How leaders can lead in tough times

James Agarwal

Keeping the ever evolving economic scenario in mind, many companies are feeling the financial crunch which has resulted in hiring freeze in many sectors. It has also been observed that many firms are headed for tougher days ahead hence need-based hiring will be seen as the key trend. Multiple factors are contributing to the imminent job freeze: an across-the board slowdown, the rupee going into a tailspin, a turbulent political scenario, policy uncertainty and a poor investment climate.

While no sector is immune to the economic slowdown, many have been hard hit and are coping to keep the ship floating.  To overcome adversity, company leaders need to repair their reputations within their company as well as inspire their teams. At the same time to be a good leader one has to build trust with their stakeholders – their customers, employees, investors, and constituents. Here employees play a key role as their collective efforts help in meeting company goals and objectives. In order to keep the employees in their best shape, it is vital to acknowledge and keep the team intact, some of these are:-

Watch for the warning signs

When a business goes through dramatic upheaval, the leader often has some advance notice.  That time period allows them to accept and deal with the problem before it becomes widely known.  As a result, the leader emerges ready to take on the next challenge. But, for the vast majority of employees, when the bad news surfaces it can be a sudden and unpleasant surprise.

That means that leaders need to be attuned to the warning signs that their employees are grappling with the upheaval.  Such signs include a steep increase in the number of meetings coupled with reduced productivity in meetings because of reluctance to make decisions (i.e.  “Let’s see what happens next”). Other signs include an upsurge in rumors, people openly questioning authority and valued staff leaving. Indicators can also come from external sources that have received bits of information from within the company. Such signs include suppliers who, for no apparent reason, demand payments faster than usual or long-standing clients who are reluctant to renew contracts.

Acknowledge the causes of concern

Recognizing the warning signs is the first step in developing a communications approach for inspiring your team during tough times. But, it’s just as important to acknowledge two core reasons why the upheaval causes such personal disruption.  First, bad news at work is a blatant reminder that uncertainty exists even in settings where there are established processes, routines and predictability. At work, such unproductive behavior takes the form of people being easily distracted from important priorities. The second element that emerges from a dramatic upheaval at work is the feeling of loss of control. When employees feel that their ability to control their own areas of responsibility is reduced, they will disconnect from projects or teams that once served as a sense of pride and satisfaction.

Take charge

To inspire employees under these difficult conditions, leaders can take several concrete steps. For example, to address the fear of uncertainty, leaders should proactively emphasize those things that are stable such as corporate goals and priorities. This is also a great time to hone your story telling skills and play up work done with long-standing clients — i.e. those who have seen your company undergo changes but have maintained their faith in your products, services and leadership. You can also use this as an opportunity to acknowledge employees who have been with the company for several years.

In parallel, leaders will need to address the feeling of reduced control. One of the best ways to do so is to actively engage teams as part of your communications strategy. For example, empower them with the responsibility for updating the rest of the company about how they and their teams are contributing to the success of the business. This reinforces for them that they play an important role whether that involves making the company run more effectively, finding great new employees, securing new business, developing innovative products/services or gathering key market insights. It also gives team members the opportunity to take control over sharing valuable news with others.

Finally, there are some tactics that leaders need to avoid in order to make sure that their communications inspire employees during tough times instead of alienating them.

One of the most important qualities of a good leader is to be able to manage the team and keep it together as one. Once that is in place every task is accomplished which not only keeps the team motivated but united as well.

A company had hired an entire batch of new employees for a particular project and suddenly the project was cancelled. Instead of handing out pink slips to the new recruits, the company went ahead and made some budgetary adjustments and absorbed them in other streams. This helped in retaining the employees and sustaining the company growth.

Trying to make a mark in volatile times such as these is difficult. What you can do is place your faith in your employees and let your team know that they are stakeholders in your success.