12 July 2010

Where Is The Love?

Forgive me as I wax nostalgic about the old days working for a corporation. I remember a time (back in the 80’s) when corporate executives behaved as though they cared about the people who worked for them. It was a time when bosses invited people to their homes for back-yard cookouts, and when spouses were invited to holiday parties. After five, co-workers would share a few laughs and a beer before hopping on their commuter trains. I loved my job and the people with whom I worked. I loved my company, and felt like that love was returned via nurturing by management, opportunities for advancement, and the occasional employment-enhancing perk.

Are those days gone for most corporate professionals? Where is the love?

Challenging economic times, legitimate scrutiny by wary shareholders, executive management types who have an immature approach to leadership, and people fearful of losing their jobs have all affected the corporate job climate. Times change, and some belt-tightening and audit requirements are certainly needed. But shouldn’t that make corporate leaders more creative about establishing an environment that encourages workers to be loyal to their employers?

In too many cases employees feel trapped in unpleasant situations, because they are “lucky to have a job”. Management under pressure can be threatening and/or uncommunicative, at a time when anxious workers most need reassurance and support. Layoffs have cut deeply and have affected not just the lazy and incompetent, but good, productive, hardworking people. The resulting environment is totally demoralizing to the survivors.

Hard times present an opportunity to forge new bonds of loyalty within a team. This is a time when straightforward, honest communication is sorely needed; when victories (however small) should be applauded and celebrated. It is a time when small kindnesses will be remembered and rewarded with strengthened relationships. Management needs to step up and set the stage for the future. What should be done?

• Conduct a climate survey to determine how employees are feeling today. (Use an outside company.) Don’t assume you know where their heads are, because they’re scared and most will tell you what they think you want to hear.
• Explain how the current economy is affecting business and how that is changing corporate goals and adding new pressure. Your employees are not stupid. Don’t keep them in the dark.
• Communicate regularly. Tell your team how often they will get an update from you, and stick to your communication plan religiously.
• As layoffs occur, announce them and immediately publish changes to organization charts. Chaos is inevitable if roles and responsibilities are murky, or if new reporting structures are left uncommunicated.
• Encourage productivity and accomplishments (however small).
• Managers, get off your ivory towers and relate to your employees. It’s hard for them to see you jet off to speak at a conference in Berlin when their budget has been cut by 20%. Help them understand your goals and priorities (and you’d better make sure they align with other things you’ve told them).
• Consider communicating with your employees via a Twitter account. “Just completed presentation to the Board of Dir’s. Got approval for our new project. Full speed ahead!”

If you want your team to stay productive and loyal, you need to add a little love back into their environment. It’s good business.

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