Recession Therapy: Four Handholds for Weary Executives
Leaders are reeling these days. They've been alone on the hot seat for months -- making gut wrenching decisions, withstanding white-hot criticism, and managing politically charged, increasingly unreasonable stakeholder expectations.
Below are four of the toughest, most complex challenges leaders are facing today, along with advice on how to handle them.
1. Implementing Lay-Offs
Restructuring is a gut-wrenching task and is among the most dreaded responsibilities of a leader. It is possible, however, to bring some level-headed process to this emotionally charged task.
First, rank your priorities. Identify essential outcomes -- outputs that your company or your customers cannot live without -- and call these Tier 1. Next think of outcomes that you or your customers could get by without, albeit with some difficulty. In Tier 3, put all staffing, tasks, products and processes you and your customers can live without -- these have to go. Next, ask yourself: Which functions in Tier 1 or 2 could be subcontracted out without seriously eroding quality? These areas are where you can make some staffing cuts.
Another tactic is "forced weighting." Create a chart with every departmental output as a row, and success criteria (e.g. margin, reputation, customer retention, uniqueness) as columns. Rank each column as "A," crucial; "B," important; or "C," desirable. Enter checkmarks in cells indicating which outputs achieve which success criteria. This chart will make it clearer, in black and white, where cuts have to happen.
Before releasing anyone, however, carefully consider the functional versatility of personnel. Could someone performing a non-essential function be redeployed to cover a more vital task? And remember: The best subcontractors are often previous employees.
2. Motivating Remaining Staff
During an economic crisis, when so many quantitative indicators compete for attention, the power of committed human spirits is often overlooked. The ability to marshal and optimize this mighty resource is directly related to one's ability to craft and deliver a resonant message.
Human motivation cannot be commanded -- it must be elicited. And an inspiring message must link to each of four core values: producing results, helping others, being flexible, and achieving certainty. When messages are packaged to resonate with all these values, increased productivity and loyalty -- even in the midst of hard times -- becomes the deliberate, voluntary choice of each individual.
3. Delivering More With Less
Once you've made personnel cuts, remaining employees can feel they now have insurmountable workloads -- whether real or imagined. The first task is to distinguish essential functions from those that masquerade as such, and often the best person to ask these tough questions is a dispassionate third party. Ask your people:
- How much time is required for the functions you perform, in terms of hours per week/month?
- Which of your functions, with proper training, could be done by a subordinate?
- Which functions do not require your level of intellect or experience?
The total hours calculation alone can be breathtaking. Often, those with the heaviest workloads are forced to realize they are complicit in being "overwhelmed" because they refuse to delegate their work. Answers to the other questions can start important conversations about whether more staff development is needed, which meetings lack value, and what kinds of work are most engaging and exciting.
4. Planning for an Uncertain Future
More guts, more grit, more of the self is required to hold positions of leadership today than even a year ago, and the costs exacted from leaders are becoming extreme. Rapidly stabilizing your organization amid tumultuous times is essential, but leading such transformations requires you, as the the boss, to get there first. Where can you go for objective advice, for additional intellectual bandwidth? How can you exude resilience, energy and confidence despite the ambiguity around you?
Realize that you don't have to wrestle with your leadership challenges alone. Create your own group of advisers and professional allies who have the breadth, depth and reach to share lessons learned. There are elite, fire-tested peer groups and service providers equipped with decades of experience and vast networks who can triage with you quickly and effectively. Such groups are commonly referred to as mastermind groups; they can fortify your already seasoned leadership skills and help you stabilize your organization.
Implementing these four tips will not only show a commitment to bringing stability back to the lives of your employees, but will also demonstrate leadership qualities that may inspire even the most pressured and battle-weary executives in your team. Stay strong!
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