Times are tough, and your employees are feeling the pinch brought on by the faltering economy. Not only are they dealing with it in their own private lives, but they’re probably also concerned about their jobs, and what the future will bring in terms of possible layoffs, lower pay and the need to get out and look for work. Combined, these factors can result in stagnancy — something no small to mid-sized business can afford right now.
“Individuals are not only worried about their own job security, but also that of their family and friends,â€ says Philip Berry, president at New York-based management consultancy Philip Berry Associates L.L.C. “This fear can have a paralyzing effect both on the individual, and on the workplace as a whole.â€
The easiest way to buck this negative trend is by taking a proactive approach to employee creativity. Here are six great strategies that you can start using right now to help your employees break out of the stagnancy:
Be their information source. Keeping important information (such as the state of your company’s overall industry) from your employees is an antiquated strategy that simply doesn’t work anymore in this information age. Knowing the your workers are going to get the information they want from some source (such as the Internet, the media or a rumor), wouldn’t you be better off telling them yourself? “People really need to know what’s going on, both good and bad,â€ says Berry. “Share the candid information and you’ll eliminate a lot of the worry that can plague a company in these economic conditions.â€
Focus on areas that are within your control. It would be great if company management could control everything that goes on both inside and outside of a firm’s four walls, but that’s just not possible, particularly when the economy is in a slump. Instead of trying to cover all of the bases, focus on those employee-oriented issues that you can solve. A sales representative who doesn’t understand how his individual performance impacts the firm’s overall success, for example, should receive a quick overview of exactly why those eight hours a day he spends on the road are valuable and appreciated. Or if customer service ratings have dropped in the last few months, says Berry, set up an educational program that helps employees understand the value of excellent service in today’s economy.
Make them “huddle up.â€ They gather at the water cooler and “do lunchâ€ every now and then, but do your employees really work like a team? Probably not, says Berry, who advises firms to “go beyond the yearly department meetingâ€ when coming up with ways to get people to work together in a creative manner. “Maybe they need to huddle for 10 minutes every morning,â€ he adds, “or take a daily coffee break together to talk about what’s hot, what’s not and what they can be doing differently.â€
Get them engaged. A 2006 Gallup study found that just 59% of workers feel their jobs bring out their most creative ideas. To get the other 41% onboard the creativity train, Berry says companies should make an effort to get all employees engaged in their individual tasks, and in the company’s overall performance. “Remember that administrative workers have good ideas too,â€ says Berry. “Creative suggestions as simple as switching off the lights in a part of the building or using a different grade of copy paper go a long way in making the employee feel like he or she is part of the team.â€
Avoid surprise announcements. Trae Bodge, co-founder of New York-based color cosmetic manufacturer and marketer Three Custom Color Specialists, says the best way to maintain a creative workplace is by being upfront and honest with her 10 employees. That means no “surpriseâ€ layoffs or cutbacks, says Bodge, and constant employee communication about “what’s going to happenâ€ around the next corner. “We let them know as far in advance as possible about issues like the number of hours they’ll be working on a project, and whether we’ll be providing full-time jobs for our student-employees who are approaching graduation,â€ says Bodge. “This really cuts down on the confusion, and keeps the work environment positive and productive.â€
Create a nurturing environment. The “build it and they will comeâ€ theory doesn’t always work in the real world, but it can do wonders for the business that wants to spur employee creativity. At Three Custom Color Specialists, for example, Bodge says she and her business partners work hard to maintain a lively, interactive work environment where employees are urged to explore their creative sides when developing new products, figuring out “what’s hotâ€ for the upcoming season and determining factors like sales prices. “It’s all about encouraging our workers to participate in the creative process as much as possible,â€ says Bodge, “and developing a workforce that remains productive both in good times and challenging times.â€