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Leader's Edge Spring Cleaning

With shifting job markets, it’s time to re-examine your firm’s needs from the inside out.

By  Julia Kramer

It is the season of renewal and growth. Gardeners get busy, clean up flower beds and prepare for planting. Amateur athletes pump up their bike tires, dust off their softball cleats and head for the outdoors. Homeowners find new energy and decide that spring cleaning is in order—a process of sifting through household contents, making decisions about what stays and what goes, and spit-shining those things that make the cut.

Now is the time for firms to execute their own clean sweep. For many, it’s been a while since they executed a comprehensive review of assets, including their number one asset—the people that get the job done. While some firms thoroughly reviewed staff competencies and contributions as part of down-sizing decisions, they then backed off from staff evaluation to restructure the smaller workforce and set new priorities. Other firms, frozen in place by the economic winter of the past few years, simply hunkered down and maintained the status quo. But just as the season is changing, for many so is the economic outlook. Consider the following as you recharge and prepare for your firm’s revitalization.

Open the doors. Nothing is more energizing than throwing open the doors on an almost warm April morning and enjoying the scent and sensation of fresh air. Immediately, the scene changes, and what felt like a warm and cozy home during the cold months now may feel a little confining and even a bit suffocating. Firm leaders should throw open the doors of their organization and inspire their senior staff to take a new and fresh look at what and who has been kept in place over the past year or two. Don’t be afraid to listen to new ideas and different opinions. Encourage brainstorming and careful scrutiny of the people and plans currently in place. Without this periodic airing out, outdated strategies linger, marginal employees coast by, and necessary changes in direction are sometimes swept under the carpet.

Clean the windows. Window washers are most busy in the spring when the views outside rival the most beautiful interiors. Smart senior executives encourage their staffs to open their eyes wide and carefully survey their external surroundings, examine developing trends, focus on new opportunities and identify the inevitable threats. Help further defog the lens by ensuring that you’ve clearly communicated your vision, organizational goals and expectations. Make sure those charged with executing the plan have an unobstructed and panoramic view. Ensure clarity throughout the organization by requiring managers to communicate the view and the vision to their staff. Giving everyone a clear picture goes a long way in making sure each person has a fair chance to succeed.

De-clutter the closets. You can’t thoroughly clean a house and determine if you have what you need for the upcoming season without cleaning the closets and sorting through the contents. You also can’t perform a thorough internal review without opening department doors and reviewing the skills, experiences and contributions of your current workforce. We have all heard predictions that, when the job market opens up, your best staff will be looking for the next new (and more lucrative) job. What you might not have considered is that other firm’s stars may be looking at your organization for their next big opportunity. Make sure you have room for them when they come knocking.

If, for example, you’ve kept marginally performing employees in place because (1) you didn’t want to put them out of a job in a tough job market, (2) they made the downsizing cut by a breath and your staff was not emotionally able to handle any more terminations, or (3) your managers didn’t let go underperforming staff because they feared losing staffing budget “placeholders,” now may be the time to make some difficult decisions. If you don’t, you could be wasting precious staffing dollars on low performers and passing up those most qualified to successfully carry your firm into the future.

Spit-shine. Once you’ve let in the fresh air, made sure everyone’s got a clear picture of their surroundings, and generally put your house in order, it’s time for the spit-shine. Make sure changes are carefully managed—be they program, plan or staff—lest they fail from the start. Include key employees in both decision making and execution to put a high polish on your important internal relationships. And make sure your managers know to do the same with staff, at every level, that are valuable contributors on the front line or in support roles.

Spring cleaning can be done at any time of the year, but this year, as we begin to emerge from the long economic winter, the time is particularly right. Review and refresh your organization by making sure you are investing in the right plans and the right people to create a positive and productive climate of optimism and growth.

Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office of the President.


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