By Lucy Dunn
March 2013

The knee-jerk reaction for most companies would be firing. In today’s economy it is common to hear about “rightsizing” plans and the ripple effect that is having on the industry. As a recruiter, I begin to wonder “do they really have a plan” or are they trying to make the numbers look not-as-bad in the next earning season” (if it is a public company)? Do they realize the impact that these layoffs have on their staff? It is only human nature to wonder “who’s on the list” or “who will be next”. Every single employee is spending time thinking about how they protect themselves, and it is time that will not make the company any money.

While layoff may be necessary, they are disastrous to a company if they are not part of an on-going program of career development. A program that does not include regular evaluations, useful coaching secessions, as well as active development programs for your star performers will be seen as punitive not positive. During good times you should be letting the weakest 10% of your employees go to make room for quality new hires and spending management time making sure your best employees are “feeling the love.” What should you be doing in tough times, well pretty much the same thing! Your employees are you most important asset and when the market changes (yes it will), will you be ready or will your company be months behind the competition trying to hire and train replacement personnel?

As a contrarian, I see lots of upside to hiring smart when everybody is firing. As Randy Gage said in his latest book, Risky is the new safe, “when everyone is zigging, you want to be zagging”.

- More quality candidates available
Besides those good quality candidates who were affected by recent layoff plans what about those who were left behind. These are who the company thinks of as their stars and before the layoff they were difficult-to-find, had demanding salary expectations so they were often out your reach. After surviving a layoff, these employees would usually look for a company who is going to value them

- Less competition from other companies
It would be a great opportunity for companies to snap up great employees who are highly motivated. Remember those days when it took ridiculously long period of time to fill key sales positions? Wait no more, candidates are easier to find and easier to hire because there are motivated, have fewer options and fewer counter offers.

- Perfect time for employer brand building
If your company is a “newer kid in the block”, or a “strategic player” who want to take this opportunity to strengthen your brand, this would be a great time to reach out to a bigger pool of star candidates. When your company is investing in employees and hiring in lean times, you leverage positive employee word-of-mouth, which can create great results for your brand, both internally and externally.

- Lean times can create stronger businesses
As a manager, don’t let difficult times consume your best thinking. This is the time to think even harder about the future and the big-picture. What are the key markets, the key customers, and the key opportunities… etc? Business is always about making good decisions, economic down turns should not distract you from asking how can your business run most (not just more) efficiently, how can you best (not just better) utilizes your human capital, and how can you best create an organization that can take advantage of opportunities? If you can seize control of key accounts because you have hired the previous key account manager or have hired more experience to consult with your customer rather than just compete on price, you are steps ahead of your competition when good times return.

If your company does not have an active employee development program, your valued employees will be more open to explore alternative employment opportunities. Isn’t this a great time to take a look at your plan?

So, are you zigging or zagging?

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