By Jon Gordon
RISMEDIA, December 5, 2009—There’s no doubt about it: the past year or so has been a lean time for most companies. And while there’s hope that the worst (economically speaking) might be behind us, we aren’t out of the woods yet. The dark days of the recession have spawned a troubling new issue, one that could cripple organizations even as we head into recovery. The looming problem? A widespread loss of employee engagement.
“Even if companies haven’t literally lost their employees, many have lost them psychologically,” warns Jon Gordon, speaker, consultant, and author of the new book The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change. “Too many Americans are beaten down, burned out, and completely de-motivated. And if leaders don’t strive to change that—to create a positive culture that energizes people—there will be dire consequences.”
“For leaders, now is the time to improve your company’s culture and get inside your employees’ heads,” he insists. “You need to personally make sure that your company is a place where people want to work. You can allow the current economy to crush your morale, confidence and spirit, or you can choose to proactively shape your organization into one that is positive, resilient, and prepared to take on challenges.”
Here, Gordon shares nine strategies to help you boost morale and engagement in the current economy:
Focus on people, not numbers. True, there are a lot of numbers to worry about—investments, the bottom line, next quarter’s profits—and it’s easy to become fixated on those figures. If your brain is spinning with strategies on how to stay out of the red, Gordon suggests that you take a step back and remember that your company isn’t what shows up in the finance department’s spreadsheets—it’s the finance people themselves, and the HR department, and the salespeople, and support staff. Ultimately, an organization’s failure or success is determined by the moods, innovation, energy, thoughts, and behaviors of the people who work there.
Model good behavior. Leaders set the tone for how employees respond to almost every situation. They can inspire, or they can extinguish. For example, if you greet a worker cheerfully even though you’ve both had to come into work an hour early, he’s likely to mirror that attitude. Remember, whatever you expect from your people, you must also expect from your senior leadership.
Practice positive leadership. And no, “positive leadership” doesn’t simply mean the absence of overt negativity. It means remaining purposeful in the face of adversity. While it’s important to acknowledge the obstacles your organization is facing, don’t dwell on them in meetings or in individual conversations, and don’t bring up bad news before you’ve pointed out one or two things that are going well. Instead of being disappointed by where you are, optimistically focus on where you are going.
Fill the void. These are uncertain times. Employees are questioning how their industries and jobs will be impacted by the current economy. They’re unsure about what actions to take. Unfortunately, this uncertainly creates a void, and Gordon’s theory is that where there is a void, negativity will fill it. In the absence of clear and positive communication, people start to assume the worst, and they will act accordingly. As a leader, you must personally meet with your employees and continually communicate. You must be seen and heard, and you must also hear and see. If you always fill the void with positive communication, then negativity and fear can’t breed and grow.
Tell Energy Vampires, “It’s time to get on the bus…or off the bus.” No matter how many pep talks you give or good behaviors you model, your efforts won’t go far unless everyone is on the same page. You might be tempted to think that a few non-conformists and cynics won’t prove to be a major problem if the majority of your people begin to share in your positive vision, but Gordon insists that you’d be wrong.
Forbid complaining. As Gordon explains in his aptly named bestseller The No Complaining Rule, successful organizations with great cultures focus on solutions, not on complaints. The rule is simple. Let your employees know that they are not allowed to complain unless they also offer solutions.
Teach your people to be heroes, not victims. Gordon firmly points out that both heroes and victims get knocked down. The distinction between the two groups lies in the fact that heroes get back up while victims simply give up. Help your employees realize they are not victims of circumstance. Rather, remind them they have a high locus of control—in other words, they have a significant influence over how things turn out.
Focus on the small wins. The key, says Gordon, is to always place your attention on those little, ordinary, non-spectacular “wins” that add up to big successes. His credo is to expect success, look for success, and celebrate success. When you focus on small wins, you gain the confidence to go after and create the big wins.
Make sure you have sharks in your key positions. When the economy was thriving, it didn’t matter as much if key employees turned in a mediocre performance. Now, that isn’t the case. Gordon suggests looking at your team and figuring out which people display the characteristics of driven, go-get-’em “nice sharks,” and which are “goldfish,” or more natural relationship managers.
About the Author:Jon Gordon is a consultant, keynote speaker, and the international bestselling author of The Energy Bus, The No Complaining Rule, and Training Camp, all from Wiley. His principles have been put to the test by NFL football teams and Fortune 500 companies alike.