Monday, October 27, 2008

Impact of Economic Uncertainty on Work/Life Balance

Even though Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) senior team has been together for more than four years, I wish I knew my colleagues better.

That's because a challenging economic environment demands exceptional management for a company to thrive or, in some instances, merely survive.

I picked up a lot of lessons learned during the post-dot com downturn in late 2001. We made several painful decisions that required us to scale back the business, such as cutting our creative department and several rounds of additional employee layoffs.

As a result of the focus, attention and discipline of our senior team the agency survived and we emerged on the other side in a position well set for growth. In fact, the most profitable year in our company's history was the direct result of business decisions made during the depth of the recession.

The last downturn also helped me grow as an entrepreneur and president/CEO. I discovered that hard work only gets you so far. To call on a cliché: success is about working smarter.

A CEO's most important responsibilities are to put the team in a position in which they are set up for success and establish clear (and realistic) performance expectations. That's it...although (admittedly) it sure can be hard to deliver on.

In 2004, Strategic went through a management transition. Our four most senior client executives joined the agency at that time and we promoted finance and marketing/sales personnel to executive positions.

I was also in transition in my personal life. My wife and I started a family and we now have two wonderful boys under the age of five. I often tell people that with children the days may seem long, yet the years fly by.

For that reason, I made the decision to scale back my work time from the 80 plus hours I was routinely putting in a week. I do my best to be home for the kids' bed and bath each night, and I simply won't miss weekend time with the family.

Strategic made dramatic shifts in our corporate culture, employee management and hiring practices. We instituted a completely flexible work environment in which staff members can work where they want and when they want, being measured on delivery of service and performance.

Our utilization is also based on a 40 hour work week to send a clear message internally: work/life balance is a priority at Strategic.

As a result, our team now skews old for a public relations consultancy. Our model is not to cowboy up a group of 20 somethings and work them more than 60 hours a week. We have families, children, community involvement and outside interests. I believe it makes us better PR professionals and healthier individuals.

Yet, all of this flexibility and work/life balance means we simply don't spend as much time together. I try to connect with each member of Strategic's senior team weekly, lunch with each on a monthly basis and we get together in-person every six weeks for a management meeting.

Is it enough though? Do we have the brutally candid relationships often required to make decisions during a period of economic uncertainty?


Maggie said...

I've read about Strategic Communications Group and been impressed with the work/family balance culture and am glad to hear you're actually putting your money where your mouths are. I'm sure your commitment to balance goes a long way towards fostering dedication and hard work during the hours your employees are at work.

I hope you guys weather the economic crisis well and are able to retain your staff and keep hiring--I know I've considered sending my resume to you a bunch of times!

Hot Mommas Project said...

Found your blog on work-life balance google search. Way to lead by example. Please consider writing your case study at We are personally inviting qualified male leaders to participate in the pilot "Cool Daddies" section (select "M" in your profile). Again, great post...and great actions.

Marc Hausman said...

@Hot Mommas Project - thanks for visiting the blog and for your comment. I took a look at the "Hot Mommas Project" site and it looks to be an excellent program to compile examples of family friendly environments.

I also think highly of George Washington University, so it's great to see your affiliation.

Lauren said...

It sounds to me like you've established a business model that is based on respect for your employees as multi-dimensional people and also as adults entrusted to perform the jobs they have been hired to fulfill. As such, I would expect that your employees in turn respect and trust you and the rest of the senior management. This seems a much more likely environment in which to have a brutally candid relationship than most organizations, which breed suspicion and resentment between employees and management though they may spend much more time together during the course of each week. As such, I think as long you maintain open lines of communications with employees that are honest (and frequent) you shouldn't really worry, you are way ahead of the competition.

Jun Loayza said...

These tough economic times have truly taught me a lesson about entrepreneurship. Up until last month, we were surviving off of our savings in hopes of getting funding. When we realized we will NOT get funding, everything began to get tense.

People need money for food and rent, survival is of course needed to have a complete team. We have all been very good at sacrificing all of the materialistic things that we need. But now people are getting tired of living the bare minimum, and a not-so-successful launch of our first product put everyone on the edge.

All of a sudden, we got 3 clients that are going to pay us some good money, our developer got a ridiculous amount of work done in a 2 day span, and we finished a very annoying project for a client that was taking a super long time.

Entrepreneurship is a tough ride, but an extremely fun one. It's like six flags magic mountain - only for the brave at heart.

- Jun Loayza