Positive thinking

Alison Thomas asked readers for their best ways to keep workers motivated in
a negative economic climate

One of the latest US gurus to hit our shores is Perry Ludy, president of
LudyCo International. Ludy visited London last month to promote his book,
Profit Building: Cutting Costs Without Cutting People.

In it, he argues that laying off staff at times of economic uncertainty and
recession not only fails to provide a long-term solution, but it actually
compounds the problem by creating a negative climate just when you need your
workforce to be at its most committed and productive.

We discussed this issue with the author and some of our readers. In
particular, we wanted to know how companies can retain skills in preparation
for an upturn, and create a culture of learning and development when budgets
are tight.

Perry Ludy
President, LudyCo International

When a company goes through a rough patch, most employees understand that
belts have to be tightened.

However, they are rarely invited to put forward suggestions for making
savings and improving profitability, although they possess a wealth of information
and experience.

Companies that tap into this resource uncover new, innovative ideas that
shake the cobwebs loose.

The challenge for HR and training departments is to facilitate this process
by bringing together a group of talented people representing different parts of
the business, and furnishing them with appropriate problem-solving tools.

Few companies currently invest in management training relating to
profitability improvements. Those that do, reap the rewards.

Celia Nicholson
Head of organisation consulting, DBM

Downsizing unsettles not only those directly involved, but also the wider
population of the organisation as well. People lose confidence in their
long-term security and career opportunities and start questioning their desire
to stay.

Employers therefore have to work hard to help their staff re-establish a
positive psychological contract with the company through programmes relating to
personal development, growth and career opportunities.

Research repeatedly shows that companies that invest in relevant training
and development, effective management and good communications, stand a better
chance of retaining staff – even when the employment market picks up.

Ettie McCormack
Director, Unisys University, Europe, Middle East and Africa

One of our key initiatives is a career fitness portal designed to help our
employees identify potential development and learning opportunities and to
pursue them with support from the corporate university. Career fitness
consultants provide the human touch through face-to-face consultations.

It is part of our overall objective of enhancing the growth and success of
our employees by taking a holistic approach to career management.

Mark Thomas
Organisational development consultant, Marks and Spencer

Despite our roller coaster ride of recent years, we got back on track
without widespread redundancies.

Our approach has been to focus on deploying the skills and capabilities of
our people more effectively. To do that, you must find out what these are –
something companies often neglect to do, even though the impact on the bottom
line can be significant.

For example, many workers are avid gardeners, but in the past, we failed to
turn this to our advantage by moving them into plant sales. Why spend money
training someone else, while leaving latent expertise untapped?

Adrian Egglestone
Head of people development, Co-op Group

Our company is growing. This throws up the same problem facing organisations
preparing for an upturn; namely, a shortage of skilled staff to manage change
and stabilise the business thereafter.

Our solution has been to identify staff with potential, and give them
support and training to bring them through the company more quickly.

Our chief executive doesn’t believe in cutting the training budget. How can
you pursue a three-year plan if you cut this year’s training?

Ruth Spellman
Chief executive, Investors in People

A productive company respects the contribution staff can make by capturing
their ideas not just when tough times are looming, but every day of the week,
every week of the year.

As a result, staff feel more in control and feel they are driving the bottom
line, which, of course, they are. The other big issue is to give them a stake,
and talk about careers, where they are going, and what they want to do.

When business slows down, people must be creative about finding new ways of
utilising their skills and continually refining them. It is about learning as a
continuous process.

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