Fear and uncertainty are creeping into to organisations. Western Australia has in recent years been basking in the success of accelerated growth and the riches followed. We had a low employment rate which sent employers scrabbling for enough employees to deliver on the business opportunities, and mediocrity became the new high performer. Organisations were focusing on building employee engagement, knowing that the shortfall in resources meant that retention was vital. HR teams became the creative hub of the organisation designing new and innovative recruitment drives and developing new enticements for employees to stay.
Organisations rely on employee engagement and discretionary effort to meet the business challenges and its hard enough to do when times are good but what about when all that changes.
So the question that needs to be asked is how do you maintain engagement and vital discretionary effort during a period of change where redundancies and restructuring is a reality, where employees have been personally hit by failing shares or falling house prices, and where unemployment rates are increasing.
As human beings we tend work towards maximizing reward and minimizing threat. The increasing levels of fear and uncertainty will lead to higher levels of stress. In high performers that are already working at a high capacity this increased level of stress will impact their ability to deliver to the same level. As leaders how do we need to ‘be’? How do we need to behave to ensure that discretionary effort is maintained.
Things to avoid:
- Beware the knee jerk reactions – cutting something as simple as the budget for biscuits and coffee may be just enough to tip hardworking, engaged employees over the edge.
- Command and control may feel give you as a leader the fallacy of control but it will disengage people immediately.
- Secrecy erodes trust – behind the door meetings and whispers will be interpreted by individuals as being bad news. Employees may ask “what are they keeping from us – it must be bad!”
- Self interested leaders isolate their teams – fear and uncertainty may drive some leaders to become self-protective. Employees will notice immediately and the relationship will be damaged.
- Making the employees the problem – by apportioning blame for poor performance unfairly on hard working employees will disengage high performers in a heart beat. Unfair criticism or negativity will feed the negative energy within the team and organisation.
- Isolated leadership – becoming unapproachable or hiding in your office to avoid difficult conversations will undermine your credibility as a leader.
So what can leaders do to continue to engage their employees?
Be the best ‘self’ they can be – a fundamental starting point is to make sure that you are in the best physical, mental and emotional state. This is easier said then done as most leaders that come to my Coaching Practice are already depleted. Resilience has been eroded over the years and now more than ever we need leaders to create a strong personal practice to build up their resilience. For some of my clients it means getting straight back into exercise, for others it is making time for them or their families or reconnecting with the reason why they are doing what they are doing, linking in with their purpose and meaning.
By being your most resourceful, more of the time you are more likely to be able to keep perspective, maintain decision making abilities and be able to read the energy and feelings of those around them.
Have purposeful conversations – this is more than just communicate, communicate, communicate. Purposeful conversations are key to effective leadership in good times or bad. I have taught many clients that a conversation is NOT a monologue!! It involves sharing, listening and questioning. Having meaningful conversations with your team, key influencers and even your boss you will be able to grasp a good understanding of what they are thinking and how they are feeling. You will then know how to support them to become their ‘best self’ that then can be.
Being heard or listened to is fundamental to creating healthy engagement and great relationships. Now more than ever employees need to be heard and listened to.
Include employees in creating the solution – now more than ever innovation and creativity is needed, efficiencies need to be made, and the employees are a significant source of knowledge, opinion and ideas that could make a difference between your organisation surviving or thriving. In a recent workshop I heard one employee tell his leader “you are not an island, this is not all down to you, we can help”. The leader had felt the burden of responsibility and felt alone. And yet his team were keen to work together to come up with new strategies and solutions and make some of the tough calls together.
Create positive energy – it is easy for organisations to fall into doom and gloom with no good news, and bad news heaped on bad news. This will de-motivate your employees, reduce their ability to innovate and decrease discretionary effort. But it is not being a naive Polly Anna either. It is about addressing the mix, being factual about the organisations challenges and also helping them to create the solution and encouraging them along the way with celebrations of small milestones. Positive energy is a powerful motivator and it breeds more of the same, encouraging your employees to join together to face the challenges ahead.
Now over to you – what have you tried that is working in your organisation. Let’s help each other to help those in our business stay in the game during ’09.