First Off - Don't Panic Or Feel Trapped
When disaster strikes, under the intense pressure to do something fast, it is very easy for leaders to make quick, isolated obvious decisions i.e. to have a round of redundancies. Very few people like to have to do this, but often feel they have no alternative. However alternatives are available, what they demand is a willingness to go beyond simple and obvious solutions and to call upon the wisdom and goodwill of the workforce. A leader who is willing to work appreciatively with his or her workforce in finding ways to survive and thrive in these challenging trading times will reap the benefit now and later.
Here are ten top tips for showing appreciative leadership to weather the storm
1. Stay creative. Don’t get drawn into ‘there is no alternative’ solutions or decisions. There are always alternatives; sometimes they are harder to see than the obvious solutions.
2. Work with choice over compulsion. If you need to cut the wages bill consider ways other than compulsory redundancies. Clearly voluntary redundancy and early retirement are good first places to go. Ask if anyone is interested in unpaid leave or working part-time for a while. Then spread the pain and include yourself. For instance you could reduce everyone’s working week and pay by 20%, including your own. Fix a date for review. Yes this is likely to introduce a scheduling challenge. What are your managers for? Make it clear that people have choices to work with you or to choose to leave if they think they can do better elsewhere.
3. Don’t cancel Christmas! Just do it differently. For many people it’s a huge job perk. And it’s effectively a reward for their work and loyalty over the year. Cancelling the Christmas party will be experienced as a punishment (the withdrawal of something nice in the environment) by many people. Instead get creative. How can you still provide a party for your staff on a less extravagant scale? Involve them in this question. Make it clear you still want to create the opportunity for an organizational celebratory gathering but the budget has, understandably, contracted, what ideas do they have for creating a cheap, fun event? Call on your people’s strengths, who is the natural party animal, who will be motivated to find a way to make it happen? Delegate and empower, you have other things to worry about.
4. Create and spread messages of hope not doom and gloom. Such messages might be around the themes that you have faith in your people, that this too will pass, that this slack time creates opportunities for investing in refining and improving processes, that the organization can emerge stronger and so on.
5. Use the intelligence, creativity, and resourcefulness of the whole organization. Don’t feel, because you are the well-paid leader, that you have to do it all yourself. People will be as keen as you that the organization survive. They won’t be as aware of you of the immediate dangers because they don’t have access to, nor do they focus on, the forecast figures. So, you will need to create and provide structures and processes to allow people collectively to understand, contribute and influence. Sending out a memo asking for ideas is unlikely to be sufficient. There are many existing methodologies that can help with this: Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology, Workout and other large group techniques.
6. Welcome volunteerism. You may only be able to pay for 4 working days but in the interests of the organization’s survival some people may be willing to work more. Welcome, appreciate and put to good use such offers, don’t assume or take for granted such support. Don’t penalize those who, for whatever reason, can’t do more. Ask and appreciate, don’t demand and expect.
7. Welcome flexibility. Put your people on the most important task. This may not be their usual task. ‘All hands to the pumps’ is a call people recognize and understand. Play to their strengths. If the most important task is talking to customers and potential customers then maybe some of your people could team up with a sales person to do their admin so they can spend more time actually talking to customers. Who has ‘informal’ relationships with your customers and could be called into play? Identify natural strengths, train in anything else needed.
8. Talk to your people. Share your knowledge in a carefully framed way. This is a time for inspirational leadership. It is also a time for humbleness and honesty. You need to combine an awareness of the scale of the challenge and of the hopefulness of success. You can’t make all the changes necessary to adapt quickly to new circumstances on your own or by diktat. To coin a phrase, it really helps if people want to change. Work to motivate them through hope and a belief in the future, not fear and despair about the present.
9. Be visible. Spread faith and confidence by your presence. Talk to people; be available for people to talk to. Resist the temptation to lock yourself away solving the problem. Ensure that your management team is out getting the best from their people, not locked away obsessing over spreadsheets.
10. Above all don’t panic, don’t allow others to panic, and don’t be panicked by the anxiety of others. People in a panic are rarely able to think creatively or flexibly, or to create confidence in others. Stay calm, create choice, involve others, offer affirming and appreciative leadership and find some support for yourself to enable you to do this.
To behave like this when all around you are going for the quick win of shedding longstanding and loyal staff is not easy. This is the time to recognise your organization as a collection of people of whom you have the privilege to lead. Recognise them as honoured followers, call out the best in them. Make it everyone’s challenge and not just yours to find ways to survive and thrive that are as good for the people, the organization, the present and the future as they can be.
More on using Appreciative Inquiry and other positive psychology techniques to boost engagement at work can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.
See more 'How To' in the Knowledge Warehouse.
Appreciating Change Can Help
Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at how we help with Leadership change.
For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715