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In a recession you have to keep communicating

by Victoria Tomlinson November, 5th 2009

buildersA number of clients have recently been mentioning variations on a theme. That in a recession you have to talk to your teams more than ever – even if there is nothing particularly new to say.

Stephen Martin, chief exec of Clugston, a leading construction company, took part in the Channel 4 programme, Undercover Boss earlier this year. Looking at his company through the eyes of his employees, he realised that people needed to hear ‘there isn’t anything different’ every bit as much as announcements about new work and ambitious plans. (He wrote a diary about this)
Employees are affected by the daily media headlines and if they don’t hear anything from bosses they start filling the gaps with their own rumours and thoughts.

In our own business we’ve been looking at how public sector cuts will affect the economy and what the economic landscape will look like next year. I personally don’t think this recession is anywhere near over and after the election, public sector costs will be slashed – 20% is a typical figure being discussed in bodies from NHS Trusts to councils.

That will have an effect right through the economy with so many public services now inextricably linked with the private sector.
So we’ve been trying to identify where there will still be new markets and positioning ourselves within those. Any business in the current economy has to be doing the same – you can’t just stand still.

But in all these discussions, I haven’t actually remembered to reassure our team about where we are now.

I realised how poorly I have been communicating when someone in my team asked me if I was planning to sell the business. I couldn’t believe I’d been giving out such poor messages. I immediately got everyone together to say our plans are exactly the same as they were at the start of the year – we are just having to think what we do differently to respond to the changing marketplace.
The challenge for any boss is getting the leadership bit right. My role is to be upbeat, inspiring and positive – or the business will start disintegrating. But I also need the team to understand the fragility of the market at the moment. We may need to work differently, move into new fields and I need everyone to be looking for work and opportunities.

In our team meeting I’ve got everyone excited again about the challenges and opportunities ahead – but also reassured them that nothing fundamental has changed.

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