Leaders are being asked to do more with less these days. Goals and expectations continue to increase, but executives and managers have fewer staff, a smaller budget and less time to connect with employees. Departments that were once 50 people have become 35, with the jobs of those missing 15 people often being redistributed among remaining team members. It’s very clear from my recent executive coaching sessions that today’s leaders are struggling with under-resourced teams.
Analysts are predicting a recession on top of the lingering pandemic, and many companies are already bracing for it. There are more meetings, increased reporting and additional conversations about the possibility of an economic downturn. This is completely natural as we all want to shore up our companies against any possible negative effects of a recession. But leaders face the risk of decreasing their own bandwidth with too much micro-management. Instead, they should look at this fortress-building time as an exercise in motivating, energizing and supporting their teams.
Recognize that urgent does not mean frantic
Leaders often face economic crises by responding with timely urgency. But they must also keep in mind the fragility of their workforce right now. Stress and mental health issues have skyrocketed since the pandemic. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that anxiety and depression have increased by 25% worldwide. That’s serious.
So instead of fast-tracking decisions and upping self-imposed deadlines, consider the speed at which you are asking your team to work. It may bring a needed sense of urgency by demanding a solution be launched by the end of the month, but if a better solution requires a longer time frame, there’s no need to reduce value for speed.
Don’t sacrifice relationships
It’s easy to see how it can happen during an economic downturn: The leader is so focused on keeping the business afloat that relationships become at risk. You may have no choice but to ask your team to take on more work during this time. You may have to cancel team-building events, cut perks and put development programs on hold. While there may not be a budget for luxury anymore, executives must make an effort to continue to build relationships and manage performance in order to retain workers. A recent report from Microsoft found that 76% of the people surveyed said they would stay at their company longer if they had more learning and development.
Then there’s the trend (or at least a new buzzword for employee disengagement) of quiet quitting, where workers are no longer willing to go above and beyond the scope of their job descriptions to sacrifice their work-life balance.
So how can a leader develop and retain their direct reports without additional resources?
Take a balanced approach
Transparency will be key as you navigate the upcoming turbulent times. You may need to redefine what success looks like. Anticipate what challenges will come and how you can support each other to overcome them. Think about the relationships you have built. How can you maintain them through this tough period?
I’ll be honest: Without the extra time leaders need to work on development and building skills, it’s going to be hard. No one has additional time right now; instead, everyone is just trying to catch their breath. But rather than letting development go by the wayside, become process-oriented around it. Here are some suggestions:
1. Call a meeting to coach your employees on prioritization and time management. Teach them how to prioritize essential projects and defer what they can. I’m a big believer in the strategy outlined in the book Deep Work by Cal Newport where you schedule chunks of time in your day in which you are completely undisturbed. It sounds hard to believe, but when you remove all distractions and just focus, four hours of deep work is equal to eight to 10 hours of your average workday’s production. Invite team members to share their own tips for prioritization and time management. Everyone can learn from each other, and meeting time is used more meaningfully. You may actually learn a new thing or two yourself!
2. Review your processes and look for ways to streamline systems. Is a multi-level approval process really necessary now? Are there any tasks you can automate for your employees? Could templates be created to save manual work?
3. Prioritize your core clients and products. Does every client need a personal phone call on a weekly basis or can that be substituted with email updates and a monthly or even quarterly call?
4. Bring someone in to help your team manage their stress and build their mental fitness. I know you are likely facing budget cuts, but I believe the dollars spent on a coach, workshop or even a book will be well-spent. People are spending too much time being overwhelmed, stressed and frustrated. If you can help them to learn how to shift their mindset in the moments they are triggered throughout the day and adjust their lens to accommodate a different perspective, you can help them move out of pain toward progress. You’ll find that people will still come to work, they will still put in the same hours and they will still have the same workload, but they will feel less stress. This is what happens when you “lead lightly.”
When teams are under-resourced, everyone is pushing to get things done in less time than the work actually needs. Take time for yourself to breathe so that you can help lead your team through this impending economic crisis while still finding ways to develop their skills, even if the spotlight is temporarily on efficiency.