Rod Robinson isn’t panicking.
Sure, the transportation industry has been hit by soaring fuel costs, and Waltco Truck Equipment Co. is no exception. But Robinson, Waltco’s president and CEO, maintains hope for his company, which manufactures hydraulic liftgates and custom hydraulic cylinders for the transportation industry.
“You have to recognize that you will get through this, and along the way, there are going to be opportunities,” says Robinson, who expects the business cycle to hit a valley every few years.
Although this stretch seems to be dragging on longer than usual, Robinson is loath to use the economy as an excuse for a struggling company. Instead, he has learned to view crunch time as a chance to evaluate his company’s efficiency and prime his people for the upswing.
With an unfaltering positive attitude and creative motivation techniques, he has refined his 300 employees to reflect that optimism.
Smart Business spoke with Robinson about evaluating, motivating and rewarding valuable employees during tough economic times.
Re-evaluate attitudes. A downturn every three or four years gives you a great opportunity to look at the people that you have and say, ‘Do I have the right people with the right skill sets in the right places?’
A downturn makes it easier to go to people and ask them to take on new responsibilities where you think they might fit better within the organization. They know they need to contribute because there’s a consequence if they don’t.
It gives management an opportunity to say, ‘We have a person who has become a marginal employee. Do we want to take the time to invest in this person, try to get them where they should be, or are
we going to target this person as a layoff candidate?’
The biggest factor when you decide whether someone gets an investment or whether they go into that target list for potential layoffs is their attitude. Are they a self-starter? Are they the kind of person that’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done, to make a contribution?
Some people do, and some people just see it as a job. I try to surround myself with people that see it as a career and want to feel like they’re part of moving the company forward and aren’t satisfied with just moving paper out of their inbox to their outbox and waiting for the economy to turn up.
Reward your key players. You have to present them with stark reality, the harsh truth: We’re in an economic downturn. We need to make sure that all our people are properly optimized.
We need to make sure, on a department-by-department basis, that we didn’t make a bad hire or we didn’t become complacent and add a person when we were booming. When you’re booming, the easy thing to do is to throw money at a problem instead of taking the time to analyze and streamline it. Typically, what you do to throw money at a problem is you add people.
Identify your key people that you just can’t afford to lose. You can’t necessarily give them a big raise because you’re struggling with an economic downturn, so you look for ways to recognize them. I’ve gone to them and said, ‘I’d like you to take your wife out to dinner. Here’s a coupon so you can.’ Or, ‘I know you’ve got a big game coming up. You’d like to be at your son’s football game or soccer game. Why don’t you take the afternoon off so you can be there?’
Treat people fairly, but don’t treat them all the same. Everybody should be given the same opportunities, but you need to do things uniquely to them because of the extra efforts they make for your company.
I welcome employees to come to me and say, ‘How come so-and-so got to do this?’ And I say, ‘Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s because of this and this and this, and I’ll be glad to do that for you also if you want to do this and this.’
Motivate with stability. One of the ways you provide a sense of security is make sure that (your values) don’t change just because it’s a downturn, because there’s this huge opportunity that would only happen if you attempt to compromise them.
There are a lot of positive things you can do to get people focused on positioning for the upturn. People watch your demeanor, your attitude. If they continue to see you walking through the company with a smile on your face and asking questions and being involved, there’s a comfort level.
If they see you changing your behavior and all of a sudden you’re sullen-looking, they tend to read the worst into your physical appearance. Maintaining that constant attitude is very important.
Do something. The easy mistake to make during a downturn is to take no action, is to assume that it’s just going to get better, and you don’t take the time to do an analysis. You don’t identify where you can reduce expenses.
We’re going through some consolidations as a way of being more efficient presently and, at the same time, making sure that we have processes in place to deal with the volume levels we anticipate when the
We’ve got to think for now, but we’ve also got to make sure we have a system and the mechanisms in place to deal with business that could go to this level. That’s all part of the analysis. You don’t wait until it happens, then figure it out.
HOW TO REACH: Waltco Truck Equipment Co., (330) 633-9191 or www.waltco.com