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Keeping Staff Motivated in Challenging Times


When the chips are down and times are challenging, it's essential to keep your team happy and motivated. If you do, you'll maintain production or even boost it. "Are you mad?", I hear you say. "I'm making cutbacks right, left and centre and doing all I can to hold it together. I just don't have time to be dealing with all this 'soft' stuff!" Well, I'd understand the reaction, but forgive me if I say it's also misguided. When the going gets tough, the clever get soft and keep their teams informed, on side and feeling valued so that they're motivated to help you maximise your opportunity even during difficult trading conditions. The following are a few tips for how to keep yourself and your team positive no matter what! 1. Communicate Openly If employees see management making cuts, driving targets harder, see sales fall and perhaps see some redundancies, wage freezes and so on, it's very easy for them to start to feel demotivated and fall into a negative mindset. Many may simply be waiting for the 'night of the long knives' and wondering when it will be their turn. When this is the case, they can't possibly be working at their best and this affects your business at a time you can least afford it. Involve your staff in your challenges and keep them informed of progress. Not all of the news will be good, but if you help your team understand that you want to keep them if at all possible and that they can have a key role in helping you find new, better and more economical ways of running the business, they may even come out with some great and unexpected solutions. So point number one is to communicate realistically and as honestly and openly as possible and get them involved in making savings, running things more efficiently and coming up with new ideas. The result is likely to be some great team work and a good old bit of Dunkerque spirit! 2. Set a Good Example Of course, as always, the example has to come from the top and, as a manager, you have to be seen to be positive and confident in a positive outcome. So be aware of the language you use, your tone of voice and your actions. if you are seen with a long face and appearing constantly under pressure, it will not be likely to inspire great confidence in your team. Remember, nothing lasts forever and you've no doubt, been through tough trading conditions before and survived. Things may be done differently as a result, but you're still here and still out there doing business. In the same way that patients with serious illnesses have a considerably better chance of long term survival if they have a positive attitude, the same is true of you and your business. Buy into the 'doom and gloom' crew and you're more likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. So try and keep the atmosphere light and discourage negative talk and gossip. That's what lost the confidence in the financial markets in the first place!! 3. Continue to Celebrate the Successes - However Small It's easy in downturns to cut back on everything and to be so focussed on what's not being achieved, that we forget to celebrate the small successes which undoubtedly continue during all circumstances. I'm not suggesting you throw lavish parties, but it's even more important in difficult trading periods to recognise extra effort, successes and so on. I have been in companies during recessions where people win hard-earned business and are met only with 'It's not enough though' and other encouraging words!! In order to perform, people need to feel valued and their efforts need to be recognised and if you're fair with people, you can have a low-key celebration and it will still be appreciated. Actively encourage your team to report ANYTHING good that happens - from savings achieved on operations to a major business win, to the receptionist getting engaged. It's even important than it was in buoyant markets, to focus on what's going right and what is working, so that you maintain a positive environment. 4. Get Things in Perspective It's easy when reading papers and the news to believe that the end of the world in nigh and positively looming! When we're surrounded with a constant stream of negative messages, it's like an ad campaign. The more they're repeated, the more we believe it and act accordingly. But this negativity is insidious and unhelpful. Sure, it's not a dream out there at the moment, but there is still business going on and there are still people spending and still in work and the markets will eventually recover. We don't know exactly when but if we can keep positive it's more likely to be sooner than later. If you find yourself getting dragged down by negative people, colleagues, news reports etc., limit your exposure to it and go and do something deliberately cheerful or put on some upbeat music that makes you feel like dancing. Sounds ridiculous? Maybe, but it works and will undoubtedly lift your spirits. 5. Keep the Atmosphere Light Even though there's clearly a lot of work to be done, it doesn't mean that people have to feel they're about to attend a funeral! It's important to allow a little levity in the work environment and even to create it by having a happy word of the day or putting upbeat music on in the office. Bring in some fruit or biscuits occasionally and keep the spirit upbeat. 6. Show Appreciation Especially when you may be asking people to take on additional tasks and may even be asking them to take pay cuts or freezes, it's really important to make people feel that they are noticed and that their efforts are appreciated. Make a point of congratulating someone for a job well done, make sure the simple 'pleases' and 'thank yous' are observed. You might even want to introduce an 'Over and Above the Call of Duty' award each week to publicly recognise extra effort and commitment. It can be fairly light-hearted and doesn't have to be a big deal, but few things motivate people more than being valued and feeling what they've done is appreciated. 7. Rethink & Retrain Just because we've always done something one way or another, doesn't necessarily mean it's the best way, so encourage people to be flexible and creative in their thinking and to contribute their ideas. This will encourage shared 'ownership' of any issues and can help employees understand why, in these conditions, a different approach may be just what's needed to turn the business around and keep it moving forward. This may involve some internal or external training, to make sure your team are ready to roll with any new ideas, modus operandi and procedures. You might also want to consider supporting your staff by providing short seminars and workshops from external providers (including myself of course!) who are able to provide loads of practical advice on how to work smarter, maintain a positive attitude, communicate positively, think creatively and so on. 8. If You Have to Make Cuts Make sure that you follow the correct legal procedure, treat people with respect and dignity and provide them with whatever services you are able to assist them in finding new employment. If you are restricted on budget and don't have a budget for a full Outplacement Service, you may want to know about the new Workshop for people who have either been made redundant or are worried about it. I am just completing the details and I'll be getting news of that out soon, but if you want advance details, contact me on [email protected] or call me on 0772 581 8884. It will also be important to keep those who remain behind and feel loyalty to those who have left on board, so that they understand why decisions have been taken and can move forward positively with their own work. If necessary, move people's seating arrangements so that nobody's 'out on a limb' and keep communication open and clear. 9. Don't Waste Energy Whatever may be going on in business, try not to waste energy focusing on what is not working and what might happen. This is very draining and does not help you feel optimistic or enthusiastic about what you're doing. What happened yesterday is over and we don't know what's round the corrner, so it's best just to focus on what you're dealing with today and enjoy any positives which come along. If you look for them, I promise, they're still there and still plentiful. 10. Look At Your Peers and Heroes Even though it's tempting to look at our heroes - famous entrepreneurs, celebrities and so on as if they never had a hard moment in their lives, many of them have experienced redundancy, bankruptcy, loss and some even jail sentences!! Of course, I'm not suggesting that any of you resort to dodgy trading, but it's good to remember that even from the most difficult situations, these people come right back and make a success because they've learned from their experiences and have been able to see the opportunities even when it's been difficult to do so. So keep your chins up - and keep positive!

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