Leading During Turbulent Times

In one of his last interviews with Forbes, famed business thinker and writer, Peter Drucker said, “Make sure the people with whom you work understand your priorities. Where organizations fall down is when they have to guess at what the boss is working at, and they invariably guess wrong. So the CEO needs to say, “This is what I am focusing on.” Then the CEO needs to ask of his associates, “What are you focusing on?”

Right now many business leaders are facing a great challenge: navigating through a down economy while keeping employees at the top of their game. Here’s a plan to keep your business and employees in top performance mode.

Simplify your business plan
If you’ve seen a slow down in sales, an increase in cost or other mounting pressures, then it’s time to refocus your goals and reset your top objectives.

  1. Create a small set of quantifiable objectives with timelines and hold people accountable for those objectives
  2. Identify and remove the roadblocks that hinder your team’s performance

Communicate with your team frequently about these objectives. Communication is the glue that holds the organization together and helps to reduce fear and uncertainty among employees.

Commit the plan to your employees
One of the key factors in keeping top talent during both lean and good times is to be a strong and effective communicator.

  1. Communicate your “must do” items to employees
  2. Ask everyone on the team to identify things they can personally stop doing that will free up valuable resources to handle the “must do’s”

One of the secrets to addressing the “must do’s” is to keep conversations focused on what has to be done to accomplish the organization’s top objectives. Oftentimes leaders can spend too much time planning or spread themselves so thin that they lose sight of the day-to-day priorities. Challenge yourself to stay focused on a few significant things that will ultimately determine your success.

Lead your employees
True leaders shine when it’s tough sledding. Employees want to work for strong leaders who have a plan and know where the company is headed. Here are some things you can do immediately to successfully lead your team through rough times.

  1. Reward your people for the results they achieve not for how hard they work.
  2. Don’t cut back on rewards and recognition during leaner times. Now more than ever, you need your core team to feel appreciated and important.
  3. Be honest and tell your team what they need to do to win.
  4. Keep your employees well informed to help mitigate fear.
  5. Be hard on performance and easy on people.
  6. Acknowledge success and reinforce the positive.

As a leader you must also be willing to feel an equal amount of pain as your team and demonstrate self-sacrifice so that employees understand that “we’re all in this together.” You have to be as committed to them as you want them to be committed to the company.

Always remember to treat employees with dignity and respect. If you’re going to have to reduce your workforce, do it in the most honest and respectful manner possible. Tell your team what the company is facing, encourage them to ask questions, and answer those questions candidly. Ask them what you could have done to have reduced or even prevented the force reduction.

People are your most important asset, and to that end, let your employees know that you are committed to their success. That means, be accountable to your team and ensure they are accountable to you. As Drucker noted, the key to leading is to ensure you and your team are on the same page in terms of goals and the actions needed to get them done.

Vistage speaker Bob Prosen is the best selling author of Kiss Theory Good Bye – Five Proven Ways to Get Extraordinary Results in Any Company

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