Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Time for Heads IN and Hands ON

Today's post is written by Barbara Hughes, Co-Founder, ICC

It’s a long time since I’ve seen so many articles, webinars and interviews on the concept of trust, integrity and credibility. Given the current climate, that focus may not be surprising but not so long ago, companies and the people they employ were swept along in the wave of hard core metrics, analytics and data. Not that I refute them; we are champions of these drivers of business success. But, it’s hard to build confidence and enthusiasm in the future with those tools alone. What business leaders need right now is what Harvard Professor Ram Charan calls a “head in, hands on” approach. I think that’s an excellent blend of the soft skills and hard tools needed to survive now and to thrive when this economy turns around. We know that companies are conserving cash right now, so what can we do to improve the situation with the resources we have?

• Examine Strategy: nothing helps us feel that we have a handle on things more profoundly than knowing where we are going. It’s not enough to be an eternal optimist and put out the best case scenario but also worst-case and most likely scenarios, too. That’s where a tool like financial modeling can be a great facilitator to help with a “gut check”.

• Check Your Leadership IQ: it’s time to get back in the game. Remember the old axiom, MBWA, Managing By Walking Around? Instead of huddling in front of your laptop screen, huddle with your people; ask good questions and listen. Get back into operations: visit customers, find out what really goes on in the customer service/help desk environment. If you do it in a spirit of understanding, it will pay dividends. I’ve seen the employees of a client walk on air after their CEO visited their facility to find out how they are doing. Use the feedback to make immediate course corrections.

• How About That Culture? Right now, being proactive about the impact of the economic turmoil on the company’s results is essential. If hard decisions need to be made, being visible when layoffs happen, for example, will send a strong signal to remaining employees. Give them the facts or empower your direct reports to convey a consistent message. Understanding the reasons behind a decision, even if someone doesn’t agree with it, reduces the emotional toll that not knowing generates. Leaving HR to shoulder this burden alone does not build trust or credibility.

• Have Your Employees Checked Out?: according to a survey of the Corporate Executive Board members, 45% of employees are disengaged but they are doing something worse than leaving – they are STAYING! 70% of these CEB members will survey their employees in 2009 and that is great news, as long as what is being asked matters and someone will communicate what the company will do – and won’t do – with the results and why.

• Have Your Customers Checked Out?: what if those 45% of disengaged employees are “touching” your customers? How much of a hit is that to your bottom line? Every single interaction (yes, Accounting and IT count) adds up to the experience that you create. Survey data is essential but so is a visit or a phone call. I know that when we collect customer data for clients, we are ferocious about alerting them to a relationship that could be in jeopardy. Trust and credibility are only partially built by a well thought-out survey; most of it relies on a more personal touch.

Solid metrics coupled with the will to get our heads in the game and our hands dirty are what will build the tools and the skills to not only get through this downturn but will also position our companies to take advantage of the upturn.

What are your thoughts on this subject, please post a comment and share those with us!


Productivity Guy said...

Hi Cathy,
Great article - just came across your blog today. Your MBWA comment is particularly striking.

I invite you to check out some of the free data found here: and here: which may help you for future human capital articles (sorry for the quasi-blog spam, didn't see a contact form)


Unknown said...


Thanks very much for your comment and for the links. Let’s keep the conversation going as we believe this issue and others like it should be topic #1 right now. We might not be able to spend a lot of money on new initiatives but as Richard Branson said when starting up Virgin Airways, “modest resources and high aspirations make for great innovation”.