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管理

经济乱世方显商界英雄本色

Shelley DuBois 2011年08月16日

经济不振,时局艰难,CEO们需要果断应对,但大规模裁员或者盲目乐观都可能加剧公司的困境。

    星巴克(Starbucks)CEO霍华德•舒尔茨对自己的颈部手术恢复情况非常乐观。在上周一写给员工的信中,他对员工的支持表示了感谢,并让他们放心,自己很快就能痊愈。紧接着,舒尔茨用相似的语气描述了星巴克所面临的类似困境:最近的经济动荡使公司面临一次真正的威胁,但尚可控制——公司上下需要齐心协力,全力应对。相信我们最终能够取得胜利。

    这封信展示了公司CEO在面临经济困境时,试图表现出自己控制局面的能力。而随着上周五标准普尔(Standard & Poor's)调低了美国的信贷评级,美国的经济情况更加令人担忧。自从新的评级结果公布之后,美国股票市场始终处于大起大落的状态,甚至在上周四出现了大幅跳水;而投资者正绞尽脑汁,想弄明白目前糟糕的国内外经济形势究竟会如何演变。

    目前的时局,像舒尔茨这样的CEO们必然会成为人们关注的焦点。达特茅斯大学塔克商学院(Dartmouth's Tuck Executive Education school)的管理学教授悉尼•芬克斯坦称,与其他时期相比,在经济形势不明朗的时候,他们的决定更加举足轻重。

    但当前的经济困境不仅仅是对CEO们勇气的考验。尤其是对于大公司来说,掌门人们的决策甚至会影响整个国家的经济。

    西北大学凯洛格管理学院(Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management)伦理学与管理学教授亚当•加林斯基称,在困难时期,大公司的领导者与普通人一样,也会变得保守,并努力削减开支。“我们都在期待别人率先做出决策,以供我们效仿。如果我是一家公司,而我的竞争对手正在裁员,我也会开始裁员。”

    裁员现象在最新一轮的经济衰退中非常普遍,目前,有一些公司,尤其是在银行业,又开始重施故技。就在上周,汇丰银行(HSBC)裁掉了大约30,000名员工,占全球员工总数的十分之一。

    有时候,CEO之所以做出裁员决定也是迫于无奈,因为他们需要快速做出重大变革,但大部分裁员行动都过于猛烈。

    弗吉尼亚大学达登商学院(University of Virginia's Darden School of Business)的企业战略教授亚历山大•霍尼曼表示:“目前,公司的裁员行动已经到了伤筋动骨的地步。”如果进一步裁员的话,即便最终经济形势好转,公司也会面临风险。

    作为经理人,他们需要努力控制自己的自然心理反应。加林斯基表示,从心理学角度来看,坏消息通常会被人们过度放大,进而导致人们做出夸张的反应。能否控制住这种过度反应取决于CEO们。如果他们拥有足够的经济手段,他们就应该能够杜绝从众心理。

    例如,加林斯基便认为,实际上,目前是招聘的最佳时机,而不是进行裁员。“在经济低迷时期,公司可以从其他公司挖来明星员工。等到经济好转时,公司便能有更强大的人才储备可供利用。”

    其实,这是一个充满挑战的平衡游戏。要想打破现状,经理人需要先控制好自己的情绪。但在公司内部进行交流中又需要调动员工的情绪。

    芬克斯坦称:“理性的论证说服不了对某件事存在情感偏见的人。不论是在日常生活当中,还是在公司事务中,都不可能奏效。”

    相反,有效的信息需要言之有理,而且,相对于那些为了制定决策所提供的商业案例中的数字来说,要更有说服力。CEO们要以真情实感赢得共鸣。斯坦福大学商学院(Stanford University Graduate School of Business)行为实验室负责人尼可拉斯•霍尔表示,引用历史事实是有效的方式。他认为最有效的一条信息是:“之前,我们曾经有过类似的经历。这次情况不同,形势艰难,但我们拥有战胜困难的能力。”

    从积极的一面来看,手握可靠策略的CEO们将有机会大放异彩,因为对于经济衰退,他们大部分人已经做好了充足的准备。窍门就在于将自己的战略有效地传达出去。霍尼曼表示:“与稳定时期相比,当形势不容乐观时,CEO们应该更活跃、更包容。”

    星巴克CEO舒尔茨在他的策略中就借鉴了这种做法,他写道:“过去发生的一切一再证明,不论外部环境如何恶劣,星巴克的命运都掌握在自己手中。我坚信,这次我们也一样能做到!”

    只有时间能证明一切。不过专家们认为,舒尔茨的策略应该会奏效:承认危机客观存在,但并非不可战胜,然后对公司的核心战略进行微调——但不要进行大刀阔斧地改革。目前,他已经迈出了坚实的第一步:鼓励员工更加士气高涨地销售咖啡。

    译者:刘进龙

    Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has a can-do attitude about his recovery from neck surgery. In a letter to employees sent Monday, he thanked them for their support and assured them that he will heal soon. Schultz then outlined a similar narrative for Starbucks: the company is responding to a real but manageable threat -- the latest economic turmoil -- but everybody is in it together, and Starbucks will wind up on top.

    The letter is one CEO's attempt to demonstrate control in the face of economic concerns, which have grown even more concerning since Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating on Friday. The stock market has been see-sawing since the announcement and it took a significant dive yesterday, as investors struggle to wrap their heads around gloomy economic conditions abroad and at home.

    Times like these put CEOs like Schultz on the spot. Their decisions matter more during uncertain economic times than just about any other, says Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of management at Dartmouth's Tuck Executive Education school.

    But the current malaise is more than just a test of management mettle. Especially for big companies, the decisions that leaders make could have an impact on the economy as a whole.

    Just like the rest of us, big business leaders grow conservative and try to shrink spending during tough times, says Adam Galinsky, a professor of ethics and management at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. "We also tend to look towards what everyone else is doing to try to find our way. If I'm a company and one of my competitors is slashing jobs, I'm going to slash jobs too."

    Job slashing was certainly common during the most recent recession, and some companies have restarted the process now, especially in the banking sector. Just last week, HSBC cut a tenth of its global workforce, about 30,000 jobs.

    Sometimes, CEOs are forced to cut because they need to make big changes quickly, but most job cuts are more aggressive than they need to be.

    "Business today has cut the workforce pretty much to the bone," says Alexander Horniman, a strategy professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. Even more cuts could put companies at risk when the economy eventually rebounds.

    Managers also need to fight to keep their natural psychological reactions in check. Bad news looms disproportionately large in the mind, which encourages exaggerated reactions, Galinsky says. It's up to CEOs to curb that overreaction. And if they have the financial means, they should dodge the corporate pack mentality altogether.

    For example, instead of cutting jobs, now may actually be one of the best times to hire, Galinsky says. "In the downturn, you go after star people in other organizations and steal them. Then, when the economy turns around, you're going to have better talent and capitalize on that."

    It's a challenging balancing act. To buck the status quo, managers need to check their gut responses. But when they communicate internally, they have to appeal to their employees' emotions.

    "Rational arguments do not convince people who have emotional biases about something. It doesn't happen in everyday life, and it doesn't happen in business," says Finkelstein.

    Instead, a good message needs to make sense and transcend the sort of numbers that make the business case for decisions. CEOs need to strike a chord without appearing disingenuous. Citing the past is an effective way to do that, says Nicholas Hall, manager of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business behavioral lab. He says one of the most useful messages is, "We've gone through something like this before. This is different, this is tough, but we have these specific strengths that will handle it."

    On the bright side, CEOs with solid strategies will have an opportunity to shine, since most of them will be adequately prepared for a downturn. The trick is to communicate that strategy effectively. "You ought to be more engaging and inclusive when things are going to hell than when things are going along smoothly," says Horniman.

    Starbucks (SBUX) CEO Schultz's memo takes a page out of this playbook: "We've proven more than once that Starbucks can determine its own destiny, regardless of external circumstances. And I promise we will do it again," he wrote.

    Only time will tell. But Schultz is using tactics that experts say should work: acknowledge the crisis, say its surmountable, and tweak -- don't gut -- the company's core strategy. For now, he's taken a solid first step: getting the troops jazzed to sell some coffee.

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