A wise person once said, “Faith can move mountains.” An extension of that philosophy should be, “The absence of faith can stagnate an economy.” As we stumble along in an economic morass, everyone poses the same inevitable question, “When will the upswing begin?” But of course the other pertinent question is, “What happened?” Hopefully, this is not merely a rhetorical question, but one based on the desire to do due diligence and adequate historical forensics to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. The first part is easy: the economic boom “ran out of gas.” Those who possess greater knowledge of economic theory than this poor writer will put a more detailed and analytical analysis of the 1990s to the forefront. The flow charts, pie charts, and accompanying graphs will be available on CD for a nominal fee with every book order. But the bottom line is at some point during a period of frantic growth somebody says, “This cannot last much longer,” and sells. As more stock is available for buyers, the price of that stock goes down ó and as that price falls, so too does faith, the faith that growth will continue unabated. The second part ó what exactly happened? ó is easy to understand too, but sad to contemplate and impossible to have forecast: September 11th. People who are conflicted and confused, frightened and shaken, do not plan for the future, they deal with today. Productivity, capital, and leisure spending cease as a cultural catharsis occurs. We look for the answers to our new questions that will give it all back to us, that which we perceived was lost. We are again seeking the ability to have faith in the future. But this is old news and we have been through it before as individuals, families, and as a culture. Economic “ups and downs” are the fact of life in a capitalist society whose prosperity is based on consumer spending, or the lack thereof. As a nation, we have been attacked before and I suspect will be attacked yet again. In history we learn that the power of the inevitable overcomes wishful thinking. But our historical outcome has always been a society that survives, evolves, and overcomes. After all, we descended from people who left their homes, voluntarily or otherwise, and were forced by fate or circumstance to start anew. Removed from all that was once familiar. As a rule, in any crisis, just give us a little time and we will overcome it. It is one of the things about us I love the most: we are survivors. But there is a new absence of faith. And it is this third element of this current economic crisis that seems to have postponed recovery: somebody “fixed the game.” As congressional hearings continue, finger pointing accelerates, and yet another legion of news reports are in the offing, the simple fact is out there: the average person, accustomed and willing to accept the “risks of the game,” is not willing to accept being robbed or stolen from yet again by those who successfully discovered “their price” and sold out. The issues of honesty and integrity, so often disposable in the business world, have returned with a vengeance. “All is fair in love and war” or “laissez faire” just do not cut it with the average consumer and investor. Most assumed the days of “robber barons” and “Teapot Dome” scandals were a thing of the past. Items consigned to the realm of history quizzes and cocktail party trivia discussions (Boss Tweed was the head of what New York political influence group?). The assumption was that over the years we had developed a sufficient number of regulatory agencies, rules, regulations, and accepted practices, so that such abuses were a thing of the past. We assumed that companies, upon achieving certain levels of success and stature, would be almost forced by those circumstances to be pillars of society and above petty cheating and misrepresentation, all to put a few extra “bucks” in the cash register. Boy, were we wrong! But along with the names of a few key villains and others yet to be revealed, along with the scorched reputations of what were once household name companies soon to disappear from the corporate landscape comes another issue, they could not have done it alone. They were enabled by legions of corporate staff and staffers who were willing to forsake their own obligations as corporate officers to stand for something more than a good bonus or keeping their jobs and they were willing to “go along” with that which they either knew, or suspected, was too good to be true. True conspirators? Maybe not by the legal definition, but certainly the personification of the “three monkeys?” (Hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil.) What It Means For Recruiters Those companies that will overcome this new culture of suspicion and doubt will be those that are willing to reassert themselves as honest and open companies, those with clean and “uncooked” books and procedures in place to ensure things stay that way. As consultants, corporate staffing professionals, and third party recruiters, our ability to do our jobs effectively will be driven by our client or employer’s willingness to brand themselves as organizations whose honesty and integrity is not for sale ó not now, not ever. They will need to be anchored on the principle that the long-term forecast is always enhanced by a solid reputation for good business practices, and short-term “big profits” never achieve the level of sustained honest growth. Is this merely far-fetched and wishful thinking? Probably. But honesty and integrity do not come easy; that is why they have value. If you seek “easy values,” let me save you some time: they do not exist, so save yourself the time looking for them. The human resources and staffing function is one accustomed to operating under rules, regulations, and policies designed for enforcing fair and legal practices in the most complex of all regulated business functions, hiring. You cannot effectively recruit or work to retain valued employees in a company that is under suspicion. Therefore, by the very charter of your role, playing a part in creating an atmosphere of honesty and integrity is your responsibility. Besides, based on the business news nobody else is doing it anymore, the job is up for grabs. So what can you do? Here are some ideas that will give others tangible evidence of your pursuit of meaningful values.
- Create, post and advertise your corporate code of ethics in business practices as part of your business, marketing, and recruiting communications. Have it signed by the CEO and all other members of the executive staff. Put it anywhere somebody might be looking.
- Create, post and advertise a process for issues and grievances, with teeth, regarding suspected failures to live up to those stated principles, with built-in “whistleblower” protection and chartered power to take action up to and including the executive staff. A sort of corporate internal affairs function within the HR role.
- Allow 24/7 access for all employees to investment information, the true value of their employee shares, and 401k investment information. In many companies the process employees must be willing to bear to be given this simple “right of access” information requires a blood test, a note from their mother, and language lessons in “account-ese.”
- Create an open and free information exchange for all your employees on “the state of the company.” In the past, it was assumed that this information was withheld to protect the company and its business/industrial secrets from potential competitors. Now the assumption is that you have something to hide. The fact is disclosure or non-disclosure both contain inherent risks. But in the current atmosphere of justifiable mistrust and suspicion of corporate intent, I would rather risk being too open than too closed. After all, honest people and companies can survive the “light of day.” It’s not like people expect you to reveal your patents or your home phone number, just the truth about your business practices and policies.
- Hold quarterly open meetings for employees, the media and the general pubic who may have an interest in your company. The CEO or another senior member of the executive staff should be willing to “go out there” with the facts. If the creation of policies and practices to insure ethical business practices is not the responsibility of HR/staffing, then who should be the one? We are the ones who are willing to terminate an employee for other lesser-included offenses. A misspoken word, a less than satisfactory attitude, stealing time or office equipment ó we are always willing to get all over employees for these infractions. Why the reluctance to deal up as well as down?
Different sells. But in an atmosphere of doubt, openness and honesty sell even better. Are you one of those who only believe in the bottom-line? Then believe this:
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5 Ways to Hire Like It’s 2021
- Investors are afraid of throwing their money at companies that lack the integrity to value their trust and that are not forthcoming with “books” cooked longer than your average pot roast. (“Oops! Did I forget to carry over the long-term debt and cost of refinancing, again?”)
- Candidates are afraid to seek employment with companies that may not be telling the truth about the potential shared value of that relationship ó or feel secure that the “payoff” will be there for them. (“Your 401k disappeared about the same time the CEO built his new house in St Thomas.”)
- Consumers prefer doing business with companies that have solid reputations for high standards of quality ó not only in products and services, but also in business practices. Their feeling is, “If you can do it to someone else, you will someday do it to me.” (“We used to stand by our products, but not today.”)
Now, exactly how do you plan to do business without any of them? Where is your bottom line now? I once had to terminate an employee for theft. They stole a box of copy paper. The VP of HR had a zero tolerance policy on the theft of company property. Would this “hero” have been willing to put it all at risk to do the same to a CEO who stole the future of the company, as well as the vested retirement dreams of its employees and their lifetime of work and loyalty? You can replace copy paper, but how do you replace trust? Have a great day recruiting!