In a recession, CEOs can talk about innovation, operations, and sales all they want, and as captains of industry that is probably what they know best, but when it gets down to employee engagement and high performance, clear, transparent, and frequent communication is the key. Robert Polet, CEO of Gucci, the multi-billion dollar, iconic, luxury goods retailer, writes in BusinessWeek:

The key success factors in an economic downturn are speed, flexibility and innovation, while remaining constantly in tune with customers' needs. These factors will allow a company to perform at its peak, even in a down cycle, and are powered by a common denominator: an organization's talent.

Gucci is definitely demonstrating flexibility and innovation with its new go-green direction. You can now buy an eco-friendly T-shirt from Gucci for only $185. This appears to be part of a promotion for a new movie by Yann Arthus Bertrand about planet Earth, a project being sponsored by Gucci’s parent company PPR Group.

But in the remainder of the article, Polet does not talk about “speed, flexibility and innovation.” He talks essentially about the importance of communication in keeping employees “…engaged, motivated, and focused.”  He writes:

In addition to setting a tone of calm and control, this is a great time to reiterate the company's long-term goals and brand positioning while discussing any shorter-term adaptations required to maintain performance. Employees need to understand both current and long-term direction, as well their role in it, to remain motivated and engaged... leaders need to step up their role as communicators, sharing information frequently and honestly in order to maintain trust and engagement.

Maybe the Board of Directors wants to hear about innovation, operations, and sales, but the successful CEO knows that employees pay attention to how and what their leader is communicating. They want to hear a calm, confident voice from someone who is clear about goals and can tell them how managers can contribute to achieving those goals. Employees want to be involved in these decisions and know that they have a role in bringing the company out of the downturn and positioned for future success.