Managing in a downturn - remember to keep communicating

23. January 2009 17:15

The FT has started another of its excellent Mastering Management series this week. 

The focus of this special report, predictably, is on managing in a downturn. And I'm heartened to see the importance of internal and external communications highlighted so clearly. Here's an extract from Stefan Stern's intro (I've put bits in bold):

"... There are only so many ways you can tell a company to 'conserve cash'. It will probably turn out to be the business catchphrase of 2009. But while managers are understandably in a hurry to stem the flow of cash out of the building, in particular by reducing headcount, they risk cutting too deeply into the flesh of the organisation, and making future recovery much harder to achieve. Easy advice for an outsider to give – and hard for a manager to take for when survival is the number one priority – but sound advice all the same. Don’t get rid of the people who actually make your products and services worth buying in the first place.

"Second, the rumour mill is almost as big an enemy to senior management right now as collapsing customer demand. All the management gurus agree that leaders have to invest much more time than they might think is necessary into communicating with their staff. And “communicating” means listening as well as telling. In his new book The Leadership Code, Dave Ulrich estimates that a message may have to be communicated as many as 10 times, in a variety of means or channels, for it to get through and be understood.

"Offering as much certainty as possible will also help kill rumours. Binna Kandola, managing partner of business psychologists Pearn Kandola, argues that knowing you have lost your job is a better outcome for most employees than being in the dark about your future.

"Third, keeping your head down, retreating from markets and turning introspective, while a natural human response to bad news, is a terrible option for businesses. Now is not the time to abandon partnerships and joint ventures, or to close yourself off to other outside influences. Keep an open mind to new initiatives, remain an active networker and ensure the organisation is not collectively burying its head in the sand.

"Fourth, remember that recovery will come – eventually. Research and development needs to continue. Revenue streams that may have temporarily dried up will start to flow again. But capacity that you cut back on now may be hard to resurrect. And again, excessive redundancies – which carry a significant cost in any case – will deprive you of the talent you need to make the most of the upturn. You will only have to hire it back again, at great expense, in a year’s time."

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Liz Male

Liz Male is a PR and communications professional specialising in construction, property and sustainability in the built environment. This is Liz's blog on the foundations of good communications, covering everything from the basics of media relations to topical ponderings on strategic comms issues. Follow Liz's more concise thoughts on Twitter: @lizmale

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