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Intentional Change: Responding to the Downturn

A CEO said his purpose was not to prevent bad things from happening, but to help his people learn from what took place. This is especially true if your people know only times of increased revenues, loose spending restrictions, and underlying assumptions about the business based only on growth. They had never experienced a downturn.


They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But it’s better to say when the going gets tough, smart people become engaged in creating positive change. Here are three examples of intentional positive change, followed by questions to ask.


Example one: Innovation

A mining organization wanted more control and accountability by looking for ways to create an integrated team model. It wanted to modify its EPCM relationships (Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management). The company had taken almost all procurement in-house with a centralized function and established procedures. In one project it started to contract the E (Engineering) separately from CM (Construction Management). It also started to contract for ECM on another project, and decided to stay with the EPCM on yet another.


Innovation came from how the company contracted by identifying the value that was needed and the accountabilities required from its partners. It also started experimenting with a blended, integrated project team. It contracted with external partners to give people key roles that were normally within the company. It also explored how technology could facilitate better real-time communication and accountability. An upside of the downturn is that experienced, contracted people from the engineering companies were available.  Questions:


  • Are you looking at old, established ways of managing projects?
  • Can you use technology to leapfrog barriers you experienced in the past?


Example two: Increased transparency and trust

Hang on to your best people when times are tough. They will be the core of your experience and base of your intelligence. Companies that share information with their employees, and are open and transparent, are likely to be trusted by those employees. A trusting culture breeds loyalty and engagement. But companies that hold back information will not fare as well. Employees want transparency and truth from senior leadership, and in a downturn this becomes more acute. Especially during a downturn leaders should communicate more in person and less by email. You should also sit down with employees and share career options with them. Questions:


  • Have you identified key people you wish to hang onto and told them your career plans for their future?
  • Is there information you could share to build trust and help them plan their career?
  • How could you build a more trusting culture?

Example three:  Future-proofing the work force

An organization had intensified training and development programs for its employees, including financial literacy training. The finance department gave workshops that included EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes), so employees better understood how to manage the balance between revenues and expenses. This created better financial managers and increased knowledge, and gave people more tools. The gift of the downturn is that a young generation of employees who had never known this could learn what managing in a downturn looks like. Questions:


  • Are your employees as financially literate as they could be?
  • Do you understand the development needs of your key people and do you have plans to meet them?
  • Have you communicated with key people about your development plans for them?


[Esther Ewing and Bill Sedgwick are co-founders and partners of Big Tree Strategies Inc. Big Tree Strategies works with teams that are doing critical work, and helps them become more effective and engaged.]



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