Just as most investment managers look like geniuses in a bull market, most employees can look like excellent performers in a booming economy. Now is when you identify the impostors. Working hard at that task is important, because if you need to lay people off, as you well may, it's critical that you choose wisely.
A subtler danger: If salaries or bonuses need to get whacked, you may be tempted to reduce them equally across the board in an effort to show that we're all in this together. But think of the message that practice sends to your best performers, who will feel they're being punished rather than rewarded for their great work. Mel Stark of the Hay Group consulting firm points out that in his survey of the World's Most Admired Companies as ranked by Fortune, the best ones take extra pains to reassure their "most driven and focused employees," the ones it is most important to keep. Instead of spreading the pain, reward your best workers well, even in a recession. Then scout for competitors that are sharing the misery equally and steal their best performers.