Real test of an organization is in a bad economy

Great companies are built for the good times and the bad. That is why market downturns often separate leaders from also-rans. Almost any organisation can grow in a good economy. But a bad economy is what presents the moment of truth. Just as downturns cannot be managed in isolation of the larger business cycles of which they form a part. An organisation cannot afford to look at people management during bad times detached from the culture and relationships that the organisation has built through the good times.

There is nothing to keep business cycles from going up and down at their own rate, but an organisation’s culture and bonds with its people have to be enduring. That mindset has shaped the things Cognizant has done in the management of its people. All that we’ve done in this recession, far from being circumstantial inventions, have all been extensions of our organisational DNA, which is characterised by these enduring attributes: openness, transparency, drive, empowerment, opportunity, flexibility, and collaboration.

At Cognizant, they have always given their employees a clear and consistent sense of who they are, what values they stand for and how to go about producing change and delivering results. Besides helping them grow the capacity to empathise and build consensus, this has also helped them protect the integrity of the bonds that connect with their associates. For the employees of any company weathering turbulent times, it can be disconcerting to wonder what the “real” company is: Is it the one that was extremely nice to them not so long ago, or the one that is now arbitrarily looking at them as mere cost. At Cognizant, they believe that knee-jerk reactions can erode employee confidence. Once violated, it is very hard to get that trust back.

The two mistakes most organisations make in difficult times are not communicating enough and not communicating well enough. The tunnel-vision that economic turbulence often creates can lead management teams to go quiet at just the moment they should be out front and leading. If management goes quiet when the press and chat-boards fuel the fears of their employees the internal focus becomes more despair around cost-containment rather than hope around boosting efficiencies or innovating.

Employees can retreat, compounding the problem, just at the time you need them to be creative to be part of the solution. The key for us has been to communicate proactively, clearly and objectively so as to engage the employees intellectually as well as emotionally instead of adding legs to a negative story.

Communication is the real differentiator, not just its frequency, but also its form and style. At Cognizant, the leadership not only blogs actively, but also invites associates to contribute their thoughts and suggestions. Plenty of real and virtual opportunities are available for our associates to interact with the management.

All these ensure that our management is not in a bubble, insulated from the ground sentiment. Employees are fully capable of dealing with the not-so-good news; all we need to do is give it to them with utmost honesty and without spins or euphemisms.

Companies are often made “great” by what employees feel about them. In the drive to scale newer heights, what ties associates to an organisation is not just a sense of contribution, but also a sense of participation in the organisation’s growth. Inculcating this has also been about keeping associates attuned to company values, both defined and perceived. This has been made possible by focused internal brand initiatives that have boosted employee morale and performance, and thereby customer satisfaction.