In the words of
lyricist Johnny Mercer, effective leaders know that in difficult
times “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the
negative, latch on to the affirmative”.
leaders, all eyes are on you! Clients and employees are reading
your faces and looking for clues about what’s coming next. “Are
we turning the corner yet?” “Will we still be here next year?”
“Are there more layoffs coming?’ “Am I next?”
that this is a rough economy, so there is no use denying the
struggle. At best, it’s unrealistic and at worst it is
perceived as condescending and dismissive.
introduce you to a client of mine who is using this time to her
advantage and refocusing her employees on “the positive.”
Jennifer is the
CEO of a marketing firm. She works primarily with professional
firms and not-for-profits. Impacted like everyone else, she
reluctantly laid off 12 employees (a third of her group) in
January. Soon after, she noticed her remaining staff was so
uptight about their job security that they were missing
deadlines and often just missing the point.
The last thing
she could afford was a partial workforce that was paralyzed.
We met and
brainstormed – the process was so energizing and engaging that
it was pretty obvious: this was precisely the kind of unedited,
dynamic interaction her staff needed. So, Jennifer formed a
creative employee think-tank, which she dubbed, “Innovate Today
For Tomorrow” (ITFT).
She dedicated a
room and deliberately made the inside look like no other
office. No desk. No office chairs. No white walls. She
hauled in a couch from a storage closet and found a couple free
comfy chairs on Craig’s List. She threw cushy pillows on the
floor and stocked a small fridge with sodas and juices.
And then she
started publicizing her idea. ITFT would meet with her every
Wednesday from 1 – 2:30. There would be a specific concept or
process to kick around each week. Everyone would be welcome and
employees most directly involved with that area would be asked
to attend. At the end of the discussion, ideas would be
collected and assigned to individuals to explore further.
The first ITFT
topic was, “What opportunities do we have that we are not taking
advantage of?” One week ahead, Jennifer posted the question in
the lobby, in the restrooms, by the back door and in the lounge
area. She hung butcher-block paper on the corridor walls and
dangled permanent markers inviting people to write down their
thoughts. The day of the meeting, she collected all of the
ideas and posted them on the walls of the “think” room. By the
time people arrived, they were jazzed.
So what goodies
did Jennifer yield from her first ITFT?
refocused her employees’ energy from ‘the sky is falling’ to
the more positive and empowering, ‘we can do things better’.
She got to
know each employee in a more individual way, to listen for
potential leaders and to watch group dynamics.
came up with 7 possible opportunities to pursue.
The 3 top
ideas were parceled out to key individuals to explore
further. They were captured on action plans so everyone was
clear about responsibilities and deadlines.
learned new tools: brainstorming, multi-voting,
action-planning and accountability.
the following week, employees emailed her other issues to
tackle, ranging from “How can we educate our existing
clients about other services we can provide them?” to “Where
can we cut costs without impacting quality?”.
of communication were wide open. Staff started feeling more
connected, more focused on a future, and more invested in
Now back to
you. Can you relate to Jennifer’s plight? Would you rather
have a root canal than walk into your office and be greeted by
the same malaise, frustration, paralysis and lack of focus?
If so, how
about trying to Innovate Today For Tomorrow at your business?
Here are some topics you might start with:
What additional services that
we offer can we sell to current clients?
Where are the holes or
bottlenecks that slow us down and how can we
businesses/organizations might we collaborate with
for cost savings?
would love to hear your insights and how your
organization is managing this economy.
If you have
questions or thoughts to share, please drop us a line at