Many of our clients are getting in touch with us for advice on how to engage their staff during this uncertain period. We absolutely understand why – even if there was a rule book, we very much doubt something like this would be in it. There’s no doubt that these are challenging times for everyone, not least business leaders.
In this article our Founder Dean Hunter answers some of our clients’ most commonly asked questions. Hopefully these answers will go some way towards guiding leaders through staff engagement in the weeks and months ahead:
How can I engage my people if I don’t even know myself what the future holds for the company?
There’s no doubt this is a really difficult situation, and it’s hard to rally the troops when you’re feeling downbeat and worried yourself. Just be honest with people – talk about today. Don’t make promises unless you know you can keep them. Many clients are currently looking at changes to terms and conditions as a precursor to redundancy. Don’t promise dates as to when terms and conditions will revert back normal – this is a very unclear landscape.
I have concerns about how much longer we can continue to operate with things as they are – is this something I should be sharing with my people, or do I risk doing more harm than good by being honest, in the sense that staff engagement will go over a cliff?
If you have genuine fears for the future of the company it is better your people have some idea of this so that if it does come to the worst; it’s not a total shock. You owe them that. Typically staff know exactly what is going on and a failure to communicate will lead to mistrust which is very difficult to reverse. Keep people engaged by letting them know you’re all in it together and you’re going to be keeping them updated and consulting with them every step of the way.
You could even ask them to come up with proposals to save cost – you may be surprised by what they propose themselves!
How honest should I actually be with my people?
Quite simply, as open and honest as you possibly can be.
However, it’s also important for morale that you try to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook and that your people have confidence in your tenacity as a leader. Balance good news with bad news.
Due to company overheads (other than salaries), furloughing staff is unlikely to be a long-term solution for my company. Should I consult with my staff on creative ways we can continue operating until such a time when we can get back to normal?
Yes – be entirely open and transparent and explain the situation to your staff. Set things out as you see it, and put any suggestions for cost-reduction you have come up with on the table (eg. reducing working hours, unpaid leave, etc.)
Also as already mentioned, ask if your people have any ideas of their own. You just might be able to come up with an arrangement that keeps everyone happy(ish) and in a job (be clear that is your intention – short-term pain to secure jobs).
How else can I engage my people when we’re all working remotely?
Make sure to keep in regular contact, and not just by email. Take the time to make individual phone calls if you can do this, or even better, video calls – this will have a massive impact.
Schedule in regular video calls– ideally with one regular video call involving everyone in the company to give a high level update on performance. You can do this for a very low cost (or free) using software like Zoom.
Make sure it’s not all business – people will miss the social aspect of going to work and catching up with colleagues – so why not have a Monday morning 9am coffee and catch-up via video call; or 5pm drinks on a Friday
Make sure your expectations are realistic and give people some slack – everyone is working hard under exceptionally difficult circumstances but with the best will in the world productivity is probably not going to be what it was a month ago, neither will it return to these levels any time soon as far as most businesses are concerned. The focus for most companies now is purely on survival.
Right now I have no option but to reduce headcount and you expect us to be concerned about engagement levels – how can I manage that?
For those who leave and those who remain, you will be judged by how you handle this situation.
COVID-19 isn’t your fault, whilst you may feel responsible for your team and paying their salaries. They know that. Be open, be transparent, be fair in your selection processes. Involve staff in coming up with solutions. This is even more important for the culture for those who remain. Headcount reduction and changes to terms and conditions do not have to destroy the culture you have worked so hard to build.
This is just a small selection of the types of questions our clients are asking us on a daily basis at the moment.
If you’d like more detailed advice on your current situation, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If anyone is keen to speak to another business owner during this time, feel free to get in touch with Dean directly at email@example.com – he’s more than happy to chat.