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Getting back to basics Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

A.J. Hyland is quite confident that 2009 will be a good year for Hyland Software Inc., but he says he still has “a healthy dose of paranoia.” “I’m not the type who has a ton of anxiety,” says Hyland, president and CEO of the firm, which posted 2007 revenue of $104 million. “I generally worry about things like most leaders should. But too much just becomes crippling. Just keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward.”

Hyland expects that many corporate IT budgets will shrink this year, creating challenges at his 850-employee company, but unlike most employers, Hyland has budgeted to add 145 employees this year. He says the key to executing in a down economic cycle is to stay focused on your company’s bread and butter, the foundational principles that it was built on as it attracted its first customers.

“Focus on your true value statement in terms of what it means for the customer,” Hyland says. “Make sure you’re not taking your eye off the ball and you’re accentuating that and focusing on that in the downtime. Really get laser focused on what that value is and get creative about how to get that message out a little bit more.”

Downtimes are often opportune occasions to get down to the core of your business and set the fluff aside.

“It’s making sure your message isn’t getting too watered down,” Hyland says. “Instead of sending five messages out at one time, stick to the one or two that are really going to resonate. Just make sure the message stays simple and focused.”

Talking about the core ideals of your business can be a good motivating tool for employees who may be feeling some doubt about the future.

“If they have doubt or confusion, get rid of it by just providing great service and doing all the stuff that you used to do,” Hyland says. “It all comes down to communication. It’s how you project yourself. If you look hurried and panicked and ridiculous, they are going to feel the same way. But if you look calm and you say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to get through it,’ and you have a plan and can communicate that, I think you’ll be fine.”

In addition to returning your focus to your true value statement, a down economy is also a good time to explore areas of your business that you previously felt were too time-consuming to investigate.

“Say, ‘Hey, now that we have this time, maybe a little time to breathe to see what we’re doing from a process standpoint around here, here’s three things we want to fix so we come out a lot stronger on the other side,’” Hyland says. “Tap somebody to do that.”

Take people and resources that used to be more stretched in busier times and specifically designate them for these new projects.

“Unless you take somebody and say, ‘You are responsible for this right now to drive this process forward and fix this problem we have from a company standpoint,’ I don’t think you’ll see that change,” Hyland says.

Advertise within your company for opportunities to take on new projects and give people a chance to step up and show what they can do. If you show energy and confidence about such projects and about the future of your company, chances are your employees will follow your lead.

“Your employees say, ‘OK, look, he or she is out there making it happen, and they are talking to customers and doing these things.’ People will get energized by that and want to emulate that same behavior,” Hyland says. “If you tell them all to do that, but you stay back and you don’t get out there and get your hands dirty like everybody else, I think that’s a problem.”

HOW TO REACH: Hyland Software Inc., www.hylandsoftware.com or (440) 788-5000

Rules of engagement

Supporting survivors

It’s happening more and more as the economy continues to struggle: Companies are cutting staff to help make ends meet until things turn around.

So how do you ease the fears of those who remain and who may be wondering if they’ll be the next to go?

“Typically, when a layoff of an equally qualified peer occurs, it sends the person left behind reeling,” says Paul Meshanko, managing partner at Edge Learning Institute of Ohio in Independence. “Often, an employee’s best work bud has been let go, not for doing a poor job, not because he was negligent; rather, he’s let go because of circumstances beyond his control. It can appear to the surviving employee as a random act. The survivor thinks, ‘It could’ve been me.’”

To help the employees he calls “layoff survivors,” Meshanko offers the following tips.

  • Encourage employees to talk to a trusted friend, therapist or someone who manages your employee assistance program to talk about their feelings of guilt and pessimism.
  • Encourage employees to focus on the things they do best instead of waiting for their supervisor to come and ask them to take on new challenges.
  • Promote the idea of seeking new training and new responsibilities as a means to build skills and credentials.

HOW TO REACH: Edge Learning Institute of Ohio, (888) 892-0300 or www.edgeohio.com