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Look After Your People in These Tough Times and They Will Look After Your Organisation Print

Every newspaper, every business magazine or journal and many of the emails we receive every day have news about the recession we are about to have and the global economic crisis we are supposedly experiencing.

It would be very easy to be overcome with fear, doom and gloom, anxiety, depression and despair.

On the other hand, we do not want to make light of the world situation we all find ourselves in. It is unprecedented. It is volatile and unpredictable. There is every indication that the outcome, when the dust settles, will be a new economic order, a new way of being and doing.

In the meantime, the message is that we have to batten down the hatches, put our nose to the grindstone, get tough on our employees and keep a very tight hold on the reins.

In short, life in the foreseeable future is going to be tough, serious and certainly no fun!

But will such an approach bring success? Will it engage your people to support you through this tough period? Will it motivate them to give everything they have to work with you not just for you over this time? It will be your people who will be responsible for either your success or your demise. How you manage and look after your people in these tough times will be crucial.

As a CEO, senior executive or manager in an organisation at the present time, you are probably setting a new agenda for the anticipated tough times ahead.

It would not be surprising if most, or many of you, are thinking contraction rather than expansion, crisis rather than opportunity, cost rather than value. You may very well be deeply concerned about how you will meet targets, attain goals, meet budgets, get credit or manage cash flow, for example. You may be concerned that you will have to drive your people harder to perform, ask more from them while giving them less - decreasing or even removing bonus incentives, restricting access to training and development, removing flexible work family balance arrangements, for example.

Maybe you have had a meeting and told them all this, or maybe you were not even courageous enough to face them so sent them a memo by email. Maybe there has been no discussion about it with your people. Is it possible that people feel it has been imposed on them? Could they feel that they are just pieces on a chess board to be moved around at will so that you and your organisation can win the game? Might your fear and concern be creating a culture where people feel on edge, fear redundancy if they do not meet the terms of your new agenda? Is disengagement setting in?

This approach focuses on ensuring that your people meet the terms of their employment contracts. It carefully measures how much the organisation has to give to meet its obligations and gives no more. At the same time it calculates the utmost it can take from its people in terms of this contract. It adheres to the letter of the contract - for the good of the organisation - and "your jobs", of course.

So what happens to people in these situations? The under-performers, whom you could afford to lose, stay, fearful for their jobs because they sense they would not get anything elsewhere. They are unable to be creative or innovative or take risks that could create new opportunities in these challenging times. They are already jaded, disillusioned and disengaged. Your most talented people, the ones you need to get you through this phase, feel there is no room to grow and advance in this kind of environment and look for work elsewhere. Or, they also stay but only bring their bodies to work, leaving the most important part of themselves at the gate - their hearts and minds and spirit. This is the part that houses the talent and potential that sets your people and organisation apart from the rest and is most needed in tough times.

So what is the alternative?
Focus instead on creating a new psychological contract with your people that emphasises your mutual relationship.

Make them a promise - We will look after you in these tough times if you will look after our organisation.

Call on them to work with you, not just for you through these times.

Be open and transparent about your new agenda.

Be clear about your expectations of them.

Get them aligned with your new agenda.

Communicate, listen, communicate, listen, communicate, listen.

How do you do this? Set Up Emotional Bank Accounts for All Your People.

Every organisation is different and some will do this much more easily than others because they already have a culture that facilitates such an approach.

For those that are not so advanced in this area, now is a good time to begin. Stephen Covey's concept of "the emotional bank account" offers both insight and ideas. It is a very good metaphor to explain what organisations need to be doing with their people, not just for these tough times, but for all times.

We all know about financial bank accounts. We all have one or many. We deposit our money into that account, save it until we need it for the "rainy day", the emergency, the unexpected event. We then withdraw it to meet that need. If we have consistently deposited into that account, we can withdraw when we need to and still have money in the account. We then build it up again. What we get from consistently depositing like this is a security and knowing that when we need to call on extra money to support ourselves it is always there.

Covey says that we need to set up "emotional" bank accounts in all our relationships - with our partner, our children, our family and friends, and of course, in our workplace. Organisations can set up emotional bank accounts for their people.

If organisations regularly make emotional deposits into the bank accounts of their people and build up that account, they can then withdraw from their people's account in the emergency or tough times for their organisation, without damaging that bank account too much, without damaging their relationship with their people. This is just another way of understanding "psychological contract".

If an organisation has not made deposits into their peoples' emotional bank accounts, and they attempt to withdraw in times of crisis, they emotionally bankrupt the relationship with their people and they feel used, even abused and often betrayed. Without a good relationship with its people an organisation is in trouble.

It is important to find out what constitutes a "deposit" for your people. Do not assume that a pay increase or a promotion is what will make them feel good about the organisation and inspire a greater commitment. Instead they may want you to tell them, in words, how valuable they are to your organisation. Something that simple (and inexpensive) may be seen as a substantial deposit into their emotional bank account.

It is often the multitude of little things that make a difference. It is also often the people in the leadership team with the highly developed people skills who have the sort of "wealth" to deposit consistently and continually.

What Kinds of "Deposits" Build Strong Emotional Bank Accounts for Your People?
  Valuing and appreciating your people,

Working with and developing their strengths,

Encouraging them and being affirming,

Giving them feed-back that is constructive and supportive for their career development,

Building positive and affirming relationships with them,

Calling them by their names,

Listening to them and asking their opinion,

Seeking to understand their position,

Being flexible and adaptable around work/family balance,

Giving them room and opportunities to develop their talents and potential, empowering them to greater success,

Acting with integrity in your relationship with them

Showing interest in their work and achievements,

Trusting them to do the job they are employed to do and letting them know you trust them.

If you are now asking: "Yes, but how do we actually do those things? They are so general", then your organisation needs to make this an item on your meeting agenda. For example, start with one issue and make it a priority this month. What are the many ways we can let our people know that we value and appreciate them? Take it from the top right through to the bottom. You can have your people right down through the ranks working out how they can value and appreciate one another in the organisation. Imagine what kind of a change this could make in your organisation!

It is good to ask, how much of your meeting agendas, across your organisation, deal with the hard stuff of your business, and how much deals with ways to look after your people and thus inspire their loyalty and commitment.

This is not only about strengthening the psychological contract you have with your people and increasing the deposits into their emotional bank accounts, it is also about creating a sustainable culture for your organisation.

Maree Haris (c) 2008

About the Author

Maree Harris PhD, is a coach and workshop facilitator who is committed to empowering people to create the personal and professional lives they desire. She is the author of "You Empowering You For Personal & Professional Success". Visit her website at http://www.peopleempowered.com.au and subscribe to her mailing list to receive your complimentary copy.

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