Is the current economic climate having a negative effect on employee productivity and motivation? Cath Murphy offers some top tips for organisations looking to rebuild trust and staff engagement levels during the downturn.
All too often the human aspects of an economic downturn are ignored and rather than continuing to be ‘your finest asset’, your employees seem to get in the way; they cost too much, some are not motivated and they don’t contribute enough to improving results. Yet if morale is low, then it is also likely that trust in the business and the leadership will also be low.
The leader’s role is to provide direction and build hope and confidence in the future – particularly in times of uncertainty. To do this you need a high level of trust just at a time when people may be very critical of the business leadership. The following tips will assist in stabilising the team and in rebuilding trust and staff engagement:
Revisit your organisation’s strategy
Is it still relevant, both in the short and long term, or do you need a new strategy? What opportunities did you dismiss before that might be relevant now? Look for any new revenue opportunities that may arise and consider that this might be the time to steal a march on your competitors, who may not be able to react as swiftly or creatively to the economic situation as you can.
Provide clarity of business direction
Once the strategy is agreed and the plan is in place, ensure every employee understands the business plan. Provide milestones so your employees can see how the company and their division or function is progressing. Realign business and individual objectives so that each person understands how they can contribute to turning the business around.
Have a back-up plan
Anticipate ongoing deterioration in the economy and have a back-up plan, which might involve reducing expenses – including a reduction in staffing levels – and communicate effectively with your staff regarding this potential reduction. Look for ways to increase your staff efficiency and effectiveness, which may reduce costs and increase customer services, and look for areas where additional pressures and lower volumes may be alleviated by restructuring or changing processes.
Keep your talent
Identify the staff competencies that will be needed to move in the (possibly new) strategic direction. Use this as an opportunity to let poor performers go and invest now in discovering and developing the talent you will need for the future. Find remedies for skill gaps that may exist in the team, particularly where staff may not have experienced difficult economic conditions and help people anticipate the ramifications and build requisite skills. This helps to reduce fear and uncertainty and sets people up for success.
Strategic agility is the ability to see ahead clearly and to anticipate consequences and trends accurately; to be future-oriented. Someone talented in this area can paint credible pictures of the possibilities and likelihoods looking forward, which can create competitive strategies and plans. This is one of the principal competencies of successful leaders in a changing environment and what you need when times are tough.
Talk through with all staff the possible ramifications of a downturn, from mild through to severe and your plans for anticipating and responding in increasingly difficult times.
Address personal concerns
Don’t wait for your staff to voice their concerns about redundancies or lack of career opportunities – raise these issues head on. Generally, people aren’t listening to the rest of the messages if they are concerned about their own security. Spend plenty of time listening – understand what is happening at a personal level for each of your team.
Engagement in problem solving, brainstorming new ideas and planning for the future is motivating and more empowering than being told what to do. This can result in ideas the leadership has not considered.
Communicate (and communicate again) with your staff in a wide variety of ways from presentations, team meetings, brainstorm sessions and one-to-ones, both formal and informal. Be out there with the teams to know what the issues are; have a good feel for morale and be able to respond accordingly. While emails and the intranet convey information quickly and easily, face-to-face is the communication style most preferred by staff. Use it wherever possible, particularly on sensitive issues.
Lead by example
Leaders should be honest about the economic environment and its challenges for the business – and yet stay positive, exuding confidence that the company can work through this. If the leadership conveys anxiety and negativity, the staff will respond accordingly and productivity will slump. Be aware not only of the words used but also body language and tone.
Don’t stop reward and recognition
Just think about your focus – during a downturn, pay increases may be modest or frozen and bonuses reduced or stopped. Plan any communication around these with great sensitivity and military precision. Look for opportunities to praise and provide positive feedback. Use simple recognition awards when the team has done something above and beyond the norm. Research shows it is recognition that most motivates staff and it costs little or nothing.
‘Stick with it’
Motivation, morale and retaining key players requires doing all of the above day in day out, these are not one-off activities. A combination of management (systems, processes, planning and implementation) and leadership (clarity of direction, change – what/why/how/skills, motivation, and engagement) will bring success.
A behaviour strategy designed to complement the business strategy will highlight the key areas of human focus and will enable leaders to think strategically while addressing their employee’s concerns. Leaders will be able to communicate with their staff effectively and implement actions that empower individuals and teams to engage their efforts enthusiastically for optimum performance.
Cath Murphy is a partner at ChangeMaker International.