Beat them to the punch. Don't wait for your people to remind you of the excuse you gave them a year ago: "Sorry, we just can't spare the time."

Demonstrate your own confidence. There's nothing like a modest investment in training to demonstrate your own confidence in the firm and in your people. You want to keep those valued people, the ones you didn't lay off. Right now, some of them are thinking about other jobs or even changing careers. Move quickly, before you lose them.

Hire fewer consultants. Are a few of your retirees, whose specialties a year ago you needed, still coming in, perhaps as consultants? Now is your chance to dispense with them and save some money. Train your present staff in those specialties.

Things to say. Here are a few ideas for you to rephrase to fit your own situation and temperament. Possibly say them to one or more groups. Possibly say them to individuals.

Hopefully, you can make points like these to your present staffs:

* I can assure you that those painful layoffs are now "history". We miss those people. We have to get along without them. This is going to require extra effort from all of you. Some of you will need some specialized training.
* Now, while things are slow, we have a great opportunity to improve our products. Some of you had some great ideas last year. I'm sorry I was too busy, then, to really listen to you. Will you please try me again?
* Now, while staffing is low, is a great opportunity for us all to learn how to work more efficiently. Will each of you please think about taking on some additional responsibilities? If that requires that some or all of you obtain specialized training, suggest it. Please also think about unnecessary work we can eliminate.
* Are there technical aspects of your present or future work, that you don't understand? Now may be a good time to obtain needed training.
* Some of you are relatively "new hires", fresh from college. No doubt you've been a bit surprised by some of our methods and equipment. Now is a fine time to ask for specialized practical training to supplement your university-learned theory.

A major benefit: your team will be ready to move fast when business picks up. It will pick up, you know. It always has picked up. It always will pick up.

A reminder: immediately, when individuals attain that training, reward them with at least a token increase in take-home pay. You might say something like "I'm sorry we can't afford more right now, but we want to show that we appreciate you."

Wayne Tustin, ERI's president, can be reached at tustin@equipment-reliability.com or at 805/564-1260.

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