In retrospect, we could have seen the crisis coming. There were early warning signs and if we had stopped to do the math, we would have been preparing for this for months. But when it arrived, it did so with incredible speed. There was no ignoring it. There was no business as usual. The shockwaves spreading through the economy threatened a complete collapse of the system. The year was 2008 and the end of the world was neigh.

In the Spring of 2020, we again find ourselves facing a major threat to our businesses, large and small. Some dynamics of this crisis are similar (its suddenness and severity), and some are quite different (social distancing, mandated closures), but as we struggle to cope, and to survive, I want to call our attention to a particularly important case study from 2008 that can help to guide us through in a way that we may emerge stronger on the other side.

At Barry-Wehmiller, a $2B capital goods company with thousands of employees around the world, orders dropped by 35% in the first weeks of 2009. In previous downturns Barry-Wehmiller had not hesitated to “rightsize” itself by laying off workers quickly and without a second thought.  But this time, Barry-Wehmiller had invested years in building a conscious culture. As he wrestled with the decision, CEO Bob Chapman knew that this time, “rightsizing” would kill that prized culture. Suddenly, a question came to him:

“What would a caring family do if the family was stressed?”

The answer came as quickly as the question had: “Everyone would pitch in”.

This article explores the system of furloughs to help deal with the economic realities of the situation, but in a way that would save every job in the company.

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