DILEMMA: Motivating staff has never been a problem but the downturn in business has hit us hard. No matter what I try, I can't seem to get them energised. We're losing momentum and confidence. How can we recover?
ISSUES: Why is motivation low? Maybe because the staff aren't dumb. They recognise the reality of a downturn. More work, increased pressure, smaller budgets, lower rewards and reduced career prospects. Think about the actions you've taken from their point of view. How inspiring have they been?
Then think about yourself. Why? Because it's hard to motivate others if you aren't motivated yourself. What are you trying to achieve? Do you have a galvanising vision that will deliver a compelling future for the staff? A clear strategy makes it easier to come up with the right rallying cries. A confused one is a gift to the cynics. You won't have all the answers and you shouldn't pretend that you do. In leadership, humility and honesty are as essential as confidence.
Think about your leadership style. Does it need adapting? Do the staff have confidence in you? Autocratic clarity has a lot going for it in times of trouble, but you must have your top team right behind you.
In a time of difficulty you can't sit at your desk worrying. Get out there and communicate where you are and what you are expecting of people. Then keep recognising progress and applauding success. If you're asking your staff for exceptional performance, show exceptional appreciation when they deliver it, and avoid silly penny-pinching.
If you need to cut staff, cut deeper than you think you have to. Otherwise, the feeling of death by a thousand cuts will destroy morale. Conserving cash and preserving capability is hard. How you treat your staff in a downturn will influence their loyalty when the market picks up.
- Be realistic about where you are and why morale is really low.
- Make sure you are motivated yourself, and remember that humility and honesty are as valuable as confidence.
- Develop a genuinely compelling vision for everyone else.
- Galvanise your top team into action.
- Whichever approach you adopt, be genuine and sustain it. A few motivational tricks will have no long-term impact.
- You don't get out of a tailspin without a firm grip and huge conviction. So get a grip!
Patrick Dunne works with 3i.