The One Good Thing About a Downturn


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“Good timbers do not grow with ease;
the stronger the winds, the stronger
the trees…”

– Williard Marriott

The one good thing about a downturn is that it makes you stronger as an organization. Or, at least it should. Most organizations just cut mindlessly, in which case it doesn’t.

Use this time to spot which of your frontline people are most resilient. It is likely that morale and motivation will flag among most, as that is natural in a downturn – people are worried about their own prospects, their spending power outside of work and so on. What you want to try and avoid, of course, is that mood being reflected in your relationships with your customers.

Role model the most resilient frontline employees – those who can continue to smile and provide good service and think proactively of the customer’s needs, rather than be distracted by their own concerns – and use their profiles when recruiting. Also, hold them up as ‘heroes’ to the rest of the organization.

But, don’t dismiss the concerns of those who don’t smile and stay buoyant through down times. Part of your role as a customer-centered leader is to become even more engaged with them and keep them inspired and motivated. That is in stark contrast to what most leaders/managers do in a downturn – become more distant, shut the manager’s door and spend time in meetings with those ‘on high’ which seem to the front-line to be all about which of them are to lose their jobs to cut costs.

So, it’s time for you to step up and show your true colours/colors as a manager and leader who keeps a focus on the customer and on communicating with your frontline people to keep their morale up.

By the way, the smile thing. Those who keep smiling may not be the most resilient. There’s a whole emotion management thing going on in all of us at work that the psychologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls ’emotional labor’. You need to really engage with people individually to spot the difference between the false smile and the real one. I’ll blog shortly about emotional labor and how it affects you, your frontline and your customers in a downturn, so you can watch out for it.

Phil Dourado
Author, Speaker, Independent Consultant
Founding editor of Customer Service Management Journal in the United States, and of its companion title, Customer Service Management Journal (now rebranded as Customer Management Magazine) in the United Kingdom. He is the author of The 6 Second Leader (Capstone, John Wiley & Sons, 27).


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