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I’ve was working cleaning up my computer files the other day and I ran across a PDF of a Harvard Business Review article had downloaded a while back entitled How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy by Robert I. Sutton.

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. SuttonBob Sutton is the author of the excellent book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (which is a book so many contractors I know really need to read) and writes the blog Bob Sutton Work Matters.

Getting back to the article Sutton writes in the intro:

The Idea in Brief

• It’s not easy being the boss during a downturn. Your natural impulse is to focus on your own well-justified concerns, but your people are watching your every move for clues to their fate.

• You need to rethink your responsibilities in terms of what your people may lack most in unsettling times: predictability, understanding, control, and compassion.

• By making tough times less traumatic, you’ll equip your organization to thrive when conditions improve—and earn the loyalty of individuals who will remain in your network for years to come.

Those are important points that I don’t most contractors think about proactively. In tough times our employees often talk scuttlebutt amongst themselves and with their peers about the state of their jobs and the companies they work for. The doubt and dissension that kind of talk can generate can destroy productivity and quality just when the business owners can least afford it. It’s always been my idea that a far better policy is to be upfront and speak with authentic candor about just what is going on and what lies ahead.

If you are going to have to layoff or furlough staff be up front and let them know so that they can plan for it. The trust that builds will make employees far less likely to run out on you on short notice when it can really hurt you.

Video: Management expert Robert Sutton shares lessons on handling layoffs and teams in crisis.

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J. Jerrald Hayes
Primus Inter Pares at Paradigm Projects, Ltd.
I am an architectural woodworker and general contractor turned IT, Business and Project Management consultant, software developer wannabe senior division triathlete and ski racer, Yankee fan and founder of, 360 Difference, and now too.
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