The heading image showing a person who has chosen the left hand fork on the road leading to "Growth"  which leads to Development, Goals and High Quality Employees Staying. The other fork to the right shows Stagnation which leads to CV writing, jobs and High Quality Employees Leaving.
Image showing a graph with a red arrow falling dramatically low
Image showing a two way left and right fork with two signs. The sign pointing to the right says "Short Term" and the sign pointing to the left says "Long Term".

Do or Die?

Pausing or Growing Development Post Lockdown 

(Written April 2021)

The title of this article may seem a bit dramatic for trying to encourage organisations to boost the development they offer their people as they move out of lockdown. As you read further, you will understand why I wanted to give it such a “Do or Die” title. I am concerned that organisations risk losing their best people if they sit and do nothing other than recover, regroup or consolidate. Organisations should future-proof their skills and keep their best people with them before they become despondent and look elsewhere. Keep your top talent!


Over the last year, organisations and their people have suffered massive upheaval, loss of business and sadly, in some cases, the loss of life too. We are now at the cusp of the road to recovery, and I hear many thoughts on how best to manage that. 

I have talked with a number of organisations about how they are planning their road to recovery and growth. In my opinion, some are making the mistake of pressing the pause button. This is not the time to pause. The way ahead is not to crawl into the cave and lick your wounds but to step up, develop your people and stand up as the forward-thinking organisation you have always been. Despite financial restrictions (easy for me to say), you need to show your positive competitive edge and forge ahead boldly. 

This document is written in the hope that I affect your thinking that organisations need to develop their people regardless of the impact of the lockdown and pandemic. This will depend on many factors best known to you and your organisation. 

All I wish to do is publish my thinking on this matter, referencing other like-minded thinking as food for thought. I hope this document will provide you with a few points to share in future discussions around this topic. 

Lessons from the past

In 2008 we suffered a financial recession, and the assumption was that all training was stopped to save money, which is incorrect. If there is a time to develop your people, it is when things are tough, and as we poke our heads out from under the covers of the Covid blanket, we could be forgiven for thinking we need to sit and recover. I totally understand that feeling, but we should ensure that our people, especially those with high potential, who we want to be the future stars in our organisations, are developed (Reyes, 2011). They must be made future-proof in the technical skills required to do their job and in the softer but essential skills of communication, leadership and management that will help them bring people with them without pushing or pulling them there. 

If you thought that a recession and cuts in training went hand in hand, you’d be mistaken. It would appear that training, for the most part, did not nosedive, and the reason is that forward-thinking organisations saw that competition, due to the recession, was increasing, so they realised they had to be at the top of their game. They saw training as an opportunity to move ahead in such tough competitive times (Booth et al., 1996). 

Think about what helps an organisation pull together, work more collaboratively and honestly with each other and become far more effective. We, as do the Financial Executives Institute, believe that management and leadership training is paramount to riding the waves of the storm. This is especially true for the post-storm exit strategy (Institute, 1984). Given this was published in 1984, it begs the question of why so many people still think training should be cut in a downturn. Are we just doing what we’ve always done and, sadly, getting what we’ve always got? What happened to the insanity of doing the same thing and hoping for different results? 

There is a lot of evidence to prove the need to sustain training in a downturn and ensure our future managers and leaders have the interpersonal skills required for their roles. Even a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons concluded that we should learn from the European approach to continue training during recession periods (Commons, 1997). 

While many organisations still look to cut training to save on cost, it can be argued that this is not in the best interests in the longer term. Why? As this causes a drop in engagement, morale and performance, the last thing needed as competition increases and the roadmap out of the situation is planned (Buckley and Caple, 2009). Think about a sports team that is losing at halftime. Do they sit there licking their wounds or rally, motivate themselves, and go back into the storm for the win? Do they stop training after a bad performance or increase training in specific areas? Think longer term! 

The UK’s commercial thinking has rarely been pushed as hard as it has in the last 12 months, but now is the time to ensure our best people do not see the organisation they are working for has withdrawn or has decided to employ that overused word “consolidate”. Consolidators, beware, as other more resilient and optimistic organisations are pushing ahead with a confidence that will attract your best people to join them. 

Don’t risk losing great people. Look closely at the type of person that leaves and the type of person that stays. What are their reasons for those people going or staying? A review of your performance management process may be long overdue. 

While writing “the psychology of the recession in the workplace” the authors (Cooper and Antoniou, 2013) touch on three critical points that must be placed into our Do or Die thinking calculations. 

  • Having had a training and development programme available to them for years to develop and help them reach for advancement, and then finding that this has been taken from them again (Covid first, and now by their own organisation as well), there is a psychological impact which leaves profound change on employee’s attitudes and behaviours.
  • During a tough economic environment, such as a recession, employees are unconsciously or consciously expected to do more, step up, and go that extra mile more often for the company. When the company then reduces or even stops its development opportunities, this results in what feels like a violation of the psychological contract.
  • Conscientious employees see personal development as a requirement for their career objectives. When that personal development is removed, employees not only view this as a breach of their psychological contract, but those hoping to get into management or leadership positions lose all respect for the organisational values. 

Please note, these psychological contracts are not contractual in the usually written employment contract, but more something employees believe is a fundamental contractual obligation to them and their colleagues. This has usually been brought about through regular communications, which set expectations that personal development is held in high regard by the organisation and will be available and supported by the L&D and HR teams (Griep and Cooper, 2019). Breaking this perceived contract will seriously impact attitude, behaviour, retention and engagement. If the lockdown has put most of your training out of reach for a year, whatever you do, don’t say it is off the menu for yet another year!  

People, including gen X, Y (millennials) and Z, want to work for an organisation that pushes forward and stands up for its people (not just words). They want an organisation that fights for growth, invests in their people to ensure future success and proves it, especially during tough times and financial and economic downturns. Do not think for one minute that your slow, careful approach will win you favour among your people. People are smart enough to know when organisations ignore development to save money. 

Keep your best people by showing you care. You want them to stay and set out that plan to stretch, grow and succeed. If you delivered development programmes before Covid, why stop them when that is exactly what your people and your organisation need to demonstrate belief in your people? 

Organisations that continue to invest in their service area and drop the personal development for their people are shooting themselves in the foot. Again, people will see very clearly that you want to make a profit but not spend on your most important asset, your people. 

Performance management

Yes, I know that nasty phrase has negative connotations for many managers and employees, but it is a necessary process. When managed properly, it will work wonders for your organisational culture as it will be inextricably linked to organisational objectives and values (Cardy and Leonard, 2014).  

If you think that performance management is the last thing we need right now during a pandemic, we feel very differently. This pandemic will have identified your stars, your “go that extra mile” people, and your less engaged. Fear not; we have not missed that mental health will have taken a downturn for many, including myself. But, whilst properly caring for those who need it, identify those not-so-engaged individuals and bring them development, opportunities, encouragement, training, and inspiration to help them grow. 

If you do not, their drop in productivity will need to be picked up by their colleagues. Others will resent their poor performance. Hard-working colleagues will ask themselves why team leaders, managers and senior managers allow this to continue unchallenged. 

Do NOT accept underperforming colleagues at the cost of your engaged colleagues and end up driving away great people! Take responsibility and act appropriately. In the 2008 recession, organisations actively managed their poor performers out of the business as they were no longer willing to accept such poor performance (Roche et al., 2013). I would rather not see them managed out if they can be coached to improvement, but if they are unwilling to improve, then needs must.

If you know me, you will know I just couldn’t write a document without mentioning Emotional Intelligence (EI). 

The tools that EI can bring, such as our Moccasin Approach®, can gather all the aspects above into context and link them together in one singular approach. Our Moccasin Approach can create a network of relationships across the entire organisation, significantly improving honesty, transparency and communication. It will not just allow but will insist on authenticity and help the organisation offer security and safety for those who speak out. We call this ES². Emotional Security is promised and guaranteed by the organisation, and Emotional Security creates Emotional Safety). 

“Don’t think limits; think possibilities”

Written by Mac Macdonald April 2021


BOOTH, A. L., SNOWER, D. J. & RESEARCH, C. F. E. P. 1996. Acquiring Skills: Market Failures, Their Symptoms and Policy Responses, Cambridge University Press.

BUCKLEY, R. & CAPLE, J. 2009. The Theory and Practice of Training, Kogan Page.

CARDY, R. & LEONARD, B. 2014. Performance Management:: Concepts, Skills and Exercises, Taylor & Francis.

COMMONS, G. B. P. H. O. 1997. Parliamentary Debates (Hansard).: House of Commons official report, H.M. Stationery Office.

COOPER, C. L. & ANTONIOU, A. S. G. 2013. The Psychology of the Recession on the Workplace, Edward Elgar.

GRIEP, Y. & COOPER, C. 2019. Handbook of Research on the Psychological Contract at Work, Edward Elgar Publishing.

INSTITUTE, F. E. 1984. Financial Executive, Financial Executives Institute.

REYES, M. 2011. Organisational Learning and Development During a Recession, GRIN Verlag.

ROCHE, B., TEAGUE, P., COUGHLAN, A. & FAHY, M. 2013. Recession at Work: HRM in the Irish Crisis, Taylor & Francis. 

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