How to sustain employee engagement and succeed in both the short term and long term Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2010

Businesses are making cuts and driving employees harder in an attempt to get through difficult times. And although that may be what you need to do to survive in the short term, you also need to consider the impact of your actions in the long term, says. S.A. “Sam” Murray, CEO of ManagEase.

“Sometimes you can’t help taking those actions if you’re looking at viability,” says Murray. “You have to make those hard choices knowing you’re going to pay the price down the road. But if you know you’re going to have to pay the price, you need to start thinking of strategies now about how you are going to regroup. You have to find the common denominator for both short-term and long-term sustainability in order to move forward in tough times but also invest in the future.”

Smart Business spoke with Murray about what to do in the short term to make sure your business is sustainable in the long term.

What mistakes are business owners making in the short term that could come back to haunt them in the long term?

One mistake employers are making is they are significantly cutting their employees’ pay and benefits at a time when many of them are working their employees to death. If it hasn’t yet cost them their good people, it will. As the economy turns, those people are going to leave because they feel the employer didn’t deal with them fairly. Business owners need to realize that the emerging work force has had this painful experience of a trashed economy, and they are going to be evaluating future opportunities for employment with a more conservative view.

How can employers communicate to employees that their company is the place to be going forward?

You need to take a fresh look at your vision and mission statements and revise them to fit where you need to go now in light of what your company has been through. Companies need to look at the reculturalization of their work force.

Engage your employees in discussions about what your vision and mission should be and what your values are as a company. Work on short-term and long-term business plans and share them with your employees. They don’t have to include all the financials, but you need to include the building blocks so they can get on board with where you’re going and have faith in your organization.

Reculturalization can only happen when authentic communication occurs, so it’s critical to get your employees involved. Too often, management forms exclusive clubs in order to hide their incompetencies, their fears and their lack of vision. They really sell their employees short and think they don’t see what’s going on. But employees really do see what’s going on, so it’s much better to be forthright with them, to tell them, ‘We need to change our vision, we need to focus on sustainability. Here are my thoughts on how to do that. What are yours?’

How can employers balance short-term sustainability with long-term survival?

Short-term sustainability includes immediate sales, incentive plans, marketing programs and driving plans for the next six months. Your short-term sustainability strategy should be focused on your core competency.

Once you focus on the most profitable things that you do, then you match your staff to that. Too many companies are trying to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Because employers are afraid, they’re trying this and that, and it is wasting their resources because then they’ve got to have people who can do all those things. And that doesn’t maximize your profitability. You need to continue to invest in your strongest pieces now, and then you can gradually add complementary pieces to your business as the economy recovers.

Try to stay in balance with all the things you have to do as a management team. Recognize what your priorities really are and carve out the proper amount of time to do the things you need to be doing in order to continue your business’s health.

In the long-term, do both financial and work force modeling, so you can play out a variety of scenarios. If A happens, how will you fare? Or if B happens, what does that mean for your business? If your work force changes — and there are a lot of things that can cause that — how does that impact your long-term sustainability?

Can business owners work through this process on their own, or do they need outside help?

You must determine if you have the core competency to manage this kind of redirection. If not, you’re just going to spend twice as much time on something that you’re going to get very poor results from.

Most of the time, you’re going to need outside help. The best thing you can do is to select a team of advisers that you can work with and who can work with one another so you can develop a cohesive game plan.

But you can’t just develop a plan and set it aside. When you’re working on the plan, it’s easy to get excited, but then the excitement fizzles out and is put on a shelf. If your strength isn’t in implementing and maintaining a long-term plan, you need to get someone on board who is responsible for the continuing management of your long-term sustainability plan.

S.A. “Sam” Murray is CEO of ManagEase. Reach her at (714) 378-0880 or sam@managease.com.