All organizations go through challenges, whether they are as significant as the recent government shutdown or more commonplace, such as growing pains from shifting business models. You shouldn’t expect or even want to avoid challenges (though some are less desirable than others). It is through these situations that individuals and organizations have the opportunity to grow. And as leaders, we are defined by our ability to navigate through challenges.
First, leaders must understand the impact on employees – most significant is the impact to trust and motivation.
Though change often comes with many new opportunities, it is hard for people not to equate change with risk and uncertainty. With those feelings come defensiveness and distrust, and sometimes the changes happening more than warrant those feelings. However, it is important to remember that distrust is a form of insecurity. When employees see their coworkers leaving or are asked to develop skills in new areas, they feel uncertain about how these changes will affect them. Rebuilding trust is about bringing back a sense of security. Let me be clear here, this is not about painting an unrealistic picture in order to temporarily assuage fears. Instead, leaders must be open, understanding, and focused on the end goal. Leaders should:
- Be upfront about changes taking place, what impact they will have, and how long they are likely to last
- Recognize that these changes may be hard for some employees and empathize with their feelings
- Live the “open door” policy and encourage employees to come with concerns and suggestions
- Demonstrate a commitment to creating a better organization despite challenges
Uncertainty can also lead to decreased morale. Especially if benefits are not seen immediately or if in fact negative changes have taken place. As morale slumps so does engagement, motivation, and productivity. To restore morale, bring back the “positive” as quickly as possible. For example:
- Recognize employee achievements
- Celebrate special events
- Host face-to-face collaborative innovation sessions
- Focus on the future and achieving goals
- Reduce the sense of hierarchy and empower employees at all levels
- Have a little fun!
Ultimately, the best way to handle a challenge is to come out of it stronger than when you went in. Whatever the cause or reason, a great leader has the ability to take a challenge and turn it into something positive. For example, during the recent shutdown, our team leaders focused on building their employees’ skills, developing new and innovative solutions, and creating tiger teams to improve existing services. When the shutdown ended, our teams were able to help their clients better than ever before. So, instead of getting lost in challenges, learn to accept the situation and transform it into an opportunity.