Empowering Employees During a Struggling Economy

Last year during a usual Tuesday morning meeting our executive team was discussing how valuable this recession had been for our organization and the question was posed: At what other time in the history of our company had we been given an opportunity for such deep introspection, evaluation and reinvention? The answer from everyone in the meeting was a resounding “Never!”

Around the time of this meeting I had been introduced to Kim Knapp, a business coach, through a mutual friend and after 15 minutes into our first meeting, I knew she was the perfect facilitator for our organization’s “reinvention.” Knapp spoke about concepts that typically weren’t heard in today’s business circles: Fear vs. Freedom, people’s emotions and self-actualization, innovation and creativity; powerful terms that you might hear in a therapy session or an art class. I was sold immediately and finally was able to sell her, after many meetings and vacillations, to my executive team.

Knapp came on board in May 2009 and after her first meeting with the entire staff her messaging and game plan were clear. She was going to introduce a new level of freedom and innovation into our organization. During one of our one-on-one sessions we came up with an idea to create a forum with which to leverage the group’s intelligence and innovation. We felt we could learn a lot from our employees about how to navigate our company during tough times. But, we realized that if we were asking people to explore their creativity in a meaningful way, the conventional conference room setting was not going to work. The environment had to be conducive to exploration and innovation.

Free Flow Fridays were born.

We decided to have the unconventional meeting in an open room of our building with no chairs, but rather pillows on the floor. We purchased lava lamps to enhance the ambiance and got tons of candy from when we were all kids, Paper Dots, Candy Cigarettes, Pez, and Pop Rocks, to heighten the creative spirit. We capped it off with fresh fruit juices. Lastly, to really make it a free flowing event we played fun, upbeat music.

I hung a sign-up sheet for the first Free Flow Friday and to my amazement everyone except for two people in the organization had signed up-¦this meant that we needed to have two sessions. Before the Free Flow event we had identified 12 questions that we wanted people to ponder and we put them up on large post-it sheets. We started off the event by giving an explanation of the meeting and the relaxed atmosphere. Then I flipped the music and let people go.

The information that we received from the group was truly insightful, thoughtful and innovative. They answered questions like, “If you could be CEO for a day what would you do” or “Where should we be in five years” or “What does our company look like to you” (people created some really great drawings).

Some of the ideas:
1. Send more thank you notes to clients, vendors, coworkers
2. Have more face to face interactions rather than e-mailing so much
3. Use Skype to speak with our satellite offices
4. Have a creative thinking room with couches and pillows
5. Have our business coach Kim Knapp present to a group of our clients

From the start we were very cognizant that if we began this exercise we had to see it through to the end. After the Free Flow Friday we gathered and organized all the information. We then created a task force made up of people throughout the company to implement all the great ideas.

During these difficult economic times our company spent a lot of time evaluating and reinventing ourselves. History has shown that some of the most innovative ideas and businesses were created during times of recession. Free Flow Fridays have given our employees a voice and empowered our team to take our business to a new level.

David Chernow is the Chief Marketing Officer at Resource, a national firm that delivers solutions in the areas of Talent Acquisition, Talent Management and Talent Development and is a winner of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in Metro Detroit. Resource provides blended learning and recruiting solutions for clients in IT, healthcare, engineering, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, travel, financial, and more. Headquartered in Troy, Michigan, Resource has satellite offices in Dallas, Texas and Weston, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].