Make communication with employees your priority during times of economic adversity
By Albert J. Weatherhead
If you’re a business leader, you don’t have to confront tough economic times alone. You have incredibly knowledgeable and highly motivated consultants at your beck and call. These experts are chomping at the bit to help you emerge from the current economic adversity stronger and ready to hit the ground running when the economy brightens.
This consulting resource is none other than your employees – and it won’t cost you an extra cent to take advantage of their expertise and tap their limitless good will, because talk is cheap…
All you have to do is ask!
Using communication and collaboration to overcome and transform adversity is a topic I cover extensively in my book, THE POWER OF ADVERSITY: Tough Times Can Make Your Stronger, Wiser, and Better. And I can assure you that the advice I share with you today has stood the test of time…
It helped me inspire my Weatherchem team to create the original Flapper® dispensing closure. Over 150 companies, including Durkee, Cremora, San Giorgio, Ronzoni, and McCormick, now use the entire line of Flapper products, and Weatherchem continues to lead the industry in offering the widest, most innovative array of closure products.
This advice also worked for me almost 50 years ago, when, at the age of 30, I was working for my father at the Weatherhead Company, a manufacturer of military ordinance, automotive and aviation parts, and gas control devices and storage products…
Economic Adversity Builds Walls for You To Tear Down
It was 1960, and members of the AFL-UAW Local 463 union negotiation committee led by its president, John Allar, were threatening to strike the Weatherhead Company over a wages dispute. We employed 600 people in a million square foot factory so vast that a railway track ran down the middle.
I said to Allar, “Rather than be at each other’s throats as we sink, let’s work together – collaborate – and figure out how we’re going to get out of this mess…”
In other words, I was ready to tear down the walls that separated the union and management, because I understood that we needed each other to survive.
Unfortunately, my gesture was rebuffed and the union decided to strike.
That first day, I made sure I was there by 6:00 AM, before the union pickets. They arrived to see me busy changing a flat tire on a truck.
“Oh, look, he’s finally doing some manual labor,” the union reps taunted, but I could see the look of respect in their eyes (and more important, in the eyes of the union rank and file setting up to walk the picket line).
I had captured their attention and interest, and primed them to communicate and collaborate with me.
What was my strategy? One way or another, I was determined to turn the walls between us into a bridge that could span our differences. From that very first day, I walked that picket line with my striking employees, engaging them in conversation whenever I could.
My staff watching from the factory’s executive suite, was worried the picketers would take a baseball bat to me, but nobody did, because I kept them talking.
Talk is cheap, but it is also invaluable in building trust between
management and employees when economic times are hard.
In the end, the strike was settled on the terms I established – because the union came to see that my terms were the right terms for our mutual success… and because I kept us talking.
Now let’s return to the present economic mess we’re in…
Concerning the auto industry debacle, do you understand why Congress had the top executives come to Washington to participate in hearings, but didn’t call in the car companies’ union negotiating committees to hear their side of things?
For that matter, why didn’t Congress have the smarts to invite a contingent of assembly line workers to share viewpoints from the factory floor? (Those hard-working, blue-collar folks would probably have put forth the most valuable testimony of all!)
Don’t you make the same mistake: Tear down the walls and talk to your employees. Discover what’s running through their minds, and be sure to let them know what you’re thinking – and that you want their help because you’re all in the same boat.
Successful management – in a good economy or a bad one – is more like taking a pulse than taking inventory, because beyond all the mechanics of the place, every business is a collective human endeavor.
And what separates humankind from all the other creatures is our ability to talk, so always, always communicate with your employees.
Ask: How can we improve this place? What’s wrong here? I guarantee you will get more valuable information in just a few hours than you could possibly act upon in a year!
It worked for me half a century ago on the picket lines in front of my father’s company …
It worked far more recently to help me build Weatherchem into a multimillion-dollar manufacturing company that has provided me with the means to be a major philanthropist, endowing hospitals, universities, and charities that offer valuable help to thousands of people.
You too can leverage economic adversity to strengthen and revitalize your business so
that you’ll be well positioned when financial prosperity once again returns, which I’m confident it will.
Just remember… Talk may be cheap, but it’s also priceless when it comes to building camaraderie, respect, energy – and yes, even love – throughout your workplace, in both good times and bad.
Albert J. Weatherhead is the author of The Power Of Adversity and chairman and CEO of Weatherchem, a private manufacturer of plastic closures for food, spice, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products.