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4/1/2003 | 2 MINUTE READ

Perspectives: Surviving a Slow Economy

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The economy is not just slow; it is strange.


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The economy is not just slow; it is strange. One month consumer spending is up, the next it is down. One month unemployment rises, the next it is down. How does a company survive such an economy? Granted, making money is important, but it does not ensure success.

How does a company achieve and maintain success despite a slow economy? The January issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) republished some of its older studies on workforce motivation and featured some new ones as well. From this review, Patricia Panchak of Industry Week Perspectives ( developed four strategies for gaining a high level of commitment from employees.

Employees need work with a purpose, because it is the feelings of purpose, belonging and engagement that push employees to do their best. There has to be a core ideology that goes beyond making money. It could be producing the best product possible, customer satisfaction, environmental excellence or, more likely, a combination of values. Employees need to know that the company values them and is committed to its core values (and not simply paying lip service to it). Several of the HBR studies indicate that employees rank work that provides a feeling of accomplishment more important than money as a prime motivator.

To attain a feeling of accomplishment, employers must remove barriers to performance. The HBR studies indicate that even highly dedicated employees quickly lose their “oomph” if they no longer find their work valuable.

Employees also need to have a sense of ownership. Telling them what to do, how to do it and when to do it does not foster creativity, enthusiasm or motivation. Allow employees to decide how the job gets done within certain guidelines. This fosters productivity because they are motivated to do “their” job.

Another aspect the HBR studies cited as a way to stay strong in a slow economy was to build trust through fair-process decision making. Employees want to hear from management, but they also want to be assured that their concerns are heard.

HBR concluded that even in difficult times, motivated workers would rally behind a company and help it stay strong.

An example of this can be found in the MacDermid Co. Dan Leever, president and CEO, recently spoke at a regional MFSA meeting in Cleveland. Several years ago, the company realized that its main business, finishing chemicals for the electronics industry, was all going overseas. So he asked his employees to help him establish a plan. No, they didn't indiscriminately cut costs. His philosophy is that if you cut too much during a downtime, you won't have the cash flow or resources necessary to recover. So, with the help of his employees, the company restructured its business to emphasize industrial products. It worked. Now Mr. Leever lives several thousand miles away from the company, allowing the employees to run the company. He pops in every now and then, but he doesn't tell them how to do their job. They are doing just fine.