Enough is enough Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Since last fall, businesses, both big and small, at times, have been flying blind, trying to avoid the unprecedented proliferation of economic hazards. Solutions that worked in the past to counter disruptions proved to be ineffective. The first reaction was to hunker down and prepare for the next wave of troubles, not knowing whether it was going to get uglier and uglier before it got better.

Executives in most cases did what it took to prepare, preserve market share, serve customers and save money like never before. Furloughs and outright permanent reductions in force were the actions du jour in this new era of dealing with the unknown.

A natural part of this survival mode was for management to remind employees how bad it was, how it could get even worse, and why everybody must pull together and do whatever it takes to fight another day. These battle cries included dire prognostications, some subtle and some not so subtle, that there could be more bad news on the horizon.

At this point, every employee on the planet, unless he or she has been working alone in a cave, gets it. They understand all too well that they should be thankful to have a job. People now know that the true definition of a recession is when their neighbor is out of work; a depression is when they are out of work. Today, everybody is worried about his or her job, future and economic well-being.

Enough is enough! It is time to take a break and count your organization’s blessings. It is time to tell your employees about what is good and what is working in the company. It’s time to recount the remembrances/milestones that contributed to your past successes — people that made a difference, events that changed your destiny.

Pick a day in the coming weeks and announce that your company is celebrating “good news day.” The objective is to commemorate the positives and recognize the successes. Remember, in the worst of the worst situations, there’s always something encouraging, even if it is only the fact that the company has still kept the lights on. Most organizations, however, have much to be optimistic about — be it a roster of clients (so what if they pay a little slowly), a proprietary process or technology, or a brand that people know and occasionally even buy.

Make your own list — and speed counts. Your team needs to hear the sunnier side from top management now. For your good news day, plan a lunch, an afternoon session with refreshments, or if your business is on the critical list economically, simply gather everybody together in a room and start talking, sans the goodies. Put up some posters listing the top 10 things that are good or could turn positive in the future. This is the time for showmanship, some theatrics — and a bit of humor can’t hurt either.

Speak from the heart and the gut. Tell your people what they do better than anyone else does. If you need help in your presentation, all you need do is turn on cable TV in the middle of the night and watch the evangelists do their thing. (You probably cannot sleep anyway with all your problems, so put your time to good use.) These silver-tongued proselytizers make the best salesperson look like a clerk in a flea market.

It’s not practical to promise your people that there will be no more pain, be no more layoffs and that the good times are ready to roll. However, you can promise them that you will communicate with them often, always reporting the good, along with the bad and the ugly.

Most employees can deal with anything, as long as they get the facts and the company treats them like adults, rather than feeding them a lot of corporate mumbo jumbo that raises more questions than answers.

Your employees need to know that there is always hope and good stuff to come even in the darkest times. What they want to hear from you is, “this too shall pass,” be it next year or in the years ahead.

A brief hiatus from the doom and gloom will go a long way in breaking the seemingly never-ending chain of despair. More than ever before, your employees and associates need something to celebrate that accentuates the positive and temporarily eliminates the negative.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money during a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. Feuer is CEO of Max-Ventures, a retail venture capital/consulting firm, and co-founder and co-CEO of Max-Wellness, a new health care product retail chain concept that is launching in 2009. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-ventures.com.