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Keeping Employees Engaged

During tough times, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep yourself and others focused.

Our brain’s reaction to fear kicks in and we pursue a variety of options just in case.  As noted in most of my blogs during the previous few months, “tough times are not the time to diffuse your energies.”  Focus, focus, focus!

Once you have gotten yourself focused on the right things including prioritizing where you should spend your time and other resource, there are some simple do’s and don’ts for keeping employees engaged and aligned.

To start, at the company or team level, make sure you have reconsidered the culture necessary to achieve excellence based on the changes around you.  Culture helps people know what to do and how to act.  

Remember that actions speak much louder than words, so it is the apparent behaviors that get translated into beliefs and drive other behaviors throughout the organization.  An aligned and positive culture can contribute significantly to an organization’s success — even more so in tough times.  The behaviors of everyone can contribute to getting you to your destination points or they can slow you down at the worst possible time.  An unaligned (usually unintentionally developed) culture gets in the way.

Cultures poorly aligned to the elements of the strategic framework can be damaging and distracting.  For instance, when a company needs all employees to become obsessive about customers due to tighter markets, increased competition or ever higher customer expectations, the culture has to support the employee behaviors necessary to achieve this obsession. This includes building policies and practices that allow employees to make decisions and take risks about satisfying customer requests immediately.  For example, if a customer service agent is only allowed to operate “by the book” in addressing customer requests, she risks losing a customer when they have a unique need that requires three levels of approvals to meet that need.

Leaving culture changes to chance is like abandoning one half of your strategic planning framework.  It is like pretending that those darn employees and the way they get things done do not really matter to achieving success.

There are five core practices and beliefs driving high performance cultures today:

  1. Clearly define what winning looks like
  2. Measure what matters and what employees can relate to
  3. Develop an ownership mentality and enable educated risk taking
  4. Keep an eye on the external environment
  5. Set up people to succeed and nurture trust

Especially in tough times….


  • Reiterate where the company is going and why as well as the core strategies to get there
  • Provide persuasive reasons why the company and/or team can win – what are the strengths that will prevail
  • Paint a compelling vision of the future (with as much visual detail as you can create) – describe what winning now looks like
  • Deliver ongoing feedback – communicate even more with direct reports about how they are doing and continue to reward (in low or no cost ways) and realign behaviors. When you don’t communicate enough, employees make up much worse than the truth especially in tough times
  • Structure ongoing communications to all employees through a variety of channels to keep the goals and destination top of mind


  • Assume employees understand why or how your organization can succeed when they see a lot of “news” about failing companies all around them
  • Make promises you can’t keep (i.e. there will be no layoffs)
  • Ignore the confusion or frustration that initiatives or projects have been scaled back – talk about the why and not the new how it will get done
  • Assume a one-time, feel good meeting can fix things or that employees won’t see thru it if there is no new strategy behind the changes. (Wasting time in a cheerleading session creates even more employee frustration if the content is not very focused on their situation and if it does not provide real “meat” specifically about why the company can now win).

Cultures are difficult to change and it takes a concerted, visible and powerful energy to shift them.  One of the real benefits to completing your strategic framework and communicating it constantly is that it will drive a culture that fully supports getting you to where you want to go. When things are clear and simple to employees, they develop a sense of direction and focus and can move quickly.

Everyone wants to be a winner and do their best each day. Your job as a leader or manager is to set yourself and others up to be successful. Leadership and management behaviors — not just words — are the single greatest influence on an organization’s culture. Don’t leave success to chance!

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