Talking is a tool to help weather the economic storm

Even without the BBC’s financial crisis logo, it’s easy to see that conditions are challenging for many sectors. With Vodafone reported as looking to make £1 billion in cutbacks and BT reported to be making 10,000 redundancies, the fallout will start hitting the wider community now and in early 2009, as it impacts on the suppliers of these big companies. From there it will spread to shops and other service providers of the people made redundant.

This scenario looks pretty bleak when transferred to other big companies and we must take it seriously. But is there anything else businesses can do to weather the storm? Of course, there is.

Communication, as ever, is the key. Companies must not only communicate more effectively with their customers to maintain sales, but they must talk internally. People get worried and want to be reassured. Executives can probably do most to improve performance by getting out there and talking to their employees. Tell them what’s happening. Listen to what employees say. Start to work together.

It doesn’t have to cost anything; the best communication is face-to-face. 

By coincidence, on the 25th anniversary of when I joined British Airways telephone sales, today brings back the memory of when, because there were very heavy call volumes on a Monday, the management asked us to give up our Monday morning tea break in return for free tea and doughnuts. These refreshments were served to us by managers and supervisors pushing trolleys round the reservations floor. It felt a bit like the war spirit: there was a problem and everyone chipped in to solve it. It also led me to say that I’d do anything for a cup of tea and a doughnut.

Anyway, it was a department of some 600 people. Now, say that 200 were manning the phones at that specific time and the tea break was 10 minutes long (from my memory), that’s over 33 extra productive hours available to BA on those mornings. It also meant happy customers, who didn’t have to hang on the phone to get through, and more sales. And all for the cost of some doughnuts and tea. How many companies these days would waste those 33 hours in meetings, agonising over what to do?

So businesses need to respond to their people. Get them on board and who knows what you’ll be capable of achieving? It need not take more than a bit of effort to achieve incredible results. What is there to lose?

It all starts with communication.