The key success factors in an economic downturn are speed, flexibility and innovation, while remaining constantly in tune with customers' needs. These factors will allow a company to perform at its peak, even in a down cycle, and are powered by a common denominator: an organization's talent.
The challenge, in demanding times, is to keep that talent engaged, motivated, and focused on the right goals by fostering creativity at every level of the organization. Employees tend to be both distracted and highly alert. They will look to management for cues about the state of the business, so leaders must be confident, calm, and focused. In the past few months I've started traveling more than ever before, because people need to see me. They ask: "Is he down? Does he look pessimistic? Or is he looking optimistic and smiling? Does he know where we're going?" When they see for themselves that I'm fine—and that I am convinced that we are going to be fine—they are fine, too.
In addition to setting a tone of calm and control, this is a great time to reiterate the company's long-term goals and brand positioning while discussing any shorter-term adaptations required to maintain performance. Employees need to understand both current and long-term direction, as well their role in it, to remain motivated and engaged. They should be invited to experiment and encouraged to find new and better ways of working within a highly disciplined cost competitive approach.
Sizing Up Performance
This is also a perfect opportunity to analyze key positions, evaluate performance, and determine whether an individual's skills and capabilities are applied to the best possible role. Our current performance evaluation system was introduced in November 2006. The appraisal is based on our four leadership competencies. This allows for a common language across our brands worldwide. The focus on these behaviors allows us to identify those individuals that have a strong commitment and ownership to deliver results. These are the individuals that will enable us to anticipate our needs for the challenging times and changing circumstances ahead of us. This has also enabled us to quickly move key individuals into strategic positions whenever necessary.
Challenging times are the perfect opportunity for high performers to shine. These individuals are highly motivated and must be challenged to stay engaged. Providing them with a tough issue to tackle, expanded responsibility, or a position of greater authority will give them what they seek while simultaneously benefiting the organization. Involving top performers in problem solving gives them a greater sense of ownership and enhances their commitment and retention. In addition, because high performers are often the thought leaders and role models within a company, they serve to inspire and motivate others. Employees who look to them for direction are likely to emulate the enthusiasm and confidence they see.
Finally, leaders need to step up their role as communicators, sharing information frequently and honestly in order to maintain trust and engagement. For example, to reduce uncertainty, improve productivity, and encourage information sharing, cross-brand connections, and sense of "team," we are currently launching a monthly "Call with the CEO" through our corporate intranet. Through this vehicle, all employees within the Group will be able to engage in a forum where they can share questions and concerns. Once each month I will address these issues and give all employees my informal thoughts on current conditions.
Companies have the unique opportunity now to inform, engage, and empower their talent to unleash a level of performance that can weather any economic storm.
Robert Polet is the CEO of the Gucci Group.