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How to be a good boss in bad times


Recessions have phases. Decline is followed by early recovery, late recovery and a return to growth. Management does not always modify its methodology to match the different challenges of each phase even though the psychology of those in charge of businesses is inevitably different for each one. The phase of decline in this recession has ended, although we may yet experience a ‘W’ shaped recession with a second, smaller decline coming before a sustained recovery begins. The key characteristic of the early growth phase we’re in now is uncertainty mixed with optimism. This can be a toxic combination in which risk tolerant and impatient managers feel compelled to adopt development strategies. They are driven by impatience to replace the negativity of economic turbulence with progressive plans and by the fear of being left behind as recovery takes hold. The early growth phase is difficult. We cannot rely on the past to guide us and we cannot predict the future with any confidence. As a result, our horizon of expectation remains short. Not as close as it was during the decline phase when survival was the predominant concern but nonetheless we should not be so confident as to risk the company on the resumption of uninterrupted economic vigour. One of the most damaging actions that over-confident managers could take now is to assume that the economic environment that follows this recession will be the same as that which preceded the decline and that their established business model will be robust. This event was a discontinuity and not a pause. The management of expectation and the desire to act prematurely is a major challenge for HR professionals especially as it is counter intuitive to what colleagues may advocate. HR must recognise the active phase of the recession, understand the psychology that is appropriate to each stage and ensure that senior management is aware of the structure of the landscape through which we are passing.