Rallying the Survivors

Here are five ways to boost morale, rebuild trust and re-engage your people so your thinned-down team can achieve your key business goals

Written by Derek Gagne

Over the past year, the very tough economy has forced many companies to conduct layoffs to maintain the viability of their businesses. This has left employees wondering who’ll be the next to be let go. Will it be my co-worker — or me?

This fear will start to ease as the economy slowly improves and the waves of downsizing gradually come to an end. But your workforce’s anxiety levels will remain high. The morale of the survivors has taken a beating. They’ve seen colleagues let go, in some cases a shocking number of them. Those who’ve escaped being laid off are likely nervous, demoralized or even angry with the company’s management. They’re feeling ground down by heavier workloads and disheartened because there’s no prospect of an early improvement in the situation.

If that describes your company, you’re in a risky situation. Some of the key people you’ve hung onto through the worst of the downturn might jump ship once other companies in your sector start hiring again. And your firm’s prospects will dim considerably if you can’t get your surviving employees fired up again. Here are five ways to boost morale, rebuild trust and re-engage your people so your thinned-down team can achieve your key business goals.

  1. Don’t try to do everything: This is not the time for a complicated 12-step strategy for success. Identify your core strategies and develop a list of no more than three to five key goals on which to focus. Communicate clear expectations and ensure that everyone works as a team to achieve these goals. More importantly, stop doing things that aren’t aligned with your firm’s core strategies. For example, if one of your key areas of focus is to increase sales through referrals, you might want to postpone expanding into a new market with highly uncertain prospects. Focus on where you’ll get the biggest payoff for the time, money and effort invested. Your people will thank you for making it clear exactly what they need to deliver — and what they don’t have to worry about.
  2. Use recognition programs to re-energize your people: Communicating clear performance expectations isn’t enough. You then need to recognize those employees who meet your expectations, telling them that you appreciate their efforts at a time when everyone must do more with less. Easy-to-implement recognition ideas include team lunches, gift certificates for completing a special project or, most importantly, sitting down one-on-one with employees to say, “Thank you.” Make things fun, keep the tone positive and focus on opportunities, not problems.
  3. Enlist your team members’ ideas for boosting productivity: Now is the time to focus on finding ways to streamline your core business processes. What else could your staff be doing if they weren’t spending so much time on inefficient processes? Encourage your employees to think about how to cut out unnecessary steps, or ones that don’t add value. Set up ways for your staff to submit their streamlining ideas, such as via your intranet or a suggestion box. And don’t let these ideas gather dust. Review them every week or two. Thank your employees for their input, explaining that you appreciate having a flow of ideas from them, even though not every suggestion will be implemented. Act quickly on the good ideas, and recognize those who’ve submitted an idea that got implemented. As well, you can gather staff from various departments to look at improving processes from different perspectives. For example, a cross-functional team from sales, finance and marketing might meet to brainstorm ways to improve your accounts-receivable process.
  4. Step up your employee communications: Now more than ever, your staff need to feel more of a connection to their employer. During uncertain times, employees have questions and concerns about company results, challenges and their future. To engage current staff and rebuild trust, you must communicate, communicate and communicate! Most importantly, be open, up front and honest about current challenges and where your company is going. Establish weekly team meetings and opportunities to connect in person. Make yourself available and visible. Giving your employees a chance to hear information directly from you and ask questions first-hand will engage them; e-mail and memos don’t cut it in tough times.ÀšÃ‚
  5. Invest in skills upgrades: It won’t be easy achieving your business goals with fewer people to handle the work. Doing so will require your surviving staff to become more productive, and one key to this is to give them the skills training they need. For example, an employee who already has strong expertise in a given subject matter will be able to take her work to the next level once you provide her with project-management training. Focus on performance management to identify top internal talent and provide them with training and learning opportunities. Doing so will require spending a bit more on training. But if you help your people develop their skills now, they’ll be far more likely to stick around as the job market starts to open up again. And with their new skills, they’ll be more likely to go above and beyond the call of their current jobs to learn and apply their new capabilities.

Derek Gagné is president of Vancouver-based talent management consultancy Derekgagne.com. He has been helping organizations with their recruitment and retention strategies for more than 15 years. His areas of expertise include workforce planning, recruitment, retention, leadership development, organization development and customer service.

More columns by Derek Gagné

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com