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Leading During Turbulence

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the Greater Valley Forge Human Resource Association’s seminar entitled Leading During Turbulence.  After discussing how the country got into its current financial state, the facilitator, Tricia Steege, talked about the implications for organizations.  There weren’t a lot of surprises on the list: reduced cash, budgeting and re-budgeting (in some cases weekly), short-term/reactionary thinking, new technologies, fewer people to do more work, non-traditional forms of competition, cutting corners/fraud, and really stringent hiring.  We also discussed how leaders have more responsibilities than ever: they need to make tough decisions, tend to survivors, and deal with decreased engagement, fear, increased demands, and reprioritization of goals.

For the second portion of the session, we shared our own experiences with extraordinary leaders who portrayed greatness in difficult times.  As a group, we decided extraordinary leaders typically possess some combination of the following: optimism, good communication skills, teamwork, determination, fun, openness to opposing viewpoints, willingness to roll sleeves up, passion, heartfelt relationships, and follow-through.  Leaders have to be credible and humble, inspiring with compelling visions, realistic yet optimistic, and involved.

The central theme of communication ran throughout the day’s discussions.  The anecdotes people shared (both positive and negative) mirrored what we’ve heard through the thousands of exit interviews we’ve conducted over the last several years.  Here are a few pointers to help leaders remember how to maintain open and positive communication even when things are tough:

1.  Give team members a hearty handshake and a thank you.  When possible, send a heartfelt note.  This little effort goes a long way, and is often even more impactful than rewards that cost a lot more.

2.  Require multi-unit managers and executives to find the good happening within each restaurant.  How powerful for a manager to hear their boss or an executive say, “I understand your breakfast sales are up four weeks consecutively.  Great job!”

3.  Conduct “Caught you doing something GREAT” visits wherein multi-unit managers focus only on the positive.  Share the positive findings across the company.  What an inexpensive way to boost morale!

4.  Stay optimistic, but most importantly, be honest.  We’ve heard of executives saying there won’t be any layoffs, and only days or weeks later, people are cleaning out their drawers.  This deteriorates the trust level within the organization for those employees that remain.

5.  Regardless of what you have to cut, keep the personal touches, like the birthday card from the CEO, or the anniversary recognition for a long-term employee.

6.  Create informal learning opportunities.  Development is extremely important to managers and by identifying subject matter experts within your own organization, you can provide supplemental development for free.

These are challenging times for leaders and their teams alike.  However, leaders bear a great amount of responsibility in keeping their teams confident and engaged.  It’s important not to overlook how little things can add up to have a great big impact.

Christin Myers

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