It wasn’t an easy decision to make. YWCA Greater Cleveland had maintained a program to help victims of domestic violence for 25 years. But it just didn’t fit into the organization’s plan anymore in light of a recession that left it strapped for cash.
“It’s always difficult to give up something that has been part of your work for such a long time,” says Barbara J. Danforth, the 60-employee agency’s president and CEO. “But at the end of the day, it was the right business decision to make.”
The problem was that the program could not be given the full level of support that was needed in light of other initiatives that were part of the YWCA’s Cleveland agency. The challenge for Danforth was that even though it may have been the right decision, it still would come as a shock to her employees.
And a shock was the last thing they needed in 2008.
“When fear infuses the work force, productivity goes down, negativity goes up, so now you have a work force that is beginning to spiral downward,” Danforth says.
“The whole issue of divesting our domestic violence program in one fell swoop could have been devastating. If I had just dropped this on the staff that was delivering the service, that could have been a devastating signal that we were in a great deal of difficulty.”
As the leader, your style and tone of communication becomes even more visible to employees during the lean times.
“I became more intentional in some of the things that I did,” Danforth says. “When times were good and money was flowing, one of the things that my staff criticized me about was not communicating enough. When times are good, why do you have to communicate? Everybody is getting a raise, and everything is going well. But what I recognized was that was a strategy that clearly would not work when times are challenging.”
Danforth says she was conscious of her facial expressions and things she said just walking about the office.
“We all have bad days, whether times are good or bad,” Danforth says. “But I didn’t ever want my unconscious behaviors to be read out of context. I wasn’t trying to be Pollyannaish and say life was fabulous. Life is difficult, but there is always a way out. That’s the message I wanted my staff to understand.”
So Danforth was careful about the way she told employees about the loss of the domestic violence program.
“I tried to deliver it incrementally,” Danforth says. “What I attempted to do was early on, particularly with the staff that was delivering the service, was sit down with them and have a conversation and look at the financial shortfall of the particular program. We were operating that program at a deficit.”
Danforth went through the numbers and showed why it wasn’t working anymore. She explained how another agency that focused on domestic violence could better handle it. And she added that by eliminating the program, the agency would not have to make layoffs.
“It was incremental, and by bringing the staff along with us, by the time we got to the place of divesting and moving our program to another agency, it felt like a win-win for everybody,” Danforth says.
By being public about your decisions and upfront with your employees, you deal a serious blow to the ability of rumors and speculation to take hold.
“Sometimes people who are not in leadership roles of an organization think leaders make random decisions,” Danforth says. “They might think that because they don’t understand how the decision was made. For us to share that information with the staff that was directly involved was very important.”
How to reach: YWCA Greater Cleveland, (216) 881-6878 or www.ywcaofcleveland.org
It’s OK to ask for help once in awhile, says Joe Heider, president and co-founder of Dawson Wealth Management. When your business is going through a tough time, it’s perfectly natural to seek outside counsel.
“It’s a sign of strength that you recognize that you don’t have all the answers,” Heider says. “Nobody does. It’s why CEOs of companies have boards. If someone is reluctant to do that and they have difficulty doing it, they need to force themselves internally to get over that hurdle.”
In these times of economic recession, many leaders question their future or that of their organization. And they may wonder whether they are making the right call with their business.
Since no leader escapes challenges, they all should have plenty of good advice on how to deal with them.
“Most successful people are willing to help other people,” Heider says. “You can’t underestimate that most people want to help other people. Most people that have success running a business are more than happy to share it. More than likely, somewhere along the line, there was a key mentor that helped them along on the path to success.”
If you’re worried about showing too much vulnerability, get over it.
“If the leader has issues and he is overcoming them and is successful showing the way, I think it’s a way of showing empathy to the people who are working with you and some of the struggles they go through,” Heider says. “They are more willing to work harder for you as a result of it.”
How to reach: Dawson Wealth Management, (440) 333-9000 or www.dawsoncompanies.com