How do I keep employees engaged in stormy times?

by Sam on March 25, 2009

Analysis: The Gallup Organization suggests that we replace the time-worn term “morale” with “engagement” as a descriptor of employee satisfaction.  Great idea! It’s been shown that highly engaged employees do the best job of delighting your customers, achieving higher productivity, and turning higher profits. That’s good news. The bad news is that, according to Gallup, only about 29% of all employees are highly
. Another 54% are doing just enough to get by. Some of these unengaged workers sleep walk through their day–putting in the time but
not the energy, passion, and initiative you’re hoping for. And what
about the other 17%? They’re unhappy at work, and are busily acting out their unhappiness in harmful ways. As your highly engaged people dig dirt out of the hole, the actively disengaged throw it back in.If, as predicted by many, the current business climate negatively impacts the sense of well-being among American workers, expect the 29-54-17 distribution to erode. Employees may fall from the ranks of the highly engaged to the unengaged, and from the unengaged to the actively disengaged.

So what’s a manager to do to keep people at their peak of engagement? Exercise great leadership and look to Rudy for inspiration. No, I’m not referring to the movie, but rather to the former mayor of New York City.

Answer: In the aftermath of 9/11, NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani taught leaders several vital lessons. These same seven leadership behaviors will serve you and your people well at any time, and especially in times of crisis.

1. Remain visible. Remember the TV coverage of Giuliani walking the ash-covered streets of New York on September 11th? In the same way, be present and available to your people in the midst of their hardships. This is not a good time to be hunkered down in your office or consumed by meetings or travel.

2. Give people bad news straight. Keep them fully informed; tell them what you know. When the rumor mill churns up harmful fantasy, replace it with the truth.

3. Listen to their fears. Validate, don’t dismiss, their worries. Say something like, “I can understand why you feel that way” before you say, “Here’s what we’re doing to fix it.” And don’t say, “There’s nothing to worry about,” unless you can prove it. A

4. Display unmistakable optimism, while avoiding reassurances you can’t guarantee. When your people grow apprehensive, give them reason to feel secure and cared for. If you have difficulty yourself mustering hope for the future, you may not have been the best choice for your job. Take a lesson from the contribution Winston Churchill made to the success of the WW II Allies by the fortitude he inspired in the relentlessly bombarded population of London. A

5. Identify opportunities for your team to contribute to the resolution of crises. Just because you’re in charge, doesn’t mean it’s completely up to you to lift your team out of their doldrums and solve their problems. Not only are they likely to have great ideas of how to move ahead (often better than yours!), but involving them in the solution will jump start their engagement. A

6. Show genuine appreciation for their efforts. Praise them lavishly and sincerely. As progress is made give them even greater credit than you think they deserve for the positive outcomes your unit achieves. Most times the “extra” credit you’re giving is more earned than you think it is–certainly in their minds. They will respect you for acknowledging it. A

7. Take advantage of tough times to reshape your team into an even more unified, dominant, and resilient force. Every crisis forces a change in the status quo. Chances are good that some of the old ways your people worked together weren’t as beneficial as they could have been. Adversity just might extend the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have to establish the team you’ve always wanted and always needed. A


So long as there is breath in me, that long will I persist. For now I know one of the greatest principles of success: if I persist long enough, I will win.

~ Og Mandino


Each answer marked with an A is the subject of a soon-to-appear Ask in the form of a solution tool.  Feel free to contact Sam now to learn how that tool might be applied to your team.

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