“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

The comment above was made by the great management guru, Peter F. Drucker. I shared it with a client a few weeks ago as we discussed his team’s performance and the differences between being efficient and being effective. The last is all about making a genuine difference to outcomes – something particularly important in these times when layoffs abound.

While they’re lessening each month, the US unemployment levels are forecasted to continue to grow at least until the first quarter of 2010. Some states, like California, will probably top out at +11% unemployed by that time.

Keeping team members motivated and performing at the top of their game is especially difficult right now. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or that the job just keeps getting harder, it’s particularly important to keep in mind how some of your team members may be feeling through all the bad news. If they’re worried about their own job, paying bills, or the fate of a loved one, it’s unlikely they are doing their best work. That reduced effectiveness could, ironically, create a worse situation for them if it results in fewer jobs or reduced pay.

It’s to the benefit of all concerned that you help them to keep working at full steam. Here are a few “best practices” we’ve seen used successfully by strong leaders across a wide swath of industry and organizations. If you or your team could use some new approaches, I suggest you add some of these to your own management toolbox:

1. Lead by example – You send messages to your team members with every action and statement. If you’re seen to be giving extra, it will inspire and energize others to do the same. The same holds true for the opposite by the way: showing fear or frustration will only fuel similar results within the team.
2. Focus on communicating objectives rather than defining roles – With fewer human resources, now’s the time to re-assess your key deliverables. Which of them make an immediate impact, and what can be punted to a time later? Engage as many of the team as possible on the most important goals; even if that move takes them outside their old job definitions.
3. Sense of urgency – Keep goals, both individual and team, front and center to ensure focus. Broadcast and talk about results and achievements. Especially if you’ve had to reduce headcount, you want each individual performing at optimal levels. Note I say “optimal” and not “maximum”. The former is good management practice, the latter results in burnout and negativity.
4. Celebrate individual contributions – Sports teams are clear about the fact that certain players make a bigger difference, so they recognize those people appropriately. For high performers, hearing only about the “team’s performance” can actually demotivate and cause them to slow down to the “norm”.
5. Provide guidelines to reduce uncertainty – Trusting your team to do the right thing is well and good; but in uncertain times even your best team members can make improper decisions. Help them with frequent reviews of goals, new or successful past approaches, and preferred outcomes during regular team meetings.
6. Recognize that your emotions affect outcomes – Remaining visibly cool in difficult periods or demanding environments serves to help your team maintain their balance and performance. People are de-motivated by constantly cranky or negative bosses. If you have a disappointment, or a major goal was missed, it’s fine and appropriate to say so; but don’t make it personal.

Being a leader is more than being a manager. It requires empathy, attitude, and skill. The effort is worth it.


Leadership Coach