When times are good, leading a team or an organization can be exhilarating and gratifying. It’s also a bit easier to lead when you’ve got abundant resources and ample opportunities. When the going gets tough, the tough get going – or so the saying goes. When the economy takes a downturn or, I don’t know, say the price of oil drops dramatically and your organization depends on that industry, leading can be challenging, frustrating, and stressful, to say the least.
Unfortunately, many leaders in times like these become paralyzed by the doom and gloom economic predictions. And worse, many start having knee-jerk reactions and just cutting expenses willy-nilly.
As a leader, it is vital that you take a strategic approach to navigating through these turbulent waters. While there is no formula or absolute correct method,
Here are a few ways you can guide your team through the tough times:
- Streamline and improve processes. This is the perfect time to make your operations more efficient and to improve productivity. Think lean and mean. Tackle those rainy day projects that you never had time for.
- Communicate early and often. When the work starts to slow, the rumor mill starts to crank up. Your employees start to worry what costs will be cut and whether their job will be on the chopping block. If you don’t tell them what’s going on, they will let their imaginations fill in the blanks. And for whatever reason, people always imagine the worst. Be as transparent as possible and tell them the truth. The more you try to shield them from the realities, or worse, sugar coat the details, the more you create distrust amongst your team.
- Walk your talk. Now is the time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Don’t ask your team members to do what you are not willing to do. Go first. It may seem obvious, but make sure you’re not perceived as spending frivolously while asking employees to cut costs. Your words and your actions should be congruent, now more than ever.
- Love ’em or lose ’em. Research shows that the best and brightest employees will be the first ones looking for new opportunities during a downturn. Don’t let your competition snatch them up. Draw them in to the team, ask for their input, and let them know how much you value and appreciate their loyalty.
- Cut costs, but invest in your people. Legend has it that back in 1981, when General Electric was struggling, restructuring, and laying people off, the then new CEO, Jack Welch, made the decision to create a world-class internal business school for GE managers. It turns out that decision was a big part of the GE turnaround. Sure, I know you’re cutting costs and can’t spend a fortune on training, but during a slow time, you can develop your team members’ leadership and communication skills, which will mean that your organization will be poised and ready to roll when work picks up again. Oh, and it will pick up again.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Much easier said than done, I realize. Any negativity on your part, though, will be magnified by your people. Have a can-do approach to the temporary downturn and your team members will reflect that attitude.
A client recently told me that they are scaling back/cutting costs, until the price of oil comes back up. And then he said something that was the best ever compliment to me: He said, “I was talking to my superiors, and we all agreed that we need you working with our leadership team now more than ever.”
Wow. I am humbled and gratified that they get it. They see our work together as an investment in their company, in their leadership team, and in their success. They can expect a return on that investment in the form of greater levels of trust within the leadership team, better collaboration, increased employee engagement, and ultimately, improved profitability.
Are you just cutting costs willy nilly or are you strategically considering how you can help your organization not only survive – but thrive – through tough times?
- We’d like to hear your suggestions for how leaders can more effectively lead their teams through tough times.
- What strategies would you add to this list?
- Please leave a comment below and share your insights with our community.
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Jennifer Ledet, CSP, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker (with a hint of Cajun flavor) who equips leaders from the boardroom to the mailroom to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and communication. In her customized programs, leadership retreats, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, she cuts through the BS and talks through the tough stuff to solve your people problems.