The only way you can avoid employees talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly in your business is to not have employees. Whether you like it or not, employees will talk about what happens at work from the lack of sales, to the lack of management, to the affairs and the afflictions of daily life. There are few if any secrets employees don’t know or can’t figure out. If you think your employees are unaware of the financial performance or the salaries, the bonuses and the layoffs, then you don’t know your employees and you may not know your business.

Employees are the workers in your business. They may see and hear only “bits and pieces”, but many of your employees can assemble those “bits and pieces” into a fairly accurate assessment of your business – where it stands and where it is going.

From the executive suite to the shipping clerk on the dock, your sales, your expenses, and your potential are accessed on a continuous basis. Underestimating the innate knowledge within your workforce to know what is going well and what isn’t, who is working and who is playing at work, how to improve performance and how to magnify the issues, means that you are missing out on an opportunity to enlist your employees in the profitability improvement process.

Another area that is frequently overlooked in the “employee impact” section is the ability of your employees to impact the reputation and market opportunities. Have you ever been at an event in a restaurant or a social setting and been the recipient (directly or indirectly) of information on what is going on in a business? Think about when your neighbor talks about how slow his/her day is…and that person handles logistics for a major electronics manufacturer? How about your cousin who works for a commercial realtor and talks about a major client who that is not renewing a lease for a 10,000 square foot retail space? What about your friend who does graphic design for a local spa which loses out on a the new contract because the spa is experiencing cash flow problems and wants to “cut back” on advertising? On the other side of the “I heard so-and-so say…” are the positive comments about “new customers calling every day”, “looking for new space to expand”, “outgrowing the space”, “can’t make the product fast enough”, “the place is packed every night”…

Whether positive or negative the comments and the experience of your employees influence the perception of your company. Right or wrong the messages sent by the “insiders” who are “in-the-know” can carry more weight than any formal advertising campaign. The ability to influence the communications of your employees stems from the level of trust and commitment the organization generates between itself and the employee.

Organizational influence must be wielded with care and caution. Trying to “control” the communication through restrictions, intimidation, or other means which could be perceived as “strong arm tactics” will surely backfire. Enlisting your employees as a positive “marketing” and “sales” force means being genuine in your communications and about the issues the business faces. Concealing or withholding information from key employees and the general work force leads to distrust and self-interest.

Many businesses both large and small attempt to minimize the impact of layoffs and changes in the workforce by limiting the sharing of that information to a “privileged few” who are presumed to be keeping it to themselves. As a consequence, the rumor and speculation of the general workforce increases in pace and magnitude. Those in the know begin to signal through their actions that something out of the ordinary is going on. Members of the organization are usually able to interpret those signals correctly.

Both those who will be impacted and those who were going to be untouched know without being told that work is not progressing as usual. Activities, processes, and efforts the business is relying on begin to slow and, and there is an unexpected impact on all parts and people in the organization. Have you been in a business or business unit where layoffs were eminent and only the “chosen few” are supposed to know? You know everyone can feel the tension and hear the stop-and-start conversations about what is happening and when. Work stops until the organization learns who is going and who is staying…the phones ring and the hallways echo with the whispers of who was just let go and who quit as a result…

How a business handles the need to make changes in operations – whether it is layoffs, terminations, or site closures – will have a long reaching impact on the ability to continue to do business long after the actions have been taken. Why? Because the employees and the community will KNOW how things were handled.

Adding on to your business? Promoting from within or hiring from outside? Going for new expertise or knowledge of your business?

Regardless of what is or is not happening in your business, the ability to manage the communication and share information about what is going on and when with your employees is critical to the successful completion of whatever change is underway. Honesty, integrity, fairness, and clear direction are needed to make even the worst situations comprehensible. Employees who are treated with respect and provided with information are more likely to accept even the “unacceptable”. When employees are left to interpret incomplete data and rumors, no one wins. Morale, reputation, and productivity suffer. Positive events such as expansion become tangled with the negative emotions of not being valued. Negative occurrences such as layoffs become more negative when employees are uncertain about how things will take place, the scope, and the reasons.

What are your employees saying about your business? Do they respect your organization – its owners, executives, and managers? Do they share in the success of your business or are they just working the “job”? Are they ambassadors of growth? Or are they harbingers of doom?

Keep in mind the following:

  • Employees can be the best advocates for your business.
  • Employees are connected directly and indirectly to potential stakeholders – customers, vendors, investors…
  • Employees are observant and have an ability to fill in the blanks of almost any situation.
  • Employees need to be treated with respect – be fair and frank about whatever is going on.
  • Communicating the goals and objectives doesn’t mean you are seeking approval or a consensus – it means that you recognize that each employee makes a contribution to success.
  • Ask for what you need. Costs out of control – employees know where the money is going. Need more sales – employees know where opportunities exist with current and past customers.
  • Your business is the sum of your employees’ efforts. Maximize those efforts with clear goals for the organization and each employee.
  • Respect your employees, and they will be saying only good things about your business.

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Copyright ©2006 Lea A. Strickland, F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc.

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