It’s this week’s news that crisis-hit construction firm Carillion announced it is going into liquidation after last-minute talks to save the business over the weekend failed. The collapse puts the future of Carillion’s 19,500 employees at risk and also heaps pressure on the government. Here, Carillion employees whose jobs and pensions are at stake should be the main concern, since they are blameless in this corporate meltdown, and it’s in times like these that employees need to be protected and taken care of.
For a manager, it’s really challenging to keep employees engaged while the company is experiencing tremendous change or facing a crisis, but great leaders know that managing uncertainty is a matter of putting themselves in the shoes of their employees and delivering the compassionate leadership they expect. People don’t want good intentions from their leaders during times of uncertainty; they want their leaders to be not only strong, confident and decisive but transparent and vulnerable enough in their leadership role to express a sense of genuine care and concern.
Employees are engaged when their leaders continuously provide insight and clarity to the situation at hand. Many leaders believe this type of approach may diminish their authority – but what they fail to realize is that this approach strengthens their executive presence and earns them respect along the way from their employees!
Here are five things every manager should consider in order to keep all employees engaged during difficult times:
1. Be Honest!
When someone asks you a question, give them an honest answer. Don’t dance around the issues. Have your employees’ backs and make them feel safe.
If it is a topic that you don’t have the authorization to discuss – then be honest and tell them that. Just be consistent and don’t share any confidential information with anyone within the department. Every leader has their favorites and those they can bounce their ideas off. In this situation, you can’t – because if you do and others find out, your leadership reputation and creditability will be tarnished, and their loyalty towards you may begin to wane. Honesty and consistency are key success factors to create engagement during uncertain times.
2. Listen to your employees!
Leading through uncertainty is a critical experience not only for you – but more so for your employees. As such, make it memorable and be extremely mindful through broadened observation so they can positively embrace it. Often you or your executive assistant will catch wind of the break room discussions and the rumor mill that is flowing throughout the office.
Listen and pay careful attention to everything that is taking place. Allow the collective knowledge that comes from all departments and their leaders to provide you with greater insights that can help you anticipate the unexpected and best prepare you to handle tension from employees – and neutralize it so that engagement can remain strong.
You have to live this type of critical experience in order to truly master it and it takes a tremendous amount of mental toughness to endure the journey.
3. Meet Often and Evaluate Mindset
Minimize distractions by having formal meetings with your department and sharing any insights you may have. These types of meetings are not only about providing status reports that channel out of your own senior staff meetings, but also about the opportunity to genuinely engage with your employees.
These meetings are intended to slow down the chaos and bring together the people that must be on your side in order to get through the uncertainty. Take the time to talk things out and bring down the intensity and lighten the mood. Having a strong understanding of how the uncertainty may be disrupting performance, attitudes, etc., will give you the insight you need to learn about your employees!
4. Create and Share Key Learning Moments
Employees know when you are mindful of their concerns, but also when you have the ability to take a potentially negative situation and make something positive from it.
This takes a tremendous amount of commitment and focus – but it’s a powerful way to keep your employees engaged and believing in you! Beyond formal meetings, quick impromptu huddle sessions where you can share key learning moments help you create a culture around the uncertainty that is focused on promoting the positive impact that can be gained from any situation. Be intentional about collaboration, making sure you give employees the room to ask questions and extract key learning moments that stimulate engagement.
5. Reveal Your Executive Presence and Be Yourself!
Your composure, how you react to the negative hallway dialogue, how you handle the politics and the effects of the uncertainty – all will reveal your true leadership style and approach. Each is an opportunity to unleash your impression as a leader. Always be present and be compassionate, yet decisive – and never stop engaging with your employees, who more often than not experience the uncertainty through a different lens and therefore have opinions that may not always be in alignment with yours.
In the end, you cannot go at leadership alone. It’s all about people, how you treat them and show your genuine compassion and commitment to their careers, their development and discovering their full potential. When you have executive presence, you can slow down and see and seize opportunities more clearly. You are able to make smarter decisions and can begin to anticipate the needs of your employees more clearly. When this happens, employee engagement becomes second nature regardless of workplace circumstances.