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Management, Business

The critical factors when managing your staff during a recession

Tough trading conditions can bring out the worst in a manager – but they are also an opportunity to show your best leadership qualities, explains BRIAN JEFFREY.

This article isn’t actually about how to manage a recession – recessions seem to manage themselves quite well without our involvement. I want to look at what changes we need to make in our approach to sales management during recessionary or otherwise difficult economic times.

And we are certainly experiencing that at the moment!

First, an irreconcilable truth: there will always be recessions. They’ll come and go, but you can bet even money that you’ll see and manage your way through several before you retire. Depending on your age, you’ve probably gone through one or two already.

Business slows down, customers get evasive or elusive, salespeople get whiny, and management migraines increase. Many managers deal with the issue by cutting advertising, slashing sales meetings, eliminating sales (and other) training, and adopting a ‘hunker-down’ attitude in the hopes that the bad times will turn good again without their being too involved.

Others become galvanised into total inactivity, evoking what I call a ‘divine marketing plan’ – praying for sales – and making themselves unavailable to help their salespeople through the crisis.

"Some managers and storeowners seem to disappear when trading becomes difficult. Don’t you be like that! Be there to help, not chide and reinforce your employee’s value"

Of course, I know you aren’t one of those managers. You have the same problem, but you’re probably actively seeking some universal truths and techniques that you can put into place whenever things get tough or a recession comes along.

So what can you do? Here are some proven ideas that work:

Sales and staff meetings

Don’t cancel your sales meetings, hold them more often. Recessions are when people need to be together for mutual support, not left to their own devices. Increase the frequency but lower the cost of your meetings.

Selling can be extremely lonely and your salespeople may be feeling neglected by their customers, and possibly by the business itself. Help keep their spirits up with short, frequent meetings.

Short, weekly meetings are ideal. Biweekly meetings also work well. And if you are not holding at least one mini meeting a month, you’re neglecting your people. So don’t be surprised if they start wandering off to a company that shows more appreciation.

Mini meetings should be just that: mini. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish in 15–30 minutes.

Don’t let it become an inquisition from you or a whining session for the staff; use the meeting to emphasise positives and reinforce that both the business and the staff have weathered this type of storm before and can do so again, particularly if they continue to work together.

Team meetings

Ensure that your meetings are participatory. By that I mean attendees have an opportunity to talk with one another and not just to the person at the front of the room.

I’m not suggesting that your team meetings become social free-for-alls, but they should be a vehicle for the free flow of information and ideas in all directions, not just from the top down. It’s the manager’s job to be a moderator, not a dictator.

This conversational free flow will also uncover complaints and concerns. As long as the meeting doesn’t degenerate into a bitching session, let your people vent. Unvented aggravations, like pent-up steam, can cause a lot of damage when they finally explode. The meeting is your safety valve.

If people do vent, don’t become defensive. In most cases, you don’t have to respond to the situation, you just need to listen and acknowledge it.

One-on-one meetings

Also take the time to meet with each staff member as an individual. Help them to stay focused; after all, it’s easy to lose sight of potential opportunities during a recession. Selling is still a game of numbers and you can help your people make their numbers by helping them ‘find’ their numbers. That is, assist them in setting realistic goals and show them which customers to target.

This is the time for you to put on your mentoring cap and lead the way. Some managers and storeowners seem to disappear when trading becomes difficult. Don’t you be like that! Be there to help, not chide and reinforce your employee’s value to the business. Be accessible, be supportive and most importantly, be a leader.

The bottom line is that you may not be able to control the economic climate but if you manage your people, you’ll manage through the tough times.

Brian Jeffrey

Contributor • Quintarra Consulting

Brian Jeffrey has more than 40 years' experience in sales management, training and business consulting. Learn more: The Sales Wizard

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