When bombarded with headlines like “10,000 Employees Laid Off at Amazon” or “Facebook Parent Company Meta Laying off 11,000 Employees,” it can feel quite nerve-wracking. It’s easy to let nerves and uncertainty get overwhelming, making it seem like the rug has been pulled from under us. But as someone who worked in the aviation industry after the September 11 attacks and worked as an executive leader through the Great Recession of 2008, I have seen these types of headlines before. And let me say, despite the onslaught of the troubling headlines we’re seeing now, the sky is not falling.
Yes, more than 120,000 technology workers have been laid off so far in 2022, eclipsing the total from all of 2020. But the unemployment rate is significantly low at 3.7%, and as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported, we have seen an increase in employment in professional and technical services between September and October 2022.
Fortunately, U.S. companies and the people they employ have a long history of working through a myriad of obstacles and course corrections. Now, we’re part of that history on the heels of COVID and the increasingly loud alarms going off about recession fears, rising interest rates, and even war. Naturally, leaders all over are scratching their heads right now, asking themselves tough questions. Do we cut costs? Replace supplier? Invest more in innovation?
While there is no single business playbook to answer these tough questions, history has shown us a common thread to survive and thrive during downturns, and that’s talent. One might say process efficiencies and innovation are more critical, but I’ve found they cannot happen without the right and motivated talent. If we have the right team in place to survive the tough times, we are also set up to thrive when the market turns.
Between the impact of COVID and the current market downturn, it is tempting to let the fear of recession overwhelm our reasoning, sabotaging long-term objectives by resorting to short-sighted action. While everyone is tightening their belt, now is the time to focus on the talent you want to recruit, retain, and inspire to create a competitive edge by restoring confidence and productivity that leads to growth, innovation, and a culture of trust! Having steered multiple companies and teams through tough times throughout my career, I know the task can feel daunting.
Here are 3 key actions that C-Suite executives, managers, and individual contributors can each take to get started:
1) Put your money where your talent is
During tough times, team members need to be more productive and creative, which requires engagement and motivation. Don’t confuse this investment with symbolic “gift card” gestures of appreciation. My experience has shown that team members instead value real, meaningful investments in their own growth through upskilling and coaching. Investing in the individual increases productivity and top-line growth, and it shows that you care about the person and their career. Importantly, don’t cut back on investing in diverse talent. Research has shown that diverse teams drive innovation and company growth more successfully.
2) Show you mean business
Now is the time to ensure your metrics focus on real impact versus just checking a training box. Examples of robust metrics include the percentage of people promoted, the rate of promotions, the diversity in new hires, the percentage of people making lateral moves, the percentage of unwanted attrition, and the ability of team members to see growth opportunities.
3) Tell it like it is
Don’t leave team members guessing about the health of your business. I’ve found it vital to be transparent about the current state of things while clearly articulating the long-term vision and why you are continuing to invest in talent.
1) Be what you want to see
It’s easier to be a great leader when times are good. But true leaders are born and shine during difficult times. Be a trailblazer in tough times by promoting and building inclusive teams. Be open to your learning and improvements by seeking feedback from your team members. You can set new standards for talent development in your business by investing in upskilling and coaching for yourself.
2) Show people the love
Nominate team members for career development programs and provide opportunities to apply learnings immediately to daily work. Give additional visibility and recognition to individuals who excel in the programs and provide opportunities to individuals ready to take on a larger scope of responsibility. Don’t forget to utilize any recognition practices you already have through the company’s benefits programs.
3) Measure what matters
Ensure you have individual and team metrics focused on productivity, performance, and output results. Work to eliminate any potential bias in these metrics. For example, promote people based on results and how they got there, not just tenure.
And, if you are an individual contributor in an organization dealing with a downturn, here are 3 key tips for you:
1) Stick with strategy
Now, more than ever, you want to ensure that your daily work aligns directly with the strategy of the organization. If you don’t know your organization’s strategy, get involved! I’ve always found it helpful to ask your managers to explain the organization’s mission, vision, and top strategic goals.
2) Expand your reach
Approach your manager and volunteer to help in new initiatives that can help the top and bottom line of your organization. This may require you to learn new skills and navigate the hurdles you may be facing. Learn how to collaborate with your team to improve processes and productivity. Learn how to facilitate productive and inclusive discussions. Learn innovation methods to elevate and energize your contributions to the organization.
3) Count on community
It is important to contribute to the organization during unstable economic times, but it is just as important to avoid personal burnout. Everyone will be stressed to a certain extent so ensure you build a community of support. This is a great opportunity to connect with other team members within your organization and across organizations who will provide positive, uplifting support. Access outside mentors and coaches who have experienced similar stressful times in the professional world. I have seen this make significant positive changes in people’s careers.