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Eye opener Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Good employees take pride in the contribution they make to their company’s success. But Jamie Gallagher says it’s important that they do not develop tunnel vision about the value they bring to an organization.

“We had a situation about two years ago where we had a woman who for many years had a specific set of responsibilities,” says Gallagher, CEO of Faber-Castell USA Inc. “Those responsibilities were tied to a very specific process. Naturally, when we were looking at doing away with that process or revising that process, she tied her own value directly to that process and was very reluctant to let it go.”

When times turn tough and you need to make changes in your business to get by, it’s important that you clearly demonstrate the value you place on your people.

“The breakthrough we made was to get her to buy in to and completely understand that her value to the company transcended that process,” Gallagher says. “We provided a new opportunity for her that absolutely matched her skill set and her value. It was really needed by the company, even though it had nothing to do with this particular process that she herself had tied her value to for so long.”

It starts with you as the leader and your ability to set expectations around change that affects your business that may not always have a crystal-clear endgame.

“It lets people know that we will learn our way into this,” Gallagher says. “There will be questions and there will be mistakes and things we won’t do completely right. But we are committed to this because it’s what is right for our business. … If people feel a little more free to take a chance or maybe even do something that’s not exactly right and live to tell about it, then we’re headed in the right direction.”

When you approach someone about making a change in his or her job duties, provide some background as to why you are doing it.

“Rather than just jump right in and say, ‘Here’s what we would like you to do; we want you to move from a participant’s role to a director’s role in this particular project,’ we had to step back and make sure that we found some common ground at the beginning,” Gallagher says.

Go over the company’s needs and goals and explain the need for some people to take on new duties to make it all work.

“With that common ground in mind, here’s what we would like you to do,” Gallagher says. “We’re asking you to do this because you performed so well as a participant. We now believe you have the skill set to direct it. Do you have any concerns?”

This situation played out at Faber-Castell USA and Gallagher says the discussion revealed important issues that would have never come up otherwise.

“But we were able to work our way through it,” he says.

The key is to show your people that you have a plan and that they can be a part of making it work.

“It’s absolutely clear that it’s a difficult environment,” Gallagher says. “It’s very important to openly acknowledge that so you’re empathizing with your people. At the same time, you’re not dwelling on it. What you’re really doing is showing the way to the future. ‘Here is the way we’re going to approach this year, and if we follow these steps, we will come out of this being the company and the people we want to be.’”

How to reach: Faber-Castell USA Inc., (216) 643-4660 or www.faber-castell.us

Cutting through skepticism

You’ll go a long way toward convincing your employees you have a plan to survive tough times if you can point to tangible examples of how it will happen, says Jamie Gallagher.

“Rather than just say you’re positive or act positive, you really need to hold up those positive, tangible examples and make sure that the team is aware of those,” says Gallagher, CEO at Faber-Castell USA Inc. “It may be an order that comes through. It may be new business that we gain. It may just be an exceptional effort on the part of somebody within the company. It’s necessary to hold up very real, very positive and tangible examples that people can point to and see.”

The reality is that when business is struggling, there is often a heightened level of anxiety in the workplace.

“People may be looking for the smallest sign or signal one way or the other, either a positive affirmation or a reason for them to be concerned,” Gallagher says. “But it’s not something that I actually dwell on. It’s a pretty basic thing, but I think consistency is important. Whatever I have been doing in the past, that can’t change overnight.”