Management During Hard Times

LEADERS FACE huge challenges during layoffs. One of the greatest is trying to figure out how to keep human capital loyal, engaged and inspired during a climate of layoffs and declining pay raises.

A survey from the Center for Work Life Policy of 1,500 high-income workers indicates that trust and loyalty levels are hitting new lows. Only slightly more than half of those surveyed felt “loyal” to their company and nearly two-thirds said they felt “demotivated” at work.

The pace, pressure and complexity of work has increased dramatically. Meeting the productivity and profitability demands of today’s economic reality will require teamwork and collaboration. Research shows that teams of four or five people can think of more ideas and better solutions to problems together than the same individuals working alone. Unfortunately, these days many employees are focused on self-preservation, which can be the death of the “team.” Getting everyone rowing in the same direction will be a huge competitive advantage in this economic crisis.

What can managers do to improve team engagement and motivation during times of adversity?

  • Walk your leader “talk” or risk losing respect and loyalty. Demonstrate how you are sacrificing if you expect your people to do the same. The best example of what can happen when leaders don’t: The congressional and public outrage that followed the CEOs of the Big Three automakers arriving in Washington on their corporate jets to plead for bailout money. Hardly a demonstration of personal sacrifice. Actions always speak louder than words.
  • Treat employees like the adults they are. Don’t sugarcoat bad news or use phony management-speak. Share information and be transparent about how you or the company are making tough decisions.
  • Call your team to bold action. Identify what’s at stake, what’s in it for them and the need for “everyone’s head in the game.” Motivate and engage workers by involving them in the problem-solving process to surface new ideas, test assumptions and build a solid plan. In the end, they will be more committed to their part of the action plan.
  • Foster community. Humans need connection to make it through and make sense of difficult times. Give people opportunities to share experiences and their concerns. The expression of emotions can foster support for one another. It allows people to see how others are having similar experiences (“We’re in this together”) and can clear the air. (The danger for dysfunctional behavior is high when emotions are driven underground.)
  • Help your team learn to work better together. Bring in a facilitator to drive more honest, healthy debate in meetings and improve problem solving. The stress of today’s workplaces necessitate that workers learn how to resolve differences and communicate more effectively with one another. For workplaces, the skill of giving and receiving feedback should be as fundamental as computer skills. Yet few employees know how to do it. The good news: There are professionals who can help your team learn new critical skills.
  • Demonstrate respect. We all want to feel valued. How management treats workers is critical to whether or not employees will be engaged, loyal and motivated. Telling employees they are “lucky to have a job” sends the wrong message. Instead, send the message that the company is lucky to have such talented and committed workers to get the company through hard times! Leaders need both employees’ hearts and minds in the game to win.
  • To keep A-list players motivated, maintain training or coaching programs targeted to management or leadership development. Cutting these programs sends a message that there are no longer long-term career opportunities, leaving the business vulnerable to having stars picked off by competitors.