While Houston remains a robust, diverse and thriving city, there continue to be pockets of degraded business activity and layoffs that make the news. Moreover, there is a level of uncertainty about the future that underscores all our business activities. When will the Houston economy really pick back up? How different will be the three branches of government next year? How will we keep ourselves safe in our own communities?
Clearly, we are all more anxious and worried for the future. We are all emotionally affected, even if it is not apparent to others.
In this environment, how do company leaders maintain a high level of employee morale and effectiveness? How do we guide our teams in this time of uncertainty? The short answer is, "Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!"
Here is the recipe I recommend for any team leader:
If you are going to communicate to your employees, members, or associates, you should do it quite often. In fact, the frequency of communication is probably more impactful than the depth of the content of each communication. If you have many distinct points to communicate, send several distinct communications spread out over days or weeks rather than one long message. Employees need to make informed decisions to help drive the company forward. Employees need to hear from the company leaders. Keep it up!
Communicate with commitment.
Delivering a constant flow of well-researched and well-written communications to employees is not a task to delegate to someone who is already overloaded. It is an all-out internal marketing and communications effort -- delivering a combination of news, ideas, policies and strategies that can be instrumental in keeping employees on-track and productive during uncertain times. Executives should consider dedicating a communications professional to the program. With dedicated resources the program can be truly effective.
With an uncertain future, business leaders must go out of their way to provide the roadmap for the company. Even if it looks like difficult times are ahead, employees appreciate an honest assessment of the state of the company and the outlook going forward. In business, there are three things worse than an uncertain future: an uncertain future with no plans, an uncertain future with no comment, and an uncertain future with no plans and no comment!
Every employee makes a host of decisions each day - decisions about how they fulfill their responsibilities, about their attitude, their effort, and their relationships with customers, suppliers and co-workers. Employees work fairly independently hour-by-hour, and companies count on each employee's value system to frame and guide each decision. Now is the time to resurrect the outline of the company's own values and articulate these to all employees. If the values have never been stated, then get creative and do so now. This does not override each employee's personal value system, it simply enhances the likelihood that value judgments throughout the company are consistent and timely.
With almost as much work to do with fewer resources, it becomes imperative to focus on the activities most relevant to your business, your customers and your employees. Frivolous initiatives that add little real value should be examined closely and probably dismissed. This elevates the chance of the truly relevant programs getting the coordinated attention they deserve. Moreover, declaring your company's commitment to relevance and value gives each employee yet another context for daily decision-making.
Because everything in our world these days is a bit unsettling, it is worthwhile to recount the normal things we do in our daily business. Provide regular stories of client successes, new business opportunities, and employee news. These are important reminders that despite the incidents of turmoil in the world, there is still ordinary business to be done, everyday employees to recognize, and good ol' customers to serve.
There is much that a company can do to assist employees to cope (and even thrive) given the realities today. Helpful information on managing stress, spending quality time with family, participating in the community, and managing time effectively are examples of the kind of supportive information that can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of each employee.
Now that employees yearn for greater meaning in their lives, it is incumbent upon companies to support them in their efforts. Moreover, companies must recognize that, like people, they should participate in the communities in which they live. Sponsoring community programs, and enrolling employee participation are ways to reinforce the interdependence of employees, companies and their communities.
As each employee struggles to make room for family, community, recreation, spirituality, and friends within the context of career and work, companies need to demonstrate how this is possible. Seek out and communicate stories of employees who make a great contribution to the company as well as a great contribution outside of work. Set them up as role models for other employees.
In the final analysis, companies must understand that "getting back to normal" -- whatever that means -- does NOT mean doing everything the same as before. It means confronting the new reality of a new age in America and finding ways to make employees productive and energized despite every roadblock. Proactive, regular, open, forthright, helpful and informative communications to employees -- coupled with a sincere effort at dialog -- is the best way to get there. Together.
As CEO of Brookwoods Group, John Sweney is responsible for company direction, client services, professional recruiting, strategic consulting, and team development. Before co-founding the firm in 1998, he was a public relations manager at Compaq, public information officer for METRO, executive speechwriter for IBM, advertising and public relations professional for General Electric, press secretary to the Mayor of Providence and news radio anchor. He has been active in the Houston community, acting as a president or board member of various professional groups, not-for-profits, and committees. In 2016, he was named CEO Communicator of the Year by the Public Relations Society of America.