Keeping the Faith

The economy is low, but for many companies, employee morale is high.

Communicate. Give gifts. Throw parties. What are the secrets to keeping employees believing in a better tomorrow? MoldMaking Technology magazine's EAB suggests ways that companies can maintain employee morale during the current economic slowdown.

Walt Bishop, executive director of SPI Machinery, Molders and Moldmakers Divisions (Washington, D.C.). Employers need to be completely above board when communicating business conditions with the employees. In most cases, employees are already aware of the state of the company's business. Declining orders, wage and hiring freezes and other indicators are readily understood by employees that business is not at all rosy. An employer has the moral obligation to be as up front with the employee as possible. Don't try to paint an unrealistic picture and sugarcoat an already tough situation. At the very least, honesty will relieve the employees of the stress of trying to guess what is happening with the company. Finally, clearly communicate with the employees what the plans are for dealing with the slowdown, how it affects them and what they can do to help the company through these times.

Tom Fenton, toolroom manager for Minntech Corp. (Plymouth, MI). During the 1976 slowdown I was working for a boss who came out to tell us that the workload was slow. His final sentence has stuck by me all these years, 'Be sure to keep working hard and keep the speed up so when I lay you off I can give a good reference.' That was not acceptable.

During the 1981 to 1984 slowdown, I was working at Lakeland Tool in Minneapolis. Marty Swerin had a meeting where he told us honestly what was happening as far as the workload and bids. Honesty with the workers was the best policy for him. Jim Danehy, president of Minntech, sent out a 81/2 x 11 poster entitled Five Core Beliefs for Guidance and Long Term Success:

  1. Integrity: personal, professional and process.
  2. Accountability: measurements and visibility.
  3. Productivity: continuous improvement.
  4. Take care of customer.
  5. Take care of employees.

He has been honest with the employees and has earned their trust. He also has lemonade and ice cream served in our quarterly meetings. It is always a nice touch to add a treat when relaying bad news.

Jean H. Kroes, owner of J.H. Kroes Consulting (Ottowa, Ontario). I believe a slowdown in the economy is needed every once in awhile to refocus. It is a good time to sit down with your staff - who have helped for so long when the need was there - to really find out which direction the company should be heading three and five years from now. Honest communication is now more vital than ever. You don't need to paint a bleak picture because your employees have felt the vibrations from you, the employer. Plan on how to get there together. You will be surprised how much wisdom and good sense is stored in your employees. Look at what new equipment might be needed for your business in the foreseeable future. Choose the people to train for the equipment as well as alternates. Your staff, seeing that you invest in them, will feel that you want to keep them and will pull with you.

Next, have your staff visit a customer's shops. There are various ways to do that, for instance a free service call to make sure that your products are working well may cement long-term relationships. You also might find out what the customer is looking at next. The goodwill is invaluable.

The days of entertaining in order to get a sale have long been over. What counts more than ever is knowledge of the product. On the other hand, you might not have a full schedule of production. How many people on the shop floor are knowledgeable in the molds you produce? Schedule them to go out once a week with someone on the sales staff, or to staff the booth at trade shows. Always have the senior sales member nearby to help out when it comes to talking about sales specific items.

Finally, it is time to involve your staff in diversification, either in product or in methods. The major point to remember is to involve them and communicate with them. Involving your staff in the planning lets them know that while life might be a little rougher ahead, you are all still on the same ship, using the same wind and heading for the same harbor.

Jim Meinert, director of international marketing for Snider Mold (Mequon, WI). First, flexibility with a work schedule is important. When we have a month with no reportable accidents, we have pizza and soft drinks on Fridays at noon. We also take this time to keep the shop environment as clean and as comfortable as possible.

Many shops are having similar challenges. Good communication is key. Our shop guys know that if we are having a problem with receivables or any other challenges with the market or customers, keeping each other informed of all challenges and opportunities is best or simply having an open style of management. I like the sign I saw in a Michigan shop that read 'Whatever it Takes.' I just returned from seeing customers in China and the open team environment there is really nice to see and we strive for that with taking time for bowling, supporting a company baseball team, racecar driving, trap shooting and wearing shop uniforms.

Terry Wohlers, president of Wholers Associates, Inc. (Fort Collins, CO). A weakening economy often means layoffs. If you have to downsize, there's not a lot you can do for those who were downsized. However, you can:

  1. Be honest. Most people don't like surprises involving their employment.
  2. Offer to write a letter of recommendation and provide ideas for new job opportunities.
  3. Ask him/her to stay in touch so that when business picks up, there may be a chance for reemployment.

For those who are currently employed:

  1. Buy a keg of beer and throw a party. Give employees a chance to blow off some steam.
  2. To show your appreciation, give small gifts to employees that have gone the extra mile to meet deadlines.
  3. Explain to employees that tough times mean creating a leaner and more competitive organization and invite them to become a part of this process.

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