Are you coming out of the downturn in better or worse shape than when you went into it? You may have fewer employees, a rationalised corporate structure and simplified product lines. But is your business healthier? And, by the way, how is morale?

经济衰退结束后,你的境况是比衰退前更好还是更糟了?也许你的员工人数减少了,企业结构理顺了,产品范围也简化了。但企业的健康状况改善了吗?再顺便问一句,员工士气呢?

The past two years have tested business leaders’ competence. Many managers had known only good times, the long 15-year period of almost uninterrupted growth that began in the early 1990s. But anyone can look good in a rising market. Tougher times find people out.

过去两年,商界领袖的胜任能力受到了考验。许多管理人士只见识过繁荣时期——自上世纪90年代初起,长达15年几乎无间断的增长。但在市场上升期,人人都能看起来很滋润。艰难时刻才真正考验人。

If you were looking for an example of hard-headed decision-making under pressure, not many observers would expect to find one at the John Lewis Partnership. The retailer has a long-standing reputation for paternalism. All its staff are partners with a stake in the business – a practice dating back to 1929 when John Spedan Lewis, its founder’s son, committed the organisation to work towards its “ultimate purpose”: “the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”.

如果你想找出一个在压力下沉着决策的范例,不会有多少观察人士指望在John Lewis Partnership找得到。长久以来,该零售商一直以其家长式管理闻名。所有员工都是合伙人,拥有公司股份。该做法可追溯到1929年,当时公司创始人之子约翰•史派登•路易斯(John Spedan Lewis)要求公司为“终极目的”而努力:“为所有成员谋幸福——让他们有价值且令其满意地受雇于成功的本公司”。

But in October 2008, the monthly sales figures for the John Lewis department stores (the largest part of the business) were down by 14 per cent. Sales were “haemorrhaging”, according to managing director Andy Street. This was uncharted territory.

但2008年10月,John Lewis百货公司(集团最大一块业务)的月销售额下降14%。据集团董事总经理安迪•斯特里特(Andy Street)表示,销售情况“大出血”。这可是从未有过的情况。

What does a famously compassionate employer do when tough measures are necessary? For one thing, it worries. It finds that some of its core principles can come under strain. And it is forced to confront the fact that, however noble its aims, harsh business realities will intervene. “We found out how difficult it is for an organisation to be really honest with its people,” Mr Street says. “There is a natural human instinct to protect people from unpalatable things.” But that was not an option.

在有必要采取严厉措施的时候,这样一家以慈悲为怀著称的雇主该做些什么呢?首先,它产生忧虑。它发现,其部分核心原则可能面临压力。而且,无论其目标有多么高尚,它不得不正视一个事实,即严酷的商业现实将会降临。“我们认识到,一家公司想对员工保持真正的坦诚有多么难,”斯特里特表示。“保护人们免遭厄运是人的天性。”但这不是一个选择。

The company decided it had to get tough with its business model. A warehouse was closed with the loss of 250 jobs. Call centres were reorganised, which made many posts at the department stores redundant. This was all new and challenging, not the sort of thing its thousands of partners had come to expect.

该公司决定,必须对其商业模式做出强硬调整。公司关闭了一个仓库,由此解雇250人。对呼叫中心的重组,也导致百货商店内许多人失业。这些都是新举措,富有挑战性,不在数千名合伙人的意料之中。

To prepare managers for this programme of action, John Lewis brought in the London-based Sandler Lanz consultancy to advise them. Its co-founder, Catherine Sandler, says that leaders need to offer “psychological containment” at times of great turbulence and uncertainty.

为了帮助管理人员对这一行动计划做好准备,John Lewis请来了伦敦咨询公司Sandler Lanz为其提供顾问服务。后者的联合创始人凯瑟琳•桑德勒(Catherine Sandler)表示,领导者在形势极其动荡和不确定之时必须提供“心理遏制”。

“There has to be congruence between what employees are feeling and how leaders behave,” she explains. There are four related things to be done. First, leaders need to be on the front foot, taking “prompt, visible and considered action”. They have to communicate honestly, on the basis that people prefer to know the worst than fear the worst. If possible, they need to find a positive and even inspiring message amid the bad news. Last – and hardest of all – they need to convey empathy, “in a way that is authentic to them”.

“员工的感受与领导者的行为之间必须合拍,”她解释道。必须做四件相关的事。首先,领导者必须积极主动,采取“迅速、可见、经过考虑的行动”。他们必须坦诚沟通,依据是人们宁愿知晓最糟糕的事情,也不愿为最糟糕的事情惶恐不安。如果可能,他们应从坏消息中发掘积极、甚至鼓舞人心的信息。最后(也是最难的),他们必须“以一种对他们来说自然而又真诚的方式”,传递出同情心。

Preparing for this new approach was not easy. Mr Street recalled the first time he suggested to a group of managers that they discuss “how this all feels”. The idea provoked groans of discomfort. Department store managers are active, task-focused people. They monitor sales by the hour. Under pressure, as many of them have admitted, it was hard to remember the bit about showing empathy.

为这种新策略做准备并非易事。斯特里特回忆起,第一次向一群管理人员提议,大家讨论一下“对这个策略感觉如何”时,人们纷纷抱怨不适应。百货公司的管理人员都是些积极、专注于任务的人。他们时刻监视着销售情况。许多人承认,在压力下,很难记得要表现出同情心。

But is John Lewis emerging from the downturn in good shape? It is. Sales are up 15 per cent for the first four months of the year, comfortably ahead of the competition. Mr Street feels the business is bolder and more confident for having come through the tough times. It has recently launched a highly acclaimed TV ad campaign. A BBC documentary series, filmed during the last year, has won John Lewis new fans. The company is investing heavily in its online presence, and developing a new homeware store format.

但是,John Lewis在摆脱衰退之际境况还好吗?是的。今年前4个月,该公司销售额增长15%,远远超出竞争对手。斯特里特感觉,在经历过艰难时期后,公司更加大胆、自信了。该公司最近投放了一则备受称赞的电视广告。英国广播公司(BBC)在过去一年拍摄的一部系列纪录片,也为John Lewis赢得了新的粉丝。该公司目前正重金投资在线业务,并开发一种新的家居用品零售形式。

But at its heart this organisation remains different. John Spedan Lewis launched his partnership in 1929, just as the world’s economy was heading for a giant fall. It was a stunning act of radicalism, which has lasted. Almost 30 years later, he reflected on the business scene in an interview with the BBC: “The present state of affairs is really a perversion of the proper working of capitalism. It is all wrong to have millionaires before you have ceased to have slums. Capitalism has done enormous good . . . But the perversion has given us too unstable a society. Differences of reward must be large enough to induce people to do their best, but the present differences are far too great.”

但在本质上,该公司仍然与众不同。就在全球经济即将陷入大萧条的1929年,约翰•史派登•路易斯创造出了这种合伙制。这在当时是一种令人震惊的激进行为,并一直延续了下来。近30年后,他在接受BBC采访时反省了当时的商界现实:“目前的局面真的是对资本主义正常运转的一种扭曲。在消除贫民窟之前就存在百万富翁是大错特错的。资本主义做过大量好事……但这种扭曲也让我们的社会不稳定。收入差距一定要足够大,才会刺激人们尽其所能,但现在的差距实在太大了。”

He said that in 1957. What would he be saying today?

他说这话的时候是1957年。要是搁在现在,他会说些什么呢?

stefan.stern@ft.com

译者/陈云飞

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