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Crisis Brings Clarity

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For decades I took pride in the fact that throughout economic downturns, not one of my employees ever lost their job. This time it was different. With sales and revenue down nearly 80 percent this past March and April, I had no choice but to trim the staff. 

At first, I took it hard. After all, these are people with families. However, every crisis brings clarity. As time passed, I realized some of the employees that were let go did not fit the profile we’d need to rebuild the business. Some of them never returned, and I was OK with that. In fact, it was just what the business needed. 

As a general rule, layoffs are not a good sign. It tells employees that the company they work for has financial problems and perhaps more layoffs are coming. It takes a strong leader and the right workplace culture to survive the emotional impact of employees seeing some of their coworkers laid off. 

The day after the layoffs, I brought the entire team together to share an open and honest assessment. I told them “I cannot tell you with certainty how hard this virus will hit us. I cannot tell you what the total economic impact will be. I’m not going to sugarcoat it either. We may have a rough road ahead. What I can tell you is that we have a plan, and we will not only survive this, but we will be stronger and more resilient when this curse is behind us!” 

My crystal ball that day was just as cloudy as everyone else’s. I have never been in a situation like this with so many uncertainties. At the start of the crisis, I wondered and worried like everyone else. But pity parties don’t move companies forward. People do. Let me restate that, the right people do. I knew that I had to be brutally honest with my team and provide a  vision, optimism, and a plan to move forward. 

A month later, we were recruiting and in six weeks we’d rebuilt our staff to pre-COVID levels. Attitude and culture overshadowed all other attributes. Our focus was not necessarily on skill set. Our focus was on finding people with the right attitude and the right ethics. Again, crisis had brought clarity. 

With my new team in place, I focused first on morale and team spirit, rather than pushing sales or production goals. I knew that reinforcing team spirit would eventually result in reaching our business goals—those goals have more to do with employing the right people who share a common mission. I stuck to my belief that with the right people in the right work environment, the numbers would take care of itself.

Business success does not create high morale or a strong culture either. It’s the other way around. Just a few weeks ago, I was working late with my manager when we walked out of my office to find two techs that had punched out at least an hour earlier. They were working on their own time to solve a tough electrical problem on a Cadillac. When I asked what they were doing there, one of the techs replied “This car ain’t going to beat us. We’ll figure out the problem, boss.” I thanked them over and over for their effort before encouraging them to head home and tackle it the next day. For me, this was proof that culture and morale are crucial in determining business success. 

I hope I never have to lay off another employee. I did what was needed at that time. This crisis has made it clear that business success is a function of assembling the right people. There will be more crises to test our resolve in the future. You can count on it. We need to be ready. We need to build a healthy cash reserve, have our marketing and business plans in place, we need to know our numbers and create our goals. But the way to ensure you triumph in the face of uncertainty really lies with the people you have around you.

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