Dave Conrad: Maintain motivation in troubling times

Dear Dave: I am a manager for a company in Rochester that appears to be losing interest in sustaining a presence and workforce here. Needless to say, my employees are quite nervous about the uncertainty this is causing. I want my employees to remain committed and be enthused about their work, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. Any advice? — R

Dear R: First, let me say that no company's future is completely secure and every employee wonders what news or actions are coming down the pike. However, even if it appears that your organization is moving or downsizing, you still can help your team members stay focused, positive and deliver results.

Working under fear of the future and wondering about the stability of a company is demotivating. It's no wonder those who are fearful of losing their jobs, or overwhelmed with the prospect of taking on more responsibilities, can quickly become demoralized, stifling productivity and well-being.

It's difficult for a leader to stay positive and strong when dealing with uncertainty and the possibility a company may say adios to the staff. However, your employees are watching your lead, so make sure you appear to be determined, focused, strategic and communicative no matter what is going on.

Please also keep in mind that you can see challenging times as an opportunity or as a threat. If you see it as an opportunity, this will impact how you respond and your actual results. It is crucial that you and your team focus time and energy on delivering results to your usual high standards, rather than getting caught up on negativity and complacency.


I think creating and effectively communicating a compelling vision is a vital leadership role.

This is why successful leaders also reinforce values in their communications. Shared values provide direction during times of uncertainty, comfort during periods of difficult change and inspiration in the face of adversity.

The importance of communicating — and listening more — during difficult times is extremely crucial. Even though communicating through technology is increasingly common, it never replaces face-to-face communication. Work on making an effort to connect personally with your employees, particularly when you sense times are most difficult. This not only reduces misunderstandings, but it builds trust. In short, don't hide; your staff wants lots of dialogue, honesty and as much information as possible.

Showing respect is critical. I think you should ask for input and respect the opinions you receive, while acknowledging results and expressing gratitude -- leaders must recognize the impact of their tough decisions and show appreciation to people for their efforts and sacrifices.

Good leaders also steer attention away from fear and uncertainty and toward a renewed purpose by describing clear, achievable, short-term goals (where the organization is going and steps to get there). Celebrating even small victories are particularly important in difficult times. Also, it's beneficial to emphasize results hoped for this month, rather than next year.

Be as honest as you possibly can. Whatever you know, share it with your employees. Don't try to protect people from the truth, or ignore what's happening. In tough situations, people are on high alert for lies and inauthentic messages.

If cutbacks occur, be visible and be clear about your expectations. I believe you should inform all remaining employees about the situation as quickly as possible and, preferably, in person. Carefully explain why such a difficult decision was required and acknowledge the impact on staff. Then, provide an opportunity for employees to express their feelings and their concerns.

Finally, I think people want to believe their work matters in any situation. Give your team a larger purpose. To keep people focused, give them something to work toward. Identify a profound collective purpose and communicate it often.

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