From the September 2002 issue of Startups

I remember writing a column the month following 9/11, and my mind and hands just froze. What could I possibly have to say? I'm a businessman, not a shrink. But somehow, one word followed another and I got through it. And, that's where we find ourselves now. It's been just over a year since that unfathomable attack on our country and freedom itself, and we got through it.

Our military is on the ground, engaging and destroying the enemy; our intelligence agencies are reassessing their assumptions and revamping their techniques; and those of us who travel are learning to be more patient. But what about our employees?

In annual report after annual report, companies have said through the years that "our employees are our most important asset." Well, now is the time to step up to the plate and prove we really mean it. Although most people were not touched quite the way victims' families were or the way New Yorkers and Pentagon employees were, we were all significantly damaged. 9/11 was, and will forever remain, a shared nightmare. And, anniversaries of deaths and accidents have a way of refocusing our attention on those events.

For many months, our political leaders and the media worked to plan a tasteful, national remembrance. We heard the speeches reassuring us that the enemy is on the run and that airline security is better than ever. We watched the media profile both victim and hero alike. But our employees need something closer to home. They need something from the boss.

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The stock market has been extremely volatile, and the economy is giving mixed signals. Our employees need to be reminded that they and their company made it through the darkest hours and that the years ahead will continue to improve. They also need to know there's a connection between the troops on the ground in Afghanistan and their own personal/family safety. It's especially important for small and start-up companies. For you, the loss of one employee for even a day is a hardship. May we, therefore, suggest more frequent employee meetings over the next several months? Don't dwell on 9/11, but don't run away from it, either.

To make those employee meetings more beneficial, you might want to consider consulting with a trauma expert. During those meetings with your employees, you can discuss the signs of stress you may have observed and exactly how to handle the issue. If you can afford it, you may even have that expert attend your meetings. There are times when the boss can safely play the role of company shrink; this isn't one of them. Rather, it's a time for professional guidance.

Just because we made it through the first year doesn't mean there's nothing to worry about. The results of 9/11 will be with our employees for many years to come. Yes, it's time to start living those words found in annual reports. It's time to treat employees like assets, not expenses.


Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners of Semper Fi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authors of Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way.