could facilitate such synergies among your workforce?  With some thought, it may dawn on you that in the course of one work group's meeting a corporate goal, they have to conduct research or come up with ideas that might coincide nicely with the direction another work group is headed toward. With stretched resources, ensure work isn't being duplicated or wasted due to a lack of coordination.

The problem with a culture in which workers just strive to save themselves is that (in addition to being mean spirited and selfish) it's shortsighted. Sure you save yourself for six months or even a year or two, but if you didn't adequately support your colleagues along with yourself, and the company as a whole fails within five years, who's helped then?

Your workers may feel a financial crime has taken place, but unlike a game of corporate mystery theater, naming the culprit is less important than everyone making it out of the debacle intact.

In this financial whirlwind, is your workforce growing more suspicious of leadership, and each other, or are they banding together now more than ever?  Any suggestions for encouraging more collaboration than competition?


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To answer your first question, at the beginning of your blog post, with the exception of a handful of companies I would have to say, overwhelmingly, no. I mean, really, how can you? I am not even in the financial sector (thankfully) and the leadership in my firm is suspect at the very least. In some cases, you can't help but sit with your mouth wide open and ask, "What? They did (or are going to do) what? No, it doesn't make sense!" But, to the bottom line, it makes all the sense in the world. We are a "Band-Aid" society living with the "Today Syndrome" (whatever will get us through the day). I don't see that changing unless something major happens. But, as long as the hand is out and we feed it with money, we'll keep on trudging along. Cross your fingers. We are going to need a lot of luck to get through this.

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