Don’t Forget ‘People’
Don’t Forget ‘People’

Don’t Forget ‘People’

A downturn like the COVID-indused one businesses are grappling with presents not only a survival challenge, but also provides an opportunity to rethink traditional people systems. Businesses that are serious about long-term success should take this opportunity to implement and augment their People tools and processes to ensure rebound is as effective and speedy as possible. 

There’s rarely an ideal time to invest in the People Department, short of having an excess of funds to reinvest. And when sales decline, People is one of the earliest and heaviest hit areas. You can seemingly divest in your People systems for a few years and be ‘fine’. After all, that department doesn’t bring in direct revenue right? That’s where we need to change perspective, especially in a time of crisis and impending rebound. 

Recruiting great talent is but the first part of cultivating winning teams. Ensuring they are brought into an organization smoothly, know how to use available tools, understand what their job is, and how their role contributes to the end user is key. But you also need to integrate company values into daily work, tie those to team members’ values, ensure cultural working norms are agreed, understood, and firmly in practice. There’s a myriad of moving People pieces in the background of any dynamic enterprise, and this COVID downturn is an opportunity to get yours tuned-up. Here are six People areas to get dialed-in: 

Attract the Talent 

Attract the TalentYes there will be lots of people looking for work when this eventually passes, but competitors will be scrambling to hire as well. Ensure you get the ideal ones.

  • Consider your past/current structure. Who do you really need doing what in your reimagined organization? Augment. Take this as an opportunity to reconsider it all, scaling reorganized teams in a planned manner as demand requires.
  • The fancy office with a ping pong table and free snacks won’t matter as much. Teams will continue to work remotely much of the time and be interested in how you can help them do so successfully and comfortably at no extra cost (more below in Where the Work Happens). 
  • Consider innovative benefits schemes, including low/no-cost perks (think truly flexible hours, kids’ room at the office for after school hours, use-as-you-wish benefits allowance). 
  • Soulless after-hours socials aren’t going to cut it anymore. Everything must truly have heart and purpose.
  • Employee Value Proposition (EVP): How you advertise your company and what’s in it for prospective team members. Be able to powerfully sell yourself to the market: the values, mission, learning and growth opportunities, help recruits find their passion for being there. The EVP ‘Big Five’ typically include: Compensation, Benefits, Career, Work Environment, and Culture. Get your message defined now.


You have one shot to get this right. 

courtesy Greenhouse
  • While ‘hiring slowly and releasing quickly’ is typically a good moniker, you’ll have to hire more quickly than usual to get key talent in a rebounding market. That said, if the fit doesn’t feel right after a couple months, release them before the end of probation. Bad hiring/onboarding can cost up to 250% of an annual salary according to industry research, so having the guts to pull the plug early can have benefits. 
  • Have initiation tools, programs, and systems in-place, that are fun, easy to understand and deliver for team members. Front-load your people systems, helping recruits learn as much as they can, as quickly as they can, to increase Employee Lifetime Value (ELV). 
  • ELV is the total output, or value, an employee delivers during their career with your organization. Hiring well, onboarding effectively, providing top-notch management and development opportunities, along with a winning culture can increase ELV by up to 300% according to research. This is one reason why having a winning People Systems suite working in concert is so important. 
  • Create ‘Connection Plans’ for new team members, scheduling appointments with team members, established performers in the organization, and connectors, while doing this in creative remote ways when physically meeting isn’t an option.
  • Host daily/weekly/monthly check-ins to answer questions, offer advice, and appraise KPIs/OKRs you’ve set for the Onboarding period and beyond. People crave feedback, advice, clarity, and mentorship. Provide it.

Culture, Values, Mission & Vision

Ensure they are ultra-well-defined and meaningful.

  • A downturn can be the ideal time to revisit these with long-term employees. Ensure they’re relevant, write new ones, and finish with a suite that’s memorable and helps team members understand their organizational purpose. 
  • Develop creative ways to regularly share these with employees, especially new hires.
  • Host ‘Values Surfacing’ exercises that help individuals connect their personal values to company ones, and ultimately find meaning in their work.
  • Ensure people implicitly understand how their work directly impacts their teams, end-users, and contributes to company success.
  • Develop a Culture Plan and get Culture Teams in place. This entails laying out a strategy and accompanying initiatives for 1-2 years that promote and reinforce company culture, values, mission, and vision, delivered by a team who will enthusiastically execute the plan. This team should be led by those who are admired, believe in what they/you do, and who people naturally go to for information and advice (connectors and influencers).

How Work’s Done

You’ve found the people, now ensure they know how to do their job.

  • Produce clear job descriptions. People need to know what their job is, how to do it, and how their role contributes to larger company goals. Do not hire until you’re abundantly clear or you’re wasting everyone’s time and money.
  • Get manuals and SOPs upgraded and in place. This is rarely a ‘fun’ job to do, but having these as a base for all other learning and development initiatives before hiring and rebound is of prime importance. 
  • Have an evaluation process in place that’s easy to understand, covering how and when people are being appraised. No one likes ambiguity except non-performing employees and deficient leaders.
  • Train the tech. You’ve invested in the systems, now ensure you have teams and processes to train teams how to use these tools and do their job as effectively as possible (think ELV).
  • Develop communication protocols. Get agreement on how and when to send emails, expected response times, what chat apps to use when, and how meetings are conducted. Without this, communication is scattered, people are excluded, and information lost. 

Where Work Happens

The days of everyone being in the same physical office are over. Manage and benefit from it.

  • Create a remote/semi-remote working strategy that encompasses cultural norms, tools used, how/when to meet, and saves money.
  • Plan for no more than 50% of your teams being in a central, physical office at any one time, with others working remotely from home and at small satellite centers on the edge of urban centers. 
  • Ensure teams are still physically meeting with other team members 1-2 days per week to spur creativity, innovation, and drive company culture. 
  • Promote distributed work as a benefit to prospective employees, helping them save precious time/money commuting, and providing greater lifestyle flexibility (remember your EVP). 
  • Remember remote isn’t good for everyone. Introverts thrive on being with others, many people live in cramped quarters, and the associated costs of internet and electricity while working remotely can be a burden to some. Ensure you make physical work possible for those who want it and offset costs of being remote for those who it suits. Remember, you’re saving on city center office rental costs so you can invest in these new areas, creating wins for all stakeholders.
  • Remember to have that Culture Plan and associated teams firmly in place so they can connect people, reinforce company mission, vision, values, and drive culture while teams are remote/semi-remote

The Bottom Line

There’s never a perfect time to rethink and augment your People Systems. But a downturn such as the one we’re enduring, provides as good an opportunity as you’re ever going to have to capitalize. The business that invests in People now, gets top-management and team members on-board, will be in a winning position. Ultimately it’s a very small price to pay for long-term increased efficiency, performance, engagement, and ultimately profits. If you get three or more of the aforementioned five areas working more smoothly, in concert, you’ll see a compounded level of improvement when you rebound. Teams will do better work sooner, find their organizational purpose, stay longer, and everyone will enjoy greater fulfillment. Good luck!

I’m happy to discuss People Systems or other possible synergies if you get in touch. And be sure to view two related webinars I’ve hosted:

Further Exploration

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