Leading with Kindness

November 20th, 2008

Guest Blogger: Bill Baker, Ph.D., President Emeritus, WNET.ORG

Attention: difficult times ahead. Hundreds of thousands will be laid off. Those who are left will face increased stress struggling to fill in for lost colleagues, worrying about their own job security, and fighting to meet corporate financial goals.

It’s time for management to get tough, right? Wrong. It’s time for managers to get kind.

For the past couple of years my colleague Michael O’Malley of Yale University and I have been making a careful study of business managers who have a reputation for treating their employees well. These are some of the top managers in the world, such as Robert Lane, CEO of Deere & Company; Eileen Fisher, founder of Eileen Fisher Clothing; and Murray Martin, CEO of Pitney Bowes. What they have to say is particularly relevant in these trying times.

During the difficult times it’s particularly important to treat employees well. Ironically, this starts with cutting jobs. When profits decline, it’s inevitable that companies will have layoffs. Some companies keep the bad news from their employees until the last moment. But employees know better than anyone that profits are declining and without any news from management, employees spend a great deal of time and emotional energy speculating about what will happen. If management is transparent about the situation with employees there will be less to talk about and more time will be spent working hard to improve the situation.

When it comes time to fire people, managers must do their best to be gracious to employees, tell them this is nothing personal, and do whatever they can to retrain them and help them find new work. Management must also make it clear that everyone is in this together. If there are pay cuts, management must take equal or more dramatic pay cuts, and management must share in the pain.

From a strictly pragmatic point of view, those employees left will see this, feel good about their employer and do their best to help the company succeed in difficult times.

Our project is called Leading with Kindness and has a resulted in a book of the same name, published in August, a website and a new film by director Gino Del Guercio, which will premiere on Thirteen, Sunday, Nov. 23 at 10:00 pm.