It is easy to find articles these days with engaging titles such as "15 Keys to Managing a Downturn," or "The Top 10 Techniques to Engage Today's Employees." Though well intentioned, I feel the people who've written many of these articles have not lived through such economic turmoil, and they usually offer only skin-deep ideas to truly turbulent times.

Dr. Jim Harris After 30 years in business-from leading small home-building companies within a 20% interest rate and 9% unemployment environment, to witnessing massive downsizings and restructurings within a Fortune 500 company-I have learned that employees in a deep recessionary environment most need two big things. I call it the "new R&R:" reassurance and resilience. You as a leader must ensure your employees have them to sustain solid performance in downtimes, as well as a commitment to the future.

No. 1: Reassurance

Layoffs, a weak economy, and a continuous flood of bad news have employees everywhere losing hope for their job futures. Let your employees know you believe in them and are fighting for them. It may be the most important thing to give them right now. Here's how you can do it.

1. Meet them face to face. People need to see you in person, not on video or in an e-mail. Tough times require a personal touch, even more face time with employees. Schedule regular meetings, town hall chats, open forums, huddles, whatever you want to call them to share the latest news and progress.

2. Be totally transparent and honest. Comedian George Burns once quipped, "Once you can fake sincerity, you've got it made!" Employees can see through insincerity just as fast as you can. You may not have all the answers-say so. They are not looking for a savior as much as they are looking for integrity.

3. Relive past successes, especially those when times were tough. Most people have never experienced such a downturn in our economy. Now it is a great time to share with your employees, whether old-timers or new, how your company survived previous challenges and how you can integrate past lessons learned into your present-day strategy.

4. Remind them that business is cyclical. Now that most of us are simultaneously experiencing significant cutbacks and situations, it's a good time for all to remember that there are natural cycles of growth and restriction in any business.

5. Reaffirm your financial footprint. Review your core customer base, their loyalty strength, and what everyone must do to maintain this base. In my coaching and consulting, I teach leaders to define their "point of dominance:" what percent of what market they want to dominate. Now is a great time to crystallize your point of dominance, remind your team of their importance to your financial base, and encourage everyone to go the extra service mile with these critical customers.

No. 2: Resilience

Within this extreme economy, the ability to take the blows and bounce back is absolutely critical not only to survival, but for any hope of emerging strong. But unlike reassurance, resilience is a learned behavior. You give your people reassurance, but you must coach resilience. Here's how to do it quickly and easily.

1. Ask your employees for their stories. Open a team meeting by asking your employees what they have done to rebound from personal or professional setbacks. Let them share their insights, struggles, and eventual victories. You will be amazed at the inherent wisdom and the practical ways in which your staff members have already overcome difficult times in their lives.

2. Share your stories. Tell your employees how you have overcome tough times. If you have worked or managed through multiple recessions and downtowns (as I have), reflect on the lessons learned, what you did right and wrong, and how you apply your past experience to current company situations.

3. List the best ideas. Collect the best ideas, practices, or concepts and the names of those who offered them. Circulate the list to employees with instructions to contact the person who offered that idea.

4. Get coached up. Let your employees train, encourage, and coach one another in their ideas. Encourage the free flow of resiliency strategies and tactics. You will be thrilled at the energy your employees generate by helping one another.

Today, employees need you to give them reassurance and to give each other the tools for resilience. As their leader, you owe it to yourself and them to do this now. Then perhaps later you could get away for a little old-fashioned R&R ... because within this environment, as a leader, you need it.

Dr. Jim Harris is president of The Jim Harris Group, an international business consulting, coaching, and professional speaking firm. An award-winning author and recognized leadership expert, Harris writes, speaks, and consults on how to achieve great results in business and in life. To learn more, please visit his Web site at, e-mail him at, or call 850.476.6633.