My Two Cents: Keeping the Rumor Mill at Bay

January 12, 2009
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Butch Welsch

I recently had a very shocking experience. A foreman of ours, who has been with us for 44 years and not one to foster or spread gossip, came in and said he had heard on a jobsite that we were going out of business or were selling to another company. Now I had heard rumors like that about almost every other contractor in our area, but it had never gotten back to me that stories like that had been going around about us.

After assuring him that I knew nothing at all about what he had heard, I sat back and thought about what had happened, why, and what I needed to do in the way of damage control. For one thing, I have found that once I hear about something I can be pretty much assured that everyone else in the company, if not the world, has heard it.

While I never could determine how the rumor got started or why, I did understand the concern that employees could have when presented with such a rumor. Just recently, Citicorp announced they were laying off 52,000 workers, followed by Bank of America saying they would lay off 35,000.

Nearer to home, AB-InBev, the new Anheuser-Busch, said it would lay off 1,000 salaried workers here in St. Louis, only three weeks after their merger was completed. Given these facts, and the overall state of the economy, it’s no wonder that employees would be concerned about such a rumor.



LET YOUR FEELINGS BE KNOWN

Although I, like all of you, have been working hard on the steps that we need to do to make sure we survive through these times, I have really never expressed to all of our employees the commitment we have to our company and to the industry.

Fortunately, our company newsletter was due out that exact week. So, with that forum, I spent a considerable amount of space assuring them concerning our future. I reiterated to them that my family and I were completely committed to our company and the HVAC industry.

Then at our mid-December Christmas party with 95 percent of our employees in attendance, I re-emphasized our position. The touching thing was that the next day I received two phone calls from employees thanking me for expressing these feelings.

After receiving calls from two employees, it occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to pass this experience along to others. In these trying times, it is important that we let our employees know exactly where we stand and what our level of commitment is to the industry we serve. It is a good time to dig out your mission statement, review it, make sure it still really does reflect the mission you see for your company and then, most importantly - share it with your employees.



LUCKILY, WE ARE NEEDED

We are all often so busy working in the business and trying to solve the day-to-day problems that, although we hear about all of the things happening nationally and even worldwide, we don’t necessarily relate them to our own business. But when our employees read and hear about thousands of layoffs, they wonder if it might relate to them. When they hear of bankruptcies or near bankruptcies, especially about corporations the size of General Motors, it’s natural that they could have concerns about the state of their employer. It is important that we let them know our feelings about our company and industry. While not being overly negative, don’t sugarcoat what you feel will be the reality.

As I have said before, we are fortunate that we are in a business that is more of a necessity than an extravagance. People will continue to need heating and/or air conditioning along with improved IAQ and all of the other comfort items we provide. Therefore, in the long run, we have a great deal about which to be optimistic. We need to let our employees, who are the ones that are going to take us there, know our intentions regarding the future.

Publication Date: 01/12/2009

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