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7 Human Resource Strategies to Use in a Recession

(April 5, 2009)
By now most economists and armchair experts agree we're in a recession.

What both the educated and lay pundits find more difficult to agree upon are the answers to troubling questions like "How deep will the recession be?" and "How long will it last?"

Estimates for recovery vary wildly from the blackly dismal to the rosily optimistic. It seems the only thing we can know for sure is that no one really knows.

With the future so uncertain, business publications have taken to promoting the philosophy that recessions create opportunity... at least for those with the moxie to make success happen. While this may come across to some as a tired cheerleading attempt, there is soundness to the ideology. Even during the Great Depression companies like Kellogg's, Proctor & Gamble and Chevrolet did more than survive, they excelled. The people who steered their winning course did so with a combination of courage and inventiveness. In other words, they used moxie.

So where do you start? What kind of changes will ensure your company succeeds? Below are seven human resource strategies that are easy to implement and can make a big difference.
    1.) Lead with Confidence - During these troubling financial times, it's natural to want to take the backseat until the road ahead becomes clear. However, companies need strong leadership to prosper, now more than ever. Providing direction inspires confidence in your employees and helps build a faithful staff. Businesses that lead effectively now will retain loyal staff to meet their present and future challenges.

    2.) Communicate effectively - Making sure people have the information they need is the foundation for any good relationship. Being honest and open with employees is especially important at a time when they may be dealing with serious concerns outside of the office. Present worries might include a laid off spouse, the possibility of their own layoff, fears about not being able to pay the bills, etc. As their leader you have the responsibility to lessen any stress they might be feeling by communicating openly about the outlook for staff members at your company. Don't forget to communicate frequently because your employees' financial positions might be changing quickly right now.

    3.) Recruit purposefully - The anticipated global shortage of workers has not gone away: it has just been postponed. The reason? Baby boomers are choosing to work a little longer because their retirement savings have been deflated. Once the market comes back fully, you should expect a mass exodus as the boomers leave the workforce. Companies who make severe staffing cuts and don't keep their HR people connected to potential hires will be caught severely short staffed. Savvy companies have a great opportunity right now to hire talented people who have been down-sized by other organizations.

    4.) Make cuts strategically - Consider outsourcing the functions you can to help reduce costs, but don't forget to take good care of any employees you might eliminate. Generous packages create goodwill and increase loyalty from those who remain. What's more, the departing employees just might be more willing to return to work when times are better and your company faces the global staffing shortages that the recession postponed. Generous packages might seem out of the question in tight times but you should give serious consideration to offering the maximum that you can. Your company will be better able to recruit new staff in the future if its reputation is bolstered by how it treated people during the 2009 recession.

    5.) Be strategic about delivering PD - Use your slower times to sharpen the skills, technical and personal, of your employees. This will help keep staff members engaged and equip them to provide the exceptional service that can sustain your company now and contribute to its prosperity later (see 6).

    6.) Take great care of your customers - Remember the days when you attended networking events to stay connected, while secretly hoping you would not get too many new engagements because you did not know where you would find the staff, time or energy to provide the service? It all seems like a distant memory but it was probably less than 12 months ago.

    What most business owners wouldn't do if they could just have that problem again!

    Instead you're seeing business decline and you're wondering how to regain it. Part of the answer is in training your people to be customer service specialists. Step back to the times when you only hired people who would go the extra mile to give your customers exceptional experiences with your company. Re-new your company's customer focus now!

    7.) Avoid layoffs with creative strategies - Before you cut staff, consider alternative ways to save money while still saving jobs. A day off without pay, work sharing arrangements, worker sharing with other companies, salary cut-backs, government assistance programs - these are only a few of the numerous possibilities that may work for you and your employees. Get creative!
Whether you consider yourself to have moxie or not, the current recession calls for courageous and inventive thinking. Implementing ideas like the seven above can not only help your company weather this global storm, but position it for full sail ahead when the storm has passed.

About Cindy Risiling
Cindy Risling is Human Resources professional with 20 years of experience and she assists business owners by helping them shore up their Human Resources practices.

Colleen Gildea

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