How to stay focused on employee needs and results

Jeff Abbott is the CEO of Ivantioverseeing all aspects of product and go-to-market strategy and execution.

With 98% of CEOs in the US and 99% of CEOs in Europe saying they are preparing for a global downturn, according to a recent Conference Board survey, it’s time to take concrete steps to stabilize your organization. Even though the current uncertainty stems from a powerful combination of geopolitical unrest, an impending economic downturn and a boost to the job market, it is essential to remember that successful organizations move at the pace of their own anthem. Moreover, technological advancements have increased since the crisis of 2008-2009 and modern technology will lead the way through the predicted economic headwinds.

Bain & Company’s Sustainable Value Creators analysis found that 47% of U.S. companies increased profits during the previous recession from 2003 to 2007 because they focused on cost transformation and strategically channeled those cost results in their engine of growth. When it comes to dealing with an unpredictable landscape, leaders must do more than think outside the box – they must break the beaten path and the ways they have traditionally thought. There are many avenues we can follow during a recession, but not all of them lead to market leadership in the end. Here are three strategies that will get us to the other side.

Strategy 1: Put employees first.

They say your customers will never be happier than your least happy employee. This is an overgeneralization, of course, but there is some truth behind it. A global shift to focus on the employee experience through stronger wellness programs, streamlined digital access and flexible work structures is well underway. Investing in employees, even in a downturn, pays serious dividends. Attracting and retaining top talent means less turnover and higher productivity, which is exactly what you need right now.

It’s also important to make sure you’re investing in the right places. A rollercoaster talent market could mean you have more open candidates than usual – or maybe the pendulum has already swung and you’re overwhelmed with applications. Rather than filling vacancies as usual, take advantage of this time to assess your talent needs. Focus on what candidates can bring to meet business needs and shared values instead of roles. Maybe you need more innovators, more R&D expertise, or more people who shine in a remote sales environment. Your business needs have likely changed over the past three years, so your employment structure should also change.

It’s entirely possible to make work function redesign and optimization a positive part of your culture rather than a detractor of employee engagement. Cultivating a growth mindset and learning culture makes continuous improvement collaborative and organic. People want to be part of something bigger, and when placed in positions that suit them, employees feel valued and can then have a real impact on the organization.

Strategy 2: Leverage technology and automation to resolve issues proactively and in real time.

Reactive operations have never been so dangerous. With cyber threats increasing during the pandemic and sobering statistics like ransomware increasing 466% since 2019, trying to respond to attacks after they happen is like unscrambling an egg. And manual monitoring and mitigation is a no-start, especially in this landscape of job and skills shortages.

Cybersecurity is just one area that requires looking at automation and technology. Automation should not replace your employees; it can ease the pressure that tedious tasks can place on teams, with the added benefit of increased accuracy and efficiency. Experimentation, transformation, and innovation continue to be the contemporary platform to help businesses achieve IT maturity, and reducing repetitive and tedious tasks through automation infuses freedom into your business so that your talents can strategize and innovate with agility.

Strategy 3: Be honest about obstacles and create dedicated working groups.

There are obstacles you could ignore in a great economy that are no longer ignorable. Design a specific approach to recruit, activate and empower special organizational task forces to overcome obstacles. Be efficient and relentless in identifying and targeting the problems you encounter and work collaboratively to prioritize which ones to solve first. Give people the tools and freedom they need to create solutions. Choose people who not only have the skills to solve the problem, but also the motivation to do so, because solving it will make their job easier in the long run.

While now may not seem like the right time to embrace transformation, a period of economic uncertainty is exactly the right time to do so. Many companies will, as Bain put it, “slash and burn their way to the other side,” rather than strategically navigate through this one. It is possible to pull through, but only by being willing to transform and evolve in difficult times.

Also, be sure to take advantage of data-driven expectations about the future. Identify any issues that may arise and use your workgroup to find ways to get ahead of them. Don’t limit yourself in the process. Challenge your own assumptions about your role in the market and how you could be useful and inject thought leadership into your strategic planning by addressing issues not just for your business, but for the market as a whole.

If even one of these strategies resonates, run with it. The worst thing you can do right now is lean too heavily toward profits at the expense of people, or vice versa. People and profits are inextricably linked. Happy, talented employees in the right roles with the right remote and in-person employee experience lead to better economic performance. And don’t neglect the top of your sales funnel so you can add recession-proof customer base to your portfolio. While other businesses are trying to hang on to their existing customers during the recession, you could be expanding. Turn turbulence into momentum – unleash your team’s passion to overcome challenges and build a culture of passion and courage.

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