Whew — I bet you are glad 2009 is almost over! It’s as if an economic Hurricane Katrina just went by, and you don’t know if you should be thankful for survival or in shock about what you need to do to get your business back on track.
You probably had to make some tough decisions in 2009 about layoffs and project investments. You cut your own salary and froze or cut the salaries of your employees. You worked twice as hard as you did in 2008. Now 2010 is actually showing some glimmer of potential, but you will need to keep everyone at your company fully engaged. (No doubt you got rid of all the C-players long ago and this is the team you want on the field with you.)
Now the bad news: As the year comes to an end many people will take stock of their lives — what they have accomplished and what could be different. They may be prodded by meddling in-laws during long holiday meals. They will set New Year’s resolutions about losing weight, being a better parent, and finding a new job.
Your employees could have a lot of opportunities next year. Jeff Rosenthal, of global executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, says “Many companies are starting to hire again, and a great deal of them are already planning to hire for 2010. I think there will be almost a ‘slingshot’ effect, where due to pent up demand for talent that wasn’t hired in 2009, companies will be that much hungrier to pick up all the talent they can in 2010.”
Even if your competitors treated their employees worse than you did, the grass often looks greener on the other side. While you might think you are a hero because you saved jobs, loyalty is fleeting. Employees will remember how you piled on the work, discouraged time off, cut comp and benefits, laid off their friends, and canceled the holiday party. In fact, 2010 could easily become a year of reverse musical chairs, in which high performers actively look to switch companies — except there are more seats than workers. When the music stops, you might find that you have a lot of empty seats to fill.
What should you do?
Quit or commit. You need to decide if you are ready for another year leading your company. You have been bruised, so make sure you are ready for 2010. If you feel like you are working at Dunder Mifflin (of “The Office”), then you need to move along because you cannot lead unless you are fully engaged. Your employees deserve more than a leader who is half-in.
Communicate the vision. You need to create excitement and trust in your leadership. You should highlight the initiatives of 2010 and create faith that your company is on the right path. Your employees now have a choice about where they work. The large majority want more than just a job. You had better inspire them to be part of your future.
Talk about careers again. The top reason employees leave a company is a perceived lack of career opportunities. Don’t be fooled into believing that your leaner organization can’t satisfy those cravings. You have more priority initiatives than employees, so there are plenty of opportunities for individuals to build skill sets, acquire valuable experience, or try something new. When you scratch the surface of what people mean by “career” you often find it’s all about meaningful work and personal growth. Today’s careers are built not on promotions but on assignments.
Forget about performance reviews. You need to do engagement reviews. You already got rid of the people who needed their performance fixed. And when using the right definition, engagement actually covers performance: Fully engaged employees are at their peak, with maximum contribution and maximum satisfaction. When you focus on engagement, results — and retention — follow.
Engagement reviews are vastly different in tone from appraisals. There is a lot more dialogue, and the manager is more likely to end up with a rating than the employee. Engagement reviews explore the strategy of the company; the importance of the employee to the success of the team and the company; what’s important to that employee (overall job satisfaction, meaning at work); the employee’s career aspirations and growth goals; focus and alignment of the employee’s talents and goals with critical organizational priorities; and your own engagement and commitment — unless, of course, you aren’t sure of your answer to “Commit or Quit!”
Your employees don’t wear labels that declare their engagement level on their foreheads. And you can’t assume that the chronic complainer is totally disengaged or that the team member who never makes waves is fully satisfied and aligned. Engagement reviews enable you to exchange information and ensure that the employees you rely on are connected to your organization’s larger purpose, getting what they’re looking for at work and applying their unique expertise to carve out a successful future in 2010.
Christopher Rice, above, is CEO of Blessing/White, the global management consulting firm based on Orchard Road, with offices in Australia, London, San Francisco, and Chicago. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics and Slavic languages from Penn in 1976. He also has worked for Prentice Hall, Xerox Learning Systems, and Gallup.