Executive Interviews, Elaine Eisenman on Managing Downturn without Downsizing

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Elaine Eisenman on Managing Downturn without Downsizing
June 2009 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Elaine Eisenman
Dr Elaine Eisenman is Dean at Babson Executive Education.

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  • What should be new role of HR departments? How can HR departments take a leading and influential role in the business response to the economic downturn?
    Nowmore than ever HR can assume a critical leadership role in their company if they assume a strategic perspective and work as a partner with the business to align people, processes and strategy. Business itself will be dramatically changed after the down-turn. It will no longer be business as usual and savvy HR leaders will be the ones that are proactive in helping shape that new future. Talent will become more critical than ever as will doing more with less and creating newmodels for performance. The need for new types of talent who can play well in uncertain environments is critical, and HR can be central to identifying both the critical competencies needed for future success over the next few years and the places that talent can be found. This is no time to be an order taker, but rather it is essential that HR leadership have a seat at the table where the future is being discussed and framed in order to immediately translate that vision and the critical keys for implementation into people requirements. There will be a need for new models of recruiting and hiring for new forms of performance evaluation to better motivate increasingly dispersed and diverse workforces; to train managers on the needs of the new workforce; and to insure that, above all, the company is nimble and flexible enough to identify opportunities and to minimize the risks of taking those opportunities. In light of all the changes thatwill need to bemade and implemented, human resource leaders who can provide new strategic solutions to the challenges of new markets and redefined business models will be in high demand.

  • What is the role of leadership in navigating the companies through the troubled times, ensuring that their companies do not go down under and also their employee morale is kept high?
    Above all, employees need to be confident that their leadership has a vision for the future and a comparable vision for how to get there. Employees tend to focus more on the ‘here and now’ than on the uncertainty of the future. As a result, the need for leadership that has the ability to be optimistic and aggressive in pursuit of the future while stabilizing the present is paramount during troubled times. It is impossible to emphasize enough how important it is for leadership to be credible, honest, and accessible during difficult times. At these times employees take their cues from their leadership and watch and listen more closely than at any other time. Every little nuance is analyzed and dissected for meaning, and, in the absence of consistent communication and explanation, destructively negative theories can be developed to fill the void. Leadersmay feel that it is obvious to everyone that times are troubled, and are often reluctant to make statements based on incomplete or premature results, but employees are extremely receptive and appreciative of hearing "I don’t know" or "this is the most I am at liberty to discuss."

    Additionally, the role of the leader will need to include the leader as a good listener. While it is always important for leaders to hear bad news, during these times it is critical to be open to hearing things that may be uncomfortable. Leaders who surround themselves with advisors who form a barrier from others increase the leader’s probability of failure. Leaders who open themselves to hearing and seeing the full range of both opportunities and risks inherent in new strategies or initiatives will minimize their chances of failure and maximize their chances for success. This type of failure is not possible when leaders protect themselves from seeking opinions that may be counter to their own or that of their advisors. To achieve this, leaders need to also be willing to change their own comfortable way of doing things and try new ways of leading that will best facilitate the new structures necessary for success in the future. It may mean giving up a command and control style to become more facilitative of others. It may mean becoming the chief change agent and influencer. No matter what form it takes, turbulent markets mean that leaders must get out of their comfort zones and be as nimble, flexible and adaptable as they expect their organizations to be. Leaders who can lead their company from downturns to upturns are those who are able to become the role models for what they envision for their company.

The interview was conducted by Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary, Consulting Editor, Effective Executive and Dean, IBSCDC, Hyderabad.

This interview was originally published in Effective Executive, IUP, June 2009.

Copyright © June 2009, IBSCDC No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced or distributed, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or medium – electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise – without the permission of IBSCDC.

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