Leadership for Recovery: From Surviving to Thriving

Leading changeHaving grappled with the recession for this long, senior managers and leaders have been focussed on staying afloat, cutting costs and delivering as well as possible under challenging circumstances.

In short: surviving.

Now there are some early signs of recovery, however, it’s time to focus on recovery and the future. In other words to thrive rather than just survive.

But the challenge is how to do that with less than you had before.  As the economy recovers there is even more pressure on organisations to be innovative and competitive while keeping costs down.

The role of the leader has never been so important.

People are the key to business success.  Research has shown that engaging and enabling employees boosts performance by 15-30%.  So, people are your richest source of competitive advantage.

But in today’s post-recession environment your remaining employees are also likely to be the “survivors”.  They are the ones who have worked through the cost cutting measures. The ones who you’ve already asked to accomplish more with less and who may have seen their friends and colleagues lose their jobs. Now, they’re likely to be tired after so much bad news, cynical about the future, distrustful of management, and wary of further changes.

In a nutshell employees are taking a wait and see attitude: everyone still wondering if they will be the next to go and not necessarily in the mood to make the utmost effort.

So what can you do to re-engage these valuable employees who have stuck with you so that you not only respond to the changing economic conditions but capitalise on them?

In this series of articles, we’ll be looking at five people-centred leadership strategies that senior managers and leaders can use to unlock the potential of their “survivors” and drive forward business performance.

  • Express Appreciation. It’s been a tough time.  Your people have been working hard and to some degree feel stressed and burned out.  They need to know that their leaders are listening to them, and appreciating their efforts.  Tell them what you are impressed with about the way they have coped with the difficulties and those achievements, skills and positive qualities that are strategically important to the organisation’s future.
  • Focus on the things that matter most. An uncertain economic climate can help to focus efforts on the activities that really make a difference to the business.  There’s a real opportunity now to learn from that and to ensure that you don’t return to activities and initiatives that don’t give value for money.  Major changes cannot happen overnight but small actions can make a big difference.Focus on those changes that are likely to deliver the greatest impact and create plans in manageable chunks.  Establish milestones so that at regular intervals you and your staff can review progress, celebrate successes and value individual and group efforts.
  • Get people excited about the future. Professional athletes and coaches in all sports know that imagining a positive future is a powerful way to increase the likelihood of achieving a great result.
  • Involve your employees in creating a positive future that captures people’s imagination and excites and energises the workforce.  Giving employees a powerful vision to believe in will provide the organisation with a source of strength and resilience going forward.  When times are tough it reminds everyone why they are doing this and what it will be like when they get there.Involve them in your decision making.   In times of difficulty, it can be tempting for leaders to take things into their own hands and begin legislating change for themselves.  This can make everyone feel more comfortable temporarily, but it is often a mistake.  Especially at a time when they are likely to feel out of control, people want to feel they have some influence over their future or at least that their views have been heard.  Your people have valuable knowledge and experience to help you in your decision making and they will be much more motivated to help if they have had a say in the way forward.
  • Give ownership and responsibility.   At times such as these when there is continual pressure to get more from less, you need all employees to take full ownership and responsibility for themselves and their actions.  You need every single employee to be working towards delivering the vision for the organisation and that means you need a coaching culture that unlocks potential throughout the organisation.  If you are to access the best thinking in your organisation you need to be genuinely curious and open to seeing things differently.  By admitting you don’t have all the answers and by asking for your people’s thoughts before you share your own, you can empower your people to contribute their best ideas and take ownership for acting on them.

Finally, remember to look after yourself too.  Be conscious of your own learning and make the time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t.  Look for sources of support.  Talk with others in similar positions to learn about the ways they are coping.  Above all, keep things in perspective and maintain a sense of humour.

Progressing from “surviving” to “thriving” will take time, effort and commitment but can also be a time of great learning and personal growth if you can stay self-aware and focussed on the future.