Home > Leadership & People, Management, People Management > Managing In Economic Tough Times

Managing In Economic Tough Times

A slew of recent articles, posts, blogs relate to upcoming difficulties in the work places and how to cope with all that’s swirling around. How do employees of all levels “survive” through what’s coming ahead? Quick scan through Tuesday Aug 12 New York Times business section, we find Cost-Cutting in New York and London, a Boom in India, an typical article of outsourcing to lower cost centers by companies, and Leaving Wall Street for a Job Overseas, a tale of how some companies are transferring key talent and knowledge across their global enterprise as a way to soften the impact of these turbulent times.

What does this mean for us in the trenches where such corporate decisions are often outside of our control? If we can and do have influencing ability, how will we manage our business and functional organization to (1) minimize the business impact, (2) maintain healthy organizational performance, and (3) retain key talent to ride out the tough times and prepare for “a whole new world” (not really new, it’s just another cycle of finding ways to do more with less)?

Whether you are a Dilbert cubicle creature or a Pointy-Haired manager creature, how to stand out and be more valuable to your organization in tough times becomes an area for anxiety as the jostling for the inevitable musical chairs happens. An good blog by The Office Newb, Jacqui Tom, talks about who should “win or lose” in this seemingly zero sum game,Finding Value In Every Employee. She quotes a recent Business Week article by the good folks over at Harvard Business Review (Let’s Hear it for B Players: In a tough economy, it’s your B players—competent, steady performers far from the limelight—who deserve your attention), which surprisingly goes against the apparent truism** that organizations should be looking after its top talent, great performers (the question of who is a top talent is open for debate too) etc.

No doubt I believe that the folks in the trenches – the so-called B-players – are (sadly) caught in a netherworld of anonymity. And are these B-players not top talent or great performers? I sometimes think that some of us – HR professionals, senior management etc – like to drink our “Kool-Aid” a tad too much. Balancing organizational sustainability is not about getting a team of “A-players” but a diverse mix of skills, capabilities, expertise, personalities togethers as broadly and deeply as possible. Indeed, who is to say that most(?) B-players aren’t also the organizational “go-to” guys*** rather than your top performer A-player? Nurturing the solid foundation of the organization requires one to ensure that these folks are properly supported, or “protected” if you will. In this aspect, I strongly support the author’s viewpoints to not forget, but even pay a bit more attention to, during these tough times.

Having just now said all this, what about the top performers/A-players? In economic tough times, there is some inevitable winners and losers in the corporate musical games chairs. And the general question should be what to do? Is it so inevitable that they will be layed-off (e.g. straight numbers game 10% headcount reduction across the board) or is there some corporate flexibility to redistribute the good players?

Scott Berkun recently asked, Should top performers work alone? and Marshall Goldsmith posted a thought provoking article: How to Terminate a Great Performer in a Tough Economy. Both to me seem to miss the point. First, Berkun’s article seems to assume too much in defining the “top performers”. Namely, going solo for such individuals really are in the domain of R&D or technology developers (i.e. software developers). All else, top performers can and should be able to work well cross-functionally and in teams. Secondly, Goldsmith’s post pushed a brain button. From a broader organizational perspective, senior managers need to find creative ways in economic tough times to retain key employees. After all, it is one of the most important aspects of management’s job – it is every manager’s job, not just HR’s.

** I responded in contrarian style to Goldsmith’s blog post in article discussions that we should turn the question around and think of how to keep great performers and other top talent rather than acquiescing to the supposed inevitability of laying them off during economic tough times.

***In my definition, “go-to guys” ARE the A-players. In any organization, the simple rule of thumb is, does this person have value to the organization or not? There is a mental list of qualities and capabilities that any manager has and which will guide the decision making. Hopefully, this list has some connection to the overall organization’s strategic goals and needs, but often times its less science than art.

Who you gonna call?

Who you gonna call?

  1. August 12, 2008 at 10:30 AM


    I’m just getting started with my new blog. Would you want to exchange links on our blog-rolls?

    BTW – I’m up to about 100 visitors per day.

  2. Lui Sieh
    August 12, 2008 at 10:39 AM

    Hi Stacey,

    Thanks for reading and yes, sure, that’d be great to exchange links.


  1. August 15, 2008 at 2:35 AM
  2. August 18, 2008 at 7:05 PM
  3. October 13, 2009 at 1:13 AM

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