Positive morale will help your company through tough times. Negative morale on top of a tough economy may cause the entire company to crash, says Sharon Armstrong, who wrote The Essential HR Handbook. "And I'm not so sure that people won't bail out on a sinking ship," she says. To gauge morale, you might try surveys and questionnaires, but these can seem tedious and impersonal. The best option is a conversation. Try for one-on-one chats with as many employees as you can, and ask detailed questions. "Build a relationship where there's trust on either side, and you’re really going to learn the truth," Armstrong says.
When employees feel they know what's going on at the company, they tend to perform better, Armstrong says. If they feel distant from decisions, and removed from how the place works, they'll turn apathetic, and their performance will suffer. Preparing for a rough period may require you to address your staff more than usual. Let your staff know if the mission or strategy has changed. Discuss upcoming challenges. Talk about what's working and what's not. "And let them know what they're working on is making a difference and driving the organization," Armstrong says. The more information, the better.
Help your workers continually enhance their skills. In effect, your workers are another form of capital, and you don't wait years to upgrade technology or machinery if you can avoid it. You can opt for conferences or courses at a university, or maybe encourage a mentorship. Or just read a book on a complicated topic. "You want to feel like your skills are being sharpened either to stay where you are, or to go where you want to go," says Armstrong.
When invoices pile up and the phone keeps ringing, recruiting can get pushed to tomorrow. And then the next day, and the week after that. Too often hiring falls by the wayside, says Jamie Resker, a human-resources consultant and president of Employee Performance Solutions. "Usually owners let it slide till something bad happens," she says. "They have to feel some sort of pain before they hire someone." Avoid that discomfort. Attend college and job fairs, monitor LinkedIn networks related to your industry, and keep a foot in the door with local professional organizations.
The best thing you could give an employee is a raise, right? That would be nice, but an employee might understand that you can't hand one out if you take time to be sure she likes her work. Stop by and ask how it's going. Don't let tasks become dull. Find ways to turn a plain job into a dynamic challenge. It can have a prolonged effect, Resker says.
Your company has likely changed and grown since inception. Your role has probably shifted too. Remember that micromanaging doesn't usually solve anything, and could regularly undermine your manager's decisions, initiative, and new ideas. But don't pull back too much. "Obviously, it is your goal--always--to provide leadership," Ray Silverstein writes in The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses. "That means formulating strategy and communicating it clearly. Never assume your staff knows what you're thinking."—Abram Brown