Fair and balanced Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

In this economy, a good culture can be the difference between an effective company that is riding out the storm and ready to move forward again and one that is in complete disarray.

Employees are hearing about bad news everywhere they look. People they know have been laid off, companies have eliminated bonuses, hiring freezes are in place and workloads have increased. How they handle all of this negativity is really reflective of what kind of culture you have.

If employees are spending time gossiping, it’s because leadership hasn’t shared any information with them, so they are speculating as to what the little bits of information they do know actually mean. This creates an environment that is filled with rumors. When people start hearing negative rumors that might directly affect them, they start to fear for their jobs.

Even if you have assured people that their positions are safe, if the rumors are all about their responsibilities being eliminated or transferred, the only conclusion they are going to draw is that their position is not safe.

How productive do you think people are if they are living in fear each day they come to work?

Wouldn’t you be better served by having a culture that is more open and fair?

If you share information — even the bad news — and explain what you are basing your decisions on, people are more likely to respond in a positive manner. Not everyone will agree with your decisions, but at least they will understand why they are being made and what they are based on. Employees also appreciate being treated like adults and not children. Sharing information helps create buy-in and a team atmosphere where everyone is in it together.

Being open with information is a cultural decision within a broader human resources strategy. It takes time and effort to build trust with your employee base. Once your employees see that you are being honest with them on a regular basis, the rumors will dry up and productivity will increase. People like to know what’s going on. Nothing fuels rumors more quickly than a lack of information.

You need to overcommunicate to your work force. Key details need to be conveyed multiple times in as many ways as possible — e-mail, newsletters and in person. Make sure you have a master plan that everyone is aware of. When employees understand where the business is going and what factors are affecting it, they can more easily buy in to your vision and help you get there. Goals need to be clear and broken down to the lowest level possible — all the way down to the individual if you can.

With a plan in place, you can use metrics and accountability to make sure everyone is doing his or her part. Those who can’t cut it become the obvious choices to everyone to cut loose. Everyone knows that there is no room for deadweight in these economic conditions.

If your culture is open and you’ve shared information and held people accountable, it should be no surprise to anyone that the worst performer on staff is the one eliminated to save money. Without the information, the elimination of a position can seem random and arbitrary, which stokes fear and rumors.

If you aren’t sure how to go about sharing information or how to set up a system of accountability, I suggest you seek out a third-party human resources firm to help you. The third-party firm can share best practices and find a system that will fit your company.

In the end, it’s all about how you treat employees. If your culture treats them like commodities, performance will suffer, and you’ll have a hard time surviving to see the recovery. If you treat them like people and create a culture of fairness and honesty, you will most likely do well. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to make tough decisions or that positions won’t be eliminated, but it does mean that if it happens, both sides can share a mutual respect for each other and move on in a positive fashion.