Maintaining Team Morale and Enthusiasm in a Recession

Michele Warg
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Businesses world wide are facing probably the most challenging time since the Second World War. Most of those in positions of responsibility have little or no first hand experience of dealing with a recession on a global scale. In times of boom it feels easier to motivate and enthuse people because there is always the promise of a bonus or of promotion. The picture becomes very different if cash flow is short and there is constant threat of having to reduce the workforce. When the decision makers are feeling under threat and constantly face the stress that the responsibility for their own livelihood, and that of all those who work for them, it is very easy to make decisions which might seem right in the short term but can have far reaching negative effects on themselves and their workforce. When things are going well economically, there is always a paradox. Team and organizational leaders can choose to use money as their major motivator. The size of the bonuses was at times mind blowing. Staff were led to expect financial rewards for completing targets and it appeared to keep well qualified and able staff on the payroll. The reality was, in the experience of many of my staff, very different. When there is plenty of work about people have a sense of security and know that if things get tough in their current place of work they can always look for and find another job. Their loyalty can be to themselves rather than to their organization. Where unrealistic expectations are created around bonuses they can create massive de-motivation and a hemorrhaging of able people to other organizations. In times of financial difficulty there is an overriding need to have experienced, enthusiastic staff who are as committed to making the business a success as the Senior Management Team. As the competition gets more cut throat, it is the teams who work together, creatively and cohesively, who will win out. Morale, enthusiasm and having the key skills and competencies are absolutely vital if organizations are to survive in the long term. Money is not as available and the security of having a job in the short term is simply not enough to ensure that your organization is fit enough to survive the recession and ready to expand as the recession recedes. How can you motivate and enthuse your workforce in times of recession? There has been much research done about what motivates people. Money is a factor but is rarely at the top of people's lists. Here are my top ten principles for ensuring that you develop enthusiasm and commitment within your workforce, they work just as well at departmental level as they do within a large organization. 1) It is important that staff believe in what the organization stands for. A mismatch of values between the organization and the workforce will cause stress and a sense of dissatisfaction within the individual. - How well do your staff understand what your organization is about? - How do you know? - How well known is your company's vision for the future and its mission in achieving it? - Were they involved in creating it? - How might you engage your team in developing and embedding your values throughout the company or department? 2) Have Integrity Trust must be earned and it is vital that there is trust between leader and those who are led. When this is in place the team can face the most challenging circumstances together. Without it the future is bleak. We live in a time where politicians and many organizational leaders are disingenuous or economical with the truth. Once trust has been destroyed it is almost impossible to reinstate it. People are not as fragile as you think. Being honest does not mean being brutal. Stating the case clearly and being up front, even when the message itself is unpopular, is far less damaging in the long run than trying to make things look like something they are not. 3) Be Consistent Dealing with an inconsistent set of expectations or messages or people who blow hot and cold creates a sense of uncertainty which is damaging. There should be a consistent approach to decision making. Staff should be confident that decisions are being made for the right reasons and that decisions will be changed only when there is a valid reason. Moodiness and having favorites within a team is never acceptable. There is no room for ego in the successful team or organization. 4) Value Each Individual And The Contribution They Make Feeling that they are valued as individuals by the organizations success has a consistently higher rating as a successful motivator than money alone. This must be done from the heart and not as a mechanistic process. - How well do you know your team? - Do you know about their personal aspirations? - What opportunities are there for the contributions of individuals to be noticed by line managers and by those further up the line of responsibility? - Who notices when people are doing a great job or when they are finding things hard? - Does valuing staff happen by chance in your organization or are managers trained to develop this aspect? 5) Give Staff A Voice Which Is Heard When staff have high levels of stress, this comes from where people feel that they have no control over what is happening. Creating the opportunity for people to have their say, to be listened to and a real opportunity to influence what is to happen can significantly reduce stress and dissatisfaction. - Does your workforce have a voice? - Who listens to them? - What happens as a result of these conversations? Many decisions are taken without reference to those who do the job on a daily basis. Using their skill, experience and expertise can save costly time and mistakes. It makes sense on so many levels yet it is often neglected. 6) Create Explicit Realistic Expectations Creating expectations which are dashed creates huge levels of dissatisfaction on both sides. Only promise what you know you can deliver and be entirely up front about what you expect from them. When an organization has clear, high, explicit expectations of staff, it is far easier to have the hard conversations. When people feel they have been fairly dealt with they are much more likely to take the lessons on board. They cannot hide behind their indignation that things were unfair and as a result have to take responsibility for their part in the situation. 7) Give staff A Sense of Certainty Certainty or safety is one of the most basic needs. It is possible to give people a sense of control and safety even when there are huge levels of uncertainty around. The language used has a huge impact on whether people feel secure or not. Being truthful and involving people early on in the process can really help. It is the not knowing and feeling that you are being kept out of the loop which creates the most anxiety. It is not so much what you do but the way in which you do it which makes the difference. For example redundancy is likely to create huge levels of uncertainty and anxiety. This can be minimized by involving people in discussion early on and in keeping them informed with the most up to date information. Providing support to help them prepare to be on the job market once again also makes a significant difference to the experience. 8) Involve Staff In Finding A Solution As I write this article an organization which faced ruin twenty years ago is taking their entire workforce away for a celebratory weekend to say thank you for their help in the firm's success. Over 300 people will be boarding the train. When the company faced almost certain closure the Management sat down with the workforce to look for solutions. The situation appeared impossible. Out of the talks came the agreement that everyone would take a significant pay cut rather than bleed the company dry of the talent and expertise needed to turn the company around. Together they looked for creative solutions. The journey wasn't straight forward but twenty years later the firm has gone from strength to strength and is well placed to survive the current difficulties. When each individual within the team takes responsibility not only for their own contribution but also for doing everything they can to help each other to contribute fully, the team becomes incredibly powerful. Creating power teams where this principle underpins its working occasionally happens by accident but can be the norm with the right training and support. The benefits of every team within an organization becoming a successful power team far out weighs the cost of developing the training. Do you actively promote and train Power Teams within your organization? Your people are your treasure; they each bring skills and expertise much of which remains untapped. Are you making the most of yours? 9) To Motivate Your Staff You Need To Know What Motivates Them Listen carefully and you can discover what motivates them. The language they use, the actions they take can inform you of what internal drivers and motivators make them tick. Once you understand where they are coming from it becomes so much easier to speak their language and to give them the opportunity to thrive. When they are thriving professionally your department or organization has far more potential to succeed. 10) Don't Under Estimate The Power Of A Thank You A thank you which recognizes the efforts people have made makes a HUGE difference to the way they feel. A short note saying thanks for a job well done takes on a huge significance to the person receiving it when they know is really meant. A bunch of flowers or a small gift in recognition of someone going the extra mile makes us feel good in our personal lives and the principle is no different professionally. Taking the time and trouble to notice someone's effort is what makes the difference. If you are the boss take the time to notice who is working hard, who helps others and who contributes the energies to creating success. You can't put a price on the value of thank you. Most of these principles cost little or nothing to implement. They are more about attitude and approach. Training and coaching can be incredibly helpful in setting things up but the costs are minimal in relation to the potential returns. The cost of ignoring these principles will be a dissatisfied, anxious, stressed workforce who are likely to work harder in the short term because they fear for their jobs. In the medium to long term it will be the healthy, happy, well motivated and enthusiastic teams of staff who will create ongoing success in the market. The reputation your organization creates now, in how they deal with staff, will live on long after the market recovers. Attracting the right sort of staff when there is a shortage of highly skilled and experienced staff will be so much easier for the firms who are known to care and develop their people in hard times. The choice is yours! About The Author: Gina Gardiner is one of the UK's leading leadership coaches. She specializes in developing leadership potential from emergent to senior management level. She has a particular interest in work life balance. Visit her web sites at and

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  • Cheyenne
    I feel so much happier now I understand all this. Thanks!
  • Sondi
    Sounds great to me

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