Today, many companies are either cutting back their workforces or enforcing hiring freezes. These actions result in companies trying to do the same amount of work, or more work, with reduced staff or with the same number of people. Employees wonder:
- What happened?
- Are we going to be next?
- Should I look for another job?
- How am I going to do my job plus take on additional responsibilities?
Needless to say, this causes major anxiety and fear. It drains the positive energy and motivation from the organization and the employees. What can leaders do to re-energize their workforce and maintain high levels of productivity? Try these strategies:
Strategy No. 1: Communicate
During unsettled times, it's more important than ever to communicate with employees. Things that should be communicated include:
- A clear articulation of the present and future vision of the organization.
- How the company plans to reach this new strategic direction, particularly if the direction has changed due to the down economy.
- How the organization will redefine itself to ensure it can sustain itself during the downturn.
- A simple explanation of the financials and the rationale behind any restructuring.
- A clear distinction of how each employee's roles and responsibilities add to the overall success of the organization.
Employees appreciate being "in the know," and want to contribute to improvements and future success. Once they understand why the company is doing the things they are doing, anxieties are channeled into increased productivity and creativity.
Strategy No. 2: Valuing Individual Contributions
Ensure every employee understands how their individual efforts contribute to the strategy and direction of the organization. It's important every employee has a sense of pride and commitment in their work by understanding the difference their individual efforts make in the overall productivity and profitability of the organization.
Strategy No. 3: Train
Training is critical to ensure employees are productive and effective, particularly if they have new assignments as a result of the restructuring. Individuals will need product, operational, and skills training.
Managers often forget one of the biggest motivators for individuals is continuous learning and growing. Training is truly the new 401K. Offering employees the opportunity to continually learn new skills builds their commitment to the organization and increases their productivity. When companies invest in their employees, employees have the opportunity to learn, grow, and become increasingly loyal and committed to the organization.
Leadership management training also is important for supervisors and managers in the organization. Many have never had to lead through the present level of business challenges. They need guidance, direction and back-to-basics management skills on how to coach, motivate, recognize effort, and reward results. With business pressures escalating every day, leaders need to be reminded of good management techniques.
Strategy No. 4: Ask and Listen to Employees
Employees want to see their organization succeed, and many have excellent ideas on how to save money, enhance operations, streamline processes, etc. This is a time when it's especially important to ask employees:
- What are the organization's strengths?
- What are the areas of development?
- What should the organization stop doing?
- What do you, as individuals, need to improve your efficiency and productivity?
- If you could give one message to the senior staff, what would it be?
Asking and listening to employee input reduces fear, helps them feel valued, and creates innovative and creative ideas the management team may not have considered.
Strategy No. 5: Engage Employees in Solving Business Issues
Once particular issues are identified, engage a team to develop solutions. When individuals are engaged and active in a process that's focused on business success, they stop worrying about restructuring and layoffs. People love to see that they're making a difference and contributing directly to the company's success. Improved efficiency and effectiveness are the results.
These teams will need structure, which can be achieved by having them position their thinking around the following:
- What's the present state of affairs for the business issue they've been assigned to resolve?
- What is the ideal state?
- How should the organization move from the present state to the ideal state?
- How long will it take to achieve the ideal results?
- How much will it cost?
In many cases, small immediate changes can—and will—be made, and this process of engagement and empowerment adds pride, commitment, and energy to the organization.
Strategy No. 6: Maintain Customer Satisfaction
Make sure all customers are well taken care of throughout the downturn. Because it costs 10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to support existing customers, companies cannot jeopardize customer satisfaction levels.
Customer relationship skills need to be at optimum levels. Ensuring employees have great relationship-building skills helps create instant rapport with customers, improving customer satisfaction levels. As an additional benefit, these skills allow co-workers to effectively communicate with one another in stressful times.
Strategy No. 7: Recognize and Praise Employees
During unsettled times, employees take on additional responsibilities and, in many cases, go the extra mile. It's particularly important in these down times for managers to recognize and praise these efforts. A simple, "thank you," or "great job," are meaningful things people want to hear. This will build incredible loyalty and commitment, and encourage people to work even harder.
In summary, employees want to be assured management is in control of the situation. They need to know their leaders have analyzed key information prior to taking action, and are looking for alternative solutions to solve pressing problems. At the same time, it's important for employees to understand the reasoning behind decisions made, and this brings us right back to communications.
Leaders need to be clear on the organization's direction and how the company plans to reach this new strategic direction. Ensuring every employee knows how they contribute to the overall success of the organization will increase motivation significantly. Motivated employees are efficient and creative, thereby increasing overall profitability and bottom-line results.
Lastly, do not be afraid to train people, recognize them, and praise them. Managers need to remember the two most underutilized words in the English language, "Thank You." When said with sincerity, there are fewer words that have more meaning.
Dianne Durkin is founder and president of Loyalty Factor, LLC. Based in Portsmouth, NH, Loyalty Factor is a training and consulting company that aims to foster customer, employee, and brand loyalty. Clients include IBM/Lotus, Kronos, Monster.com, Fisher Scientific, Greenfield Online, Telwares, and IKEA International. Durkin can be reached at email@example.com.