A middle manager’s guide to managing in an economic downturn

You are a manager or director in a small or medium sized company. This is your first or second management role and you have never experienced the business turmoil of the past two weeks. What should you do now and what should you be doing next?

The answer to the first question is likely more obvious. A middle manager serves two masters: their employees and their company. On the employee front, the first responsibility is everyone safe. On September 11, 2001, I was leading PeopleSoft’s Canadian Global services team and part of our global leadership team. Globally, most of our Services employees were spread across North America and around the world, working at customer locations. For me, 9/11 was spend tracking down and verifying that we knew where every PeopleSoft employee was, that they were safe, and building plans to keep them safe until we could get them home. With COVID, the challenge is different but similar. Are all your employees taken care of; do they have a place to work; are they healthy; is their family ok; is there anything you can do to help them?

Once this covered, attention needs to turn to your customers’ and company’s needs. Is your company able to continue to deliver to the needs of your customers? Are their new customer needs you can take care of? What changes need to be made to keep your team running to meet their mandate? Are the systems and processes needed to run your company still functioning and if not, what needs to be done to restore them?

Throughout this process, the common wisdom is communicate, communicate more and even over-communicate. Establish a cadence to regularly check in with your team to assess how they are doing individually and as a team. Some companies have started virtual coffee breaks or happy hours where team members can get on a video conference for the purpose of socializing and sharing companionship.

Once the immediacy of the above is past, your attention is likely to morph to the future. What is the economic fallout and consequences of downturn for you, your team and the company?

Every situation will be unique. I talked with a CEO yesterday. He and his CFO have been hunkered down all week assessing their financial situation as customer shutter operations and revenue streams are paused. Their primary goal is survival while maintaining the ability of the company to be ready to respond once the recovery comes. Fortunately, they have a healthy cash position that allows them to retain all employees for at least the next year based on the significantly reduced revenue projections that they are anticipating.

Not all companies will be so fortunate, and some will need to reduce staff. For companies that can retain all their staff, another question may arise that if normal workload reduces or goes away, what else can employees do to add value to the company while it is in a holding pattern.

As a middle manager, these scenarios will affect you and your team, and you need to be ready.

Here are some of the things you should be doing to be ready:

If you do the above, you will be better positioned when your senior leadership starts asking for input into their survival and recovery planning.

© 2020 Meaford Group

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