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How to Lead, Motivate, and Retain Key Talent During Uncertain Times

With more and more organizations laying off staff, slashing budgets, and reorganizing departments in an attempt to cut costs and increase cash flow, many company leaders struggle as they attempt to do more with less. But in their quest for increasing productivity and maximizing talent, organizations can end up losing key employees. So rather than do more with less, leaders today need to do more with more – more interaction with employees, more communication, more partnering, and more coaching. Only then can they create the work environment necessary for increased productivity and employee loyalty.

Effective leadership is always the key element to motivating and retaining staff. The studies prove it. Whenever employees are asked to identify why they left a company, “lack of leadership” is often cited as one of the top five reasons. In order for employees to want to contribute, they must feel that they know where the company is going and that it’s strategically strong. Strong leaders instill these beliefs.
In order to help your managers and executive level employees lead effectively so they can motivate and retain key talent, coach them to employ the practices listed below. Doing so will enable you to create a work environment that gets employees excited about the company and eager to produce results.


1 Set clear expectations

Just like the company, each employee needs a clear focus, especially during uncertain times. When employees see the economy turn sour or cutbacks occur, they naturally fear any change that could impact their own future. To keep those fears from surfacing, continually communicate with your employees and state your expectations of them. Tell them what you want, what they did right, what you expect of them, and how you will measure their progress.

Share the organizational vision and goals so employees understand the big picture. Realize that your team members want to know where the organization is going and how that direction impacts their personal objectives. As events and circumstances change, communicate that to them as well. The more you reveal to your employees, the more leadership they’ll feel that they have.

2 Show respect
When resources get tight, respect within an organization can decline, causing some leaders to show a lack of concern for the time and needs of their employees. As you ask employees to produce more, stay attuned to their need for life balance, as many people are sensitive to keeping work life, home life, and community life in balance. They may stay up all night to finish a project, but over the long term they won’t sacrifice family and friends for the sake of their jobs. To respect employees’ time, consider flexible work schedules. This could include longer workdays and shorter workweeks. Be creative about building in the flexibility.

Another great way to show respect is to get creative with your benefit plan. Employees may have more sophisticated needs in this area than you thought possible. For example, some companies now offer shopping services, adoption reimbursement, and even pet care and pet insurance for employees. When people feel respected, they’ll be more loyal over the long term.

3 Make the workday meaningful
Employees today want more than just a job. They want to contribute to the big picture and help the company sustain through the tough times. Therefore, leaders need to provide challenging and meaningful work assignments that stimulate their employees. When employees feel bored, their motivation declines and they lose focus of how their work fits into the big picture. Delegate meaningful work whenever possible so employees can learn something new and feel challenged.

Additionally, provide regular development and learning opportunities. These could include formal training (when money permits) and mentoring opportunities from within the organization. Employees want to be marketable, so when you give them opportunities to increase their skills and showcase their talents, they’ll have a strong desire to stay with the company.

4 Give appropriate praise and recognition
Recognize and celebrate even the small accomplishments, as praise and recognition inspire people to increase productivity. Employees appreciate spontaneous and positive recognition along the way instead of delayed recognition during a performance review. However, as you give praise and recognition, consider the receiver. Although praise is a great motivator, some people prefer to receive praise privately, while others like it publicly. Also, give varied and frequent rewards employees can enjoy. Again, consider the receiver; some may appreciate theatre or sporting event tickets, while others may like an afternoon off from work.

One simple way to give praise and recognition is with a simple “thank you.” It can be done in a moment in the hallway, by phone, or during a drop-in visit. “Thank you” is a powerful phrase that can make a person feel appreciated and valued. Whatever you choose to do, remember that rewards and recognition are great motivators, so use them freely.

5 Continually coach
To keep morale high, coach and facilitate every day. The “I tell/you do” method of management simply does not work for motivating and retaining people. Instead, become a coach to your people and encourage them to try things their own way. Allow for mistakes to happen, as mistakes are often our greatest learning opportunities. When people know that mistakes are understood as a part of the experience, they’ll be more creative and take more risks. When you need to correct employees, do so constructively by offering information on ways they can improve, attain, and surpass desired results. Most people are grateful for constructive feedback. It shows that you’re paying attention to their progress.

In addition to coaching from management, suggest that team members coach each other. The encouragement, teaching, and support increase dramatically when all team members provide it. As a side benefit, internal coaching costs the company very little, yet it produces significant results.

Keep What You’ve Got
While the above guidelines won’t guarantee that valuable employees will stay with you through good times and bad, they do increase your chances for leading, motivating, and retaining key people when your company needs them the most. By partnering with your employees and creating a work environment that’s enjoyable, meaningful, and focused, your company can accomplish great results, even during uncertain times.

About the Author:
Joanne G. Sujansky, Ph.D., Certified Speaking Professional, has been helping leaders to increase productivity and inspire loyalty for over 25 years. She gives people the keys for unlocking the leader within themselves, their teams and their organizations. She has brought fresh concepts and effective techniques to audiences in more than 30 countries; favorite presentation includes Three Keys to Leadership, Making Change Happen and Motivating & Retaining Talent. Sujansky is an award-winning entrepreneur and has authored six books.

This article may be reprinted for your use in an organizational newsletter and or e-zine provided that you contact Kelly Hanna, Director of Sales and Marketing at 724-942-7900 to gain permission.

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