3 Simple Things that have a Big Impact for your People

Cost Cutting, Falling Employee Engagement, Burnout & Attrition.

These are four phrases that most of us are hearing at the moment. If some of these are true of your organisation some form slowdown has definitely hit! It could be part of the ‘post growth blues’: - You’ve been in a period of high growth; your organisation was ‘Investing’, you had ‘High Employee Engagement’, going the ‘Extra-Mile’ was the norm; and you were always ‘needing more staff’. Were the four phrases you’ve now stopped hearing.

Or its part of the natural cycle that more mature organisations go through: - Modest growth meant budgets were maintained; Employee Engagement was good; as were bonuses and recognition; staffing levels were balanced, in short things were good! Then things slowly change, growth plateaues and starts to retrace, or the impact of ‘disrupters’ was starts to bite.

In both scenarios slowdowns are painful! The fundamentals may still be good for your organisation. It’s just that the pace, mindset, and challenges have morphed into the two headed monsters that emerge when revenue slows and cost cutting starts!

This change presents quite a challenge and will test your organisations culture and values to the limit. And this presents a real risk!

In a growth culture when everything appears to be positive, underlying issues are often masked. People often overlook the little things that bug them as ‘growing pains’ in the growth phase. But, the same issues can now have a serious and debilitating impact on your organisation’s morale and engagement. The ‘growth culture’ gets lost as things slow down.

People’s attitudes and mindset change. Attrition will jump rapidly. Not all growth companies are hit by a slowdown at the same time, those that feel the impact first will see employees quickly ‘jump ship’ and move to organisations still on a growth pathway. This has an immediate impact on those left behind. Workloads increase. The extra hours worn as a ‘badge of honour’ and rewarded with ‘perks’ now manifest as burnout in the ‘slowdown’ environment as the perks evaporate! A fading growth culture can easily morph into something more toxic: ‘blame’, ‘disengagement’ and ‘burnout’ become common phrases heard.

In more mature organisations, the slowdown becomes just that, workloads fall, ‘busy work’ increases, and ‘low value’ work is created to fill the void. Project teams are created, efficiencies are searched for, cost cutting starts, attrition slows (Mature industries tend to slow down together, so large scale ‘jumping ship’ becomes less prevalent). At some point natural attrition won’t achieve the cost cutting targets and redundancies and layoffs kick in. The cultural shift is often less stark as this is cyclical. Apathy and low employee engagement prevail, burnout, and attrition returns with some looking for ‘greener pastures’ or follow others to new employers. There are many that recognise the cycle, and are comfortable to ‘ride it out’, they continue to do what they have always done.

In both examples, post-growth and mature decline, a slowdown puts real pressure on your people leaders and HR team. With slowdowns comes more people issues, the struggle with uncertainty and the shift in morale and culture impacts everyone. The rise in people and performance issues have an impact at all levels. Most starkly at the frontline. This group of leaders manage the most people, they are usually the least experienced in the organisation and face the majority of the people, performance and customer challenges on daily basis. For this reason, the people impact of a slowdown is exacerbated.

So how do you help your people come through a slowdown?

It requires equipping people leaders with the skills they need to navigate the variety of challenges they will face. That means rapidly developing the capability of your frontline leaders and setting them up for success. How?

There are three things you should consider:

Develop Emotional Intelligence

The first, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is great asset at any level during anytime good and bad! Frontline people leaders, primary role is people focused and this requires the development of EI. In good times lack of EI may cause problems for the frontline leader but is often overlooked. In stressful times its is magnified and can cause major issues. Helping leaders develop their Emotional Intelligence is valuable investment at any time.

Address Burnout

Next, address the other major stress, burnout. High workloads and inefficient work practices are often masked by good times, ‘hours worked’ maybe a ‘badge of honour’ in the growth company and ‘overtime’ is a cost of ‘great customer experience’ in the mature company. In tough times this causes angst and creates stress and inefficiency spirals and gets worse. Developing the skills to identify and remove ‘low value work’ and inefficient work practices is also within the scope of the frontline. A frontline leader’s role is to be an enabler for their team, and a representative of the customer – taking the initiative to remove ‘busy work’ that doesn’t add value to the customer is a powerful leadership trait and a potential burnout antidote.

Awesome Onboarding

A third and often overlooked aspect is onboarding. New staff face uncertainty about their new role, which can be a cause of anxiety. In tough times when engagement is low the onboarding effort can often fall short. Which can add to the slide. Good people leaders however see this as an opportunity to create a great experience for the new team member and opportunity to set them up for success AND an opportunity to re-engage and bring their team along for the ride and refresh for the future.

Some years ago, I worked with a fantastic manager and people leader who loved bringing new people into their team, and they made it a point to always engage the entire team in the onboarding process. Not only did this make the new hire feel incredibly welcome and highly valued, the broader team loved sharing and helping their new colleague quickly become part of the team. What made this most impressive was it was just after a ‘post restructure’ efficiency drive, where the whole organisation was at a low. This team however had great morale and engagement. Great onboarding is a really simple but highly effective way to build employee engagement, morale and team culture.

This made a lasting impression on me and has been a part of my Leadership Coaching Toolkit ever since.

As we endure tough times there are simple, inexpensive initiatives that can make a big difference,

What simple things are you doing to make a difference?

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Greg Bull - Founder

Greg spent the first 20 years of his career working in and leading teams and organisations building successful frontline leadership teams.

The next 15 years Greg worked in many diverse industries helping organisations improve their operating performance. The bulk of that time has been coaching leaders and teams at all levels the leadership techniques that improve performance and create a better workplace and more engaged people.

For Greg, the most satisfying aspect of his work is watching the people he coaches develop and grow their capability and fulfil their full potential.

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