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After a Restructuring, Focus on Employee Motivation

After a Restructuring, Focus on Employee Motivation

By: Cy Wakeman

The aftermath of restructuring and layoffs has left many leaders puzzled about motivating employees and how to generate employee loyalty among the “survivors” who are feeling injured, distracted, and overworked.

While challenging times can certainly be “depressing,” they don’t have to be “de-motivating” to your employees, especially in the face of great leadership.

Great leaders are quick to separate the concept of “morale” which is how employees are “feeling”, from “motivation” which is the ability to turn talent into productivity. Even employees that are feeling lower morale can remain highly productive.

Prioritize Employee Motivation
To keep motivating employees in spite of challenging circumstances, let your mantra be, “Lead first, manage second.”

Tempting as it may be, the worst response to a dip in employee productivity is for the leaders to forsake their core functions — capturing the hearts and minds of employees — to zero in on management duties (dealing with the complexity and logistics of getting the work done.) And yet, many leaders feel justified as they attempt greater control and begin to over manage — working on the business and to under lead — rather than working on the people who work on the business.

To create an environment in which employees can maintain their motivation levels in the midst of challenges, leaders need to focus on four areas:

• Clarity
• Buy-in
• Trust
• Development

Employees Need Clarity to Remain Motivated
In down times, ambiguity becomes the enemy. Ambiguity leads to conflict and the personalization of situations because employees are left to fill in the blanks at the very time they are feeling most fearful and negative.

Work diligently to remove as much ambiguity as possible from the workplace. Over-communicate what you do know and be honest about what you don’t know.  Repeat the information often. Help your employees to put their current reality into perspective. Keep them in their own lanes by clearly delineating current organizational goals and their roles in achieving those goals.

Stop encouraging employees to “Think Outside of the Box”, which can actually derail motivation levels because it comes across as “Pie in the Sky” and out of touch with reality. Redirect employee energy from resistance to problem-solving by encouraging them to “Think Inside the Box.” The “Box” is made up of the desired goal and the constraints currently in place such as a freeze on headcount or limited funding. By “Thinking Inside this Box,” you will be generating real solutions that respect the very real constraints of current challenges.

Employees Need to be able to Trust You
Work to ensure that your employees can trust you as a consistent, dependable leader who is committed to their best interests and outcomes. While you may not be able to reassure your employees that their jobs are secure, you can assure your employees that you will work diligently to develop them so that they are best prepared to handle whatever comes their way. Resist the urge to commit the fatal motivational sin — shying away from leading the group forward — and instead, personally editorializing on key management decisions.

It is an immediate threat to your trustworthiness when you abandon your leadership responsibilities to share your pain or to collude with your employees. They are looking for you to put aside your needs and fears in the moment and to provide realistic and inspirational leadership — step up and give it to them.

Buy-in is not Optional but it is Motivating
Too often during economic downturns leaders begin to expect and accept less from their employees. “Since I can’t give you a great raise, I guess buy-in is optional.” Many leaders believe that engagement and happiness comes from lack of stress or issues at work, when in fact engagement and happiness comes from the level of personal accountability one exhibits in their own life. Insist on buy-in each and every day.

Hold your employees accountable to succeed in spite of the circumstances. Let their motivation be built by overcoming difficulties under the direction of a great leader who cares about them and recognizes their great achievements.

In Challenging Times, Turn Up the Volume on Development
Give your employees time, attention and challenging assignments. The greatest development does not come from attending training, it happens when employees are given challenging assignments and are supported and coached to success.  Make your commitment to employee development conscious and visible. Let them know that while you may not be able to offer monetary-based rewards this year, you will compensate by increasing their capabilities and capacity.

Author Bio
Cy Wakeman
is a dynamic keynote speaker advocating a revolutionary new approach to leadership.  Her ground breaking ideas are featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and SHRM.com. She is a significant thought leader with entertaining podcasts on thegurunation.com and is a favorite expert blogger on FastCompany.com.  Her book, Reality Based Leadership – Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses Into Results (Jossey-Bass, 2010) is now available for order at all major on-line book retailers. For more information, visit CyWakeman.