“I can’t believe how hard this is – I used to enjoy coming to work every day, no matter the challenges,” lamented Jack, a long time client. “Now, it’s different. People are so fear driven that many seem to have given up. They seem resolved that things aren’t going to change anytime soon.” As I asked more questions, we started to drill down to the fact that the best part of leading for him was the opportunity to grow the business and to take the organization to higher levels of performance. Being in an industry that is undergoing challenges, this leader now found himself having to conserve resources, lay employees off and address employee “engagement” issues as people became distracted by the pressures they are feeling in many parts of their lives -retirement savings have dwindled, co-workers and family members have lost jobs and fear of economic collapse is still pervasive. This scenario is not unlike what is happening in many organizations today.
There are certainly many issues around leading in tough times and among the most common and yet, often unidentified is the fact that many leaders feel like fish out of water when they are not growing their businesses or contributing to growth in some way. Also daunting is working in a culture that was once primarily positive, only now to find more fear and less optimism. What are some of the things that you can do to address the current climate effectively and improve your circumstances?
Redefine Your Organizational Change Process
- Stay closer to your business or function than perhaps ever before. I was speaking to a company President I know and asked him: “What are you doing differently now?” He says that he keeps his ear to the ground and is more tactical than during past times. For example, he takes time to hear personally what sales is saying about what’s working and not. He looks at where he can improve operational effectiveness and takes action. He also strategically looks at the trends that appear to be impacting his industry and involves his team in addressing them.
- Stay connected to sales and customer service – what are customers saying? Are there other companies that have value propositions that make yours seem average? A wonderful example of this is Hyundai. They are offering their car to you for purchase or lease with a unique guarantee; if, by chance, you are downsized from your job, they will take back your vehicle without any penalty or credit risk to you. Other companies are now following Hyundai’s lead. Companies like Joseph Banks Clothiers will let you keep your clothing purchase free if you lose your job within a certain period of time. The economy is stimulating a lot of innovation in the customer service realm. What are you offering your customers that are experiencing difficult times?
- Keep communicating with your internal customers, the employees, often and with transparency. One of the biggest disconnects that I’ve seen consistently is that leaders see themselves communicating more often and more clearly to employees than employees feel that they are. I had once asked a leader who was superb at communicating, what her secret was. She looked at me directly and said, “I communicate the change we are making and why it’s important. Then I communicate again the change and why it’s important. Then I…” The point here is that it’s hard to over-communicate and usually, people want more communication rather than less. Moreover, in times of stress, employees want the real story or the “brutal facts” as Jim Collins has coined it. In our current economy, it’s important to be honest about the seriousness of the situation, be clear and specific about what’s happening and also to communicate what your plan is to address the issue. When possible, get input from employees so they see their hand in the plan. This can go a long way to build ownership.
These are just three of the things that you can do to lead more effectively in challenging times and redefine your organizational change process. 2013 brings a more positive environment for some companies. However, whether things are on the upswing for your business or you are still experiencing challenges, these recommendations will keep you ahead of the curve and be aligned with where your company is going.