These days, most leaders are asking more of their people. We have clients who have asked their teams for pay cuts or to defer salary, or departments to make sacrifices to meet reduction in force targets and do extra work to earn every available scrap of revenue. How do you motivate people to do what just a few months ago might have felt impossible?
When The Tough Get Going
Most people like a challenge. We often get tortured with guilt at the prospect of asking people for more. For example, we see leaders wanting to apologize to their team for the hard times. I suspect this is a hangover from a more paternal era when employers treated their people like dependents. We encourage a more honest recognition of what is actually happening. The people in your team are amazing, resilient, generous. Most love to rise to the occasion. If you let them see and feel ownership for the impact of their contribution, they will stretch and express qualities they didn’t know they had.
If you try to be superman, trying to take personal responsibility for everything, you are implicitly asking your team to be insignificant sidekicks. In truth, it is you who is more dependent on them anyway. Communicate how grateful you are to be relying on each of them, instill a sense of honor to be in this together, a sense of history so they can imagine a future where they are supremely proud to have participated in this great turnaround.
In a genuine crisis, “because I said so” does not bring out the best. While it may be tempting as plates get full and time is so short, you don’t want to ask people just to trust you. You want everyone to understand what we all are up against. No sugar coat. Blatant diagrams with the key numbers so they can see how tight the runway is. Straight talk. If someone has to leave so be it. You and I both could probably cite example after example, where leaders deliver bad news only to follow a month or two later with worse. Then you don’t just lose a person or two, you lose all of their hearts, their confidence, which is far worse.
The most effective way to get people to understand what we are up against is to have them witness the dialogue. I have seen teams transformed when they got to sit in on a crisis board meeting. Seeing smart leaders working together to solve a problem is the best way for people to learn the problem, and to align with the agreed upon solution.
I suggest a ‘fishbowl format’ with an inner circle (board) and outer circle (team). The outer circle witness the inner circle at work for half an hour, then the outer circle has five minutes to offer feedback, before the inner circle work for another half hour.
Give People A Choice
With a little skill, you can come up with a way for people to choose to give more, choose to make a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. For example, you can offer the option for people to defer more salary now in exchange for a later bonus. Make the numbers work either way so it is not required that everyone respond to the crisis in the same way. Over time, we will give more if we feel invited than if we feel coerced.
If this is a time for you where you have to ask more from the people around you, go out of your way to feel and show more respect for who they are than you ever have before. I would be very interested to hear what is and is not working for you.