You’d think retention bonuses were the only way to keep and motivate your best people. At least, that’s what AIG would have us believe. But open, honest communication all the time is better for retaining employees during the current recession and best for any organization in the long run.

Paul B. Brown, in a recent column titled “How to Lead in Tough Times” has accumulated leadership advice that is good for any time. This is my synopsis of what he wrote:

  • Get out in front of negative events so that the rumor mill doesn’t make things worse than they already are. This is particularly difficult to do in this age of instant messaging, which makes it all the more important to be transparent.
  • Put things in perspective so that everyone understands events in the context of the ups and downs of business over time.
  • Involve employees in identifying opportunities to reduce costs and increase revenue.
  • Be positive and optimistic. If you can’t be, stay away.
  • Tell your best people how important they are to the organization and how much you need them to make the company successful over the long run.
  • Volatility, uncertainty, and complexity will continue to be the norm, not the exception. Keep focused on your destination while being flexible about how to get there.
  • Get the truth out in the open so that everyone can deal with it. Contrary to what Colonel Jessep said in A Few Good Men, your best employees can handle the truth.

In summary, Brown quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald (Esquire, 1936): “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”