Obtaining Input with Urgency
Use these 10 strategies to get employees involved in a turnaround.
- By Gerry Murak, MBA, PHR
- Sep 01, 2004
TO turn around the performance of a troubled company, a new leader or change
agent must gather information in the shortest possible time. For the financial
side of a business, there are numerous ways to analyze the situation. Cash flow,
profitability, and key ratios are obtained and verified by the controller, the
outside accountants, auditors, and lenders.
What about "the rest of the story"? Why did the numbers fall? When management
first became aware of a downward trend, what action was taken? What is
management's current plan for resolving the problem? How many people in the
organization have the accurate story on the company's current status? Are the
right players in the right positions to chart a new course?
Other questions can be added to this list. The challenge is getting answers
to these questions as quickly as possible and combining them with the company's
financial data to obtain a clear picture. This requires input from everyone at
The common denominator for gathering information across all levels is to
establish trust quickly. When individuals in the company hold back, it consumes
valuable time. Gaining the trust of employees requires overcoming their fears,
the most obvious of which is job security. Whether or not the organization has
experienced a downsizing, employees have seen many indications the business is
not doing well. Employees often fear that sharing information will cause them to
realize their worst fears. Here are 10 ways to obtain employee input
1. Investigate. Invariably, organizations have old reports and plans
buried in files that have addressed some of the problems. Regardless of how
little credence was given to those earlier efforts, it is worthwhile to review
these reports. Invaluable insights can be gained by asking why key
recommendations were not implemented.
An effective technique for ensuring all earlier reports are identified is to
ask managers to list prior change initiatives chronologically. Compare these
lists for omissions, which can save considerable time and identify potential
barriers that exist within the current management.
2. Analyze. The combination of financial data and previous reports
provides a foundation for a preliminary analysis. It is critical to develop a
clear, concise summary of the business' vital signs and share it with employees.
It is surprising how many people within a troubled company do not clearly
understand its condition. This information gap must be filled quickly.
3. Communicate. It is common for businesses to hold regular "town hall
meetings." These meetings may not have communicated the company's plight.
Sometimes only part of the story is revealed. As early as possible, it is
critical to hold company-wide meetings that summarize data developed to date. A
frequent objection by management to such an approach is the company will lose
good people if this information is shared. However, how can good people
contribute to the success of turnaround if they don't have the facts?
4. Share. Sharing information is painful but necessary. The more
information a leader shares, the more ideas she will get back. The information
should be clear, factual, and to the point.
Ideally, everyone in a smaller organization can meet at one time in one
place. In larger organizations, several meetings will be required. If multiple
meetings are necessary, it is far better to have cross-functional groupings
rather than department meetings or organizational-level meetings.
Cross-functional groupings have a leveling effect because they emphasize to
employees that all roles are important to the successful turnaround of their
company, and they all need to work together as one team.
5. Gather. Now the stage is set for gathering information. The
presentation of the facts gives the leader credibility. Effective communication
has made it clear to everyone why urgency is needed.
A common error made is to assume that one-on-one interviews should be
conducted next. Despite wanting to help, employees at all levels in an
organization are concerned about losing their jobs. To provide them with
anonymity, it is better and faster to ask them to respond to open-ended
questions in writing that are turned in to a neutral third party for processing.
These results can then be shared with everyone, which generates a generous flow
Regardless of the specific style of surveying, the questions should be
constructed carefully to guard against suggestive or leading questions. Poorly
designed questions can shut off a flow of ideas.
6. Match. The meeting in which the analysis is presented affords an
opportunity to ask employees to identify their skills, knowledge, and abilities.
Of particular importance are skills that are underutilized. Whenever
reorganization takes place, the key is to match the right people to the right
positions. Unless people are asked about their career path goals, key
opportunities can go unnoticed.
7. Compile. Once employee meetings are completed, it is important to
compile the information. A complete organizational chart is absolutely essential
to serve as a road map when meeting with people. Names are invariably omitted
from the chart at first. To avoid this common error, compare it to the current
payroll printout. Creating a confidential version of the organizational chart
that includes everyone's total compensation provides a tool to the leader that
can quickly reveal inconsistencies.
8. Interview. Targeted interviews are great time savers. Armed with
previous information, the analysis of financial data, employee feedback,
organizational charts, and career path goals, the interviewer can target
questions specifically to close any gaps. Answers are far more revealing when
the stage is set with facts.
9. Implement. Most plans for change fall short during implementation.
Most employees are reluctant to aid in implementing change if they were never
asked for input to begin with. This underscores the critical nature of sharing
information with employees and gathering input from them at the onset.
Change is always easier when it is initiated from within rather than imposed
from the top. Not only can leaders gather input with urgency, but also they can
create an atmosphere in which employees drive the change. When this happens,
employees often make comments such as, "These changes were necessary and long
overdue. Thank you for taking action and making us part of it."
10. Update. If all are kept up to date, they will keep coming back
with more ideas to help the company through the turnaround. Even if financial
circumstances worsen because of the loss of a critical customer or lender, it is
important to update everyone with the facts. This timely feedback helps to
contain the rumor mill, which feasts on partial information. Rumors can be
disastrous to efforts to maintain a company's customer or vendor base.
Turning around a ship in rough waters requires everyone to get the same
information so they can respond quickly and row in the same direction. If
everyone is involved, a turnaround can be overcome in much less time. And time,
after all, is money.
This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.