Tony Arnold - Why you need to show employees you care before you lose them Featured

8:01pm EDT May 31, 2012
Tony Arnold - Why you need to show employees you care before you lose them

Do you understand the challenges your employees face? If you don’t, you need to. Any work force that has lived through these times of dislocation, reduced disposable income, rising prices for food, gasoline and other necessities and unrelenting worries about the future is, quite understandably, a much-changed group.

The confidence these employees have in their company’s leadership and the engagement they bring to their jobs has diminished considerably. As a result, many employees — including those whose contributions are vital to their companies’ ability to rebound quickly and nimbly — are poised to make a career move with the first signs of stepped-up hiring in their industry.

The companies that will fare the best as the recovery spreads and new opportunities are created for these disaffected workers are those whose leadership has been open, empathic and accessible during these rough times. How did you communicate about the difficult actions you took and why they were necessary?

To drive your organization through hard times, did you grab hold of the reins and issue demands that employees “fix sales” or “cut costs”? Or, did you solicit your employees’ take on the challenges and engage their help in finding a solution – so they felt indispensable, appreciated and at least somewhat in control of their fate?

Regardless of what you did or didn’t do in the past, today is the first day of the rest of your company’s future. The steps you take today to establish the face of leadership in your organization — as well as in the weeks to come as the recovery picks up strength and breadth — will position your company for the post-recovery environment. Here’s what you can do to chart a positive course.

Get behind the numbers

Break out of the routine that includes meetings, presentations, e-mails and metrics to really think about the drivers of success and the limitations that have resulted in your company’s numbers. Experience a day in the life of your organization. Go into departments and travel with sales, technical and service people on routine calls.

Don’t be fooled by success and be cautious of filtered information. Have a dialogue with people about their work instead of just listening to presentations that have been structured, massaged and beautified. Be honest with yourself and your team about the “elephant in the room,” the conditions and state of your markets and your business.

Focus on execution

Get a firm handle on how your organization plans and executes. What motivates your people? Do they have a passion for doing their job? Do they strongly believe in what the company stands for?

Relook at how work gets done and what’s really necessary versus what’s merely become routine. Ask people where and how they spend their time, and how they measure their personal and professional success.

Be visible internally and externally

People should feel they know you and have access.

Have a dialogue with your employees, customers, vendors and other third parties. As you engage with them, dig for truths so you can understand what they do, where they’re feeling stymied and how you can make improvements to enable them to be more successful.

Open communication channels

In one-on-one lunches, town halls and other venues, probe for the reality that your employees face, understand and see every day. Be grateful for the tough questions, and if they’re not asked, raise them yourself. Talk about your people and the commitment they’ve shown through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Praise the successes of your people. Be open, honest and sincere; and speak with energy and passion, but be yourself. Share your feelings and what you stand for so your employees can understand you and connect with you in ways they’ve never done before. 

It’s a tall order, but it’s doable. A willingness to take a fresh, honest look at your company and to expose your fears and vulnerabilities to internal and external groups is the key. Get started today.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or