Are you dead weight in a “Man Overboard” Economy?

What gets thrown overboard before a ship sinks?

What gets thrown out of a plane that is struggling to stay in the air, or that appears to have less fuel than it needs to reach land?

Answer: Dead weight. IE: Everything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

If you’re an employee, what are you doing to make sure you are invaluable to the success of your boat (ie: your employer)?

If you own a business, what are you doing to make sure that the products and services you provide are invaluable, must-have items for your clients and prospects?

You can either be the one that stays onboard, or the one who doesn’t.

The choice is ultimately yours. Yes, YOURS.

Lessons from companies that have NEVER laid off an employee

Today's News
Creative Commons License photo credit: timsamoff

Today’s guest post is a story from CNNMoney.com about 9 companies who have, as of mid-January 2009, never had a layoff – some going back over 80 years.

Check out the stories of Nugget Market, Devon Energy, Aflac, QuikTrip, The Container Shop, NuStar, Stew Leonard’s, Publix and Scottrade.

Cross-training, telecommuting, careful hiring and resource use, flexible salary review periods, flex schedules, focused expenditure justification, tons of training, great communication, loyalty that runs deep – in both directions, thinking long-term, focusing on the staff as an asset instead of a cost, and employee ownership.

There are lessons here on far more than just avoiding layoffs.

Take one home with you.

Inherit the earth, inhale the opportunity

All around us, people are being laid off.

The companies in (and near) my little town in rural, northwest Montana – have seen more than 800 layoffs.

Thankfully (if there is a bright spot), not all of the 800 people laid off live here in our town of 4500 people – but it still affects everyone as it trickles through the town’s economy.

A local banker told me a few weeks ago, “You can see it on them when they come in…they’re wearing it”.

“It” being the weight of unemployment.

The bright spot

There is a bright spot to all of this. Our local community college has seen a massive peak in registrations.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” –   Eric Hoffer

You know that a lot of the folks who are getting laid off are unprepared to move on. Not all of them, of course, but a substantial percentage.

As a business owner, you already know that you have to be careful who you hire in these situations. Many folks will bolt back to their former job as soon as it opens up – because you probably can’t pay them what a manufacturing job does, for example.

Scout motto – “Be prepared”

How are you preparing your staff and *your company* for the world that doesn’t yet exist?

You might think that you don’t care because tomorrow isn’t here, and those newfangled things won’t appear for a while.

Or you might be the town’s Yahoo and the new business in town just might be the Google that makes you irrelevant.  Heaven help you if that new business actually has some funding and isn’t bootstrapping like so many others.

It isn’t about Silicon Valley, Yahoo and Google. This conversation is just as applicable to them as it is to your dry cleaning store.

It isn’t just laid off employees that need to be learning. You likely recognize that they should have updated their skills BEFORE they found themselves in a position to be laid off.

Look in the mirror, cuz the same goes for you.

Your business needs to learn and grow as well if it is to inherit its rightful place as the dominant innovative business in your niche.

That has to happen before your Google arrives on the scene.

The valuable assets your competition is giving away

Classic photo of a distress sale -- Great Depression $100 will buy this car
Creative Commons License photo credit: onohoku

I‘ve always been amazed that a large company can lay off 20,000 or 30,000 workers and not fail soon after. These days, layoffs of 5,000 to 20,000 are regularly in the news.

In January 2009, 241,749 people were laid off across the U.S. â?? and that likely only counts the firms large enough that they have to report layoffs to the U.S. Department of Labor.

It likely doesn’t include the people who are working fewer shifts or short shifts. Not a layoff, but just as impactful to those folks. That number could easily be in the millions.

Still, it’s the companies with tens of thousands too many white collar workers that are stunning.

What are they thinking?

If you can lay off 30,000 workers next week â?? what in the name of standing around the water cooler are that many people doing to create value and generate revenue this week?

How critical could their work really be if a company can afford to send that many people home with less than a day’s notice?

Weâ??re not just talking about manufacturing companies where an extended shortage of orders could result in having too many people on staff. Even in that sort of environment, sales don’t change so quickly that 30,000 people who are providing value and generating revenue on Monday are suddenly not needed on Tuesday.

What management team would allow such a glut to get to the point where you’d not only have to lay that many people off, but you’d have to do it all at once?

How was the performance of those people being evaluated?

For that matter, how was the management over those folks being evaluated if their company could afford to layoff that many with one massive cut?

Gluttony: Also one of the seven deadly business sins

Just so you get an idea what kind of impact we’re talking about, let’s do a little math. 30,000 people who are paid an average of $35,000 a year is a total payroll of ONE BILLION, 50 MILLION dollars. 20 million bucks a week.

That doesn’t count benefits, the employer half of SSI and Medicare, unemployment insurance (much less the increase caused by laying off 30,000 people – YOW) and so on â?? nor does it count the human resources team necessary to handle the various work that has to be done to handle the paperwork and such that’s necessary for 30,000 workers.

Nor does it count the office space necessary to house that many people and all the assets necessary to give them something to do (desks, computers, chairs, etc).

How do you waste $20,000,000 a week â?? plus all those costs – on that many people who are easily expendable (proven by the ability to lay them off all at once). How can you afford to discard the experience and business knowledge that 30,000 people have gained in your industry?

Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

What about your business?

For the small business owner â?? it’s not just a cash flow issue, it’s about not hiring people you don’t need, being smart about the ones you do hire, and cross-training the team you do have so that you don’t ever have to lay them off.

There are a few large companies who have never laid someone off. You can read about them here: http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2009/fortune/0901/gallery.no_layoffs.fortune/

As for everyone else – now is the time to strengthen your business, train your people, test new product lines and services and start competing harder in your market while many of your competitors are in a possibly weakened condition.

If your direct competitors – or those in similar fields – are laying off people,  put the word out on the street that you’re interviewing.

Why? So you can get a look at the folks everyone else has laid off. There just might be a gem in the bunch.

Why not use their sharpest knife against them?