Leading for Peak Performance in an Economic Crisis

Mimi Bacilek

Change is assaulting leaders from all angles, driven externally and internally. The environment is uncertain, budgets are being slashed, orders put on hold, positions placed in jeopardy.

Looking through the lens of history, we can assume this economic downturn will turn around. Investing in your business now while your competition is circling the wagons and slashing its way to greatness is akin to selling stock high and buying low. But the key question is how to invest. How can you best prepare your business for economic turnaround?

Consider deeply engaging your people to create the future. The cost to the leader is time and energy; the benefit is tapping into the amazing talents people bring into the workplace every day.

Eyes to the Future

Creating solutions that bring great value to your customers requires a steady focus on the future—a difficult thing to do when the environment daily reinforces revisiting yesterday’s decisions and attending budget variance reports. Leaders who spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror miss turns in the road that lead to success and risk running headlong into obstacles.

Set the Vision

Leadership is all about creating change. It is imperative that you are very clear about what you want to accomplish. For example, bring three new innovations to your best-selling product, reduce time to market by 25 percent, create product applications for parallel market places. Speak about your vision frequently, assuring the language is clear, direct and simple. Make it easy for people to see the value in your vision as well as their role in creating success. If eyes glaze over, try again—the goal is create a natural advocacy for your vision.

Rally the Troops

Staff are unsettled and worried. Address their concerns head-on with empathy and honesty. Bring staff together, speak to the realities, communicate your vision and get the organization focused on the future. Seek staff opinions on the value and possibilities and become curious about their opinions. Listen, listen, listen. In doing so, create a shared vision. Find all the opportunities where partnering with staff and championing their ideas facilitate this shared vision. Look for leaders to emerge and find ways to engage their leadership in bringing the vision to life.

Empower Teams

The word "empowerment" has a bad rep—but why? Because empowerment carries the implicit assumption that people only have the power the leader gives them. The reality: Your people are powerful on their own. Your role is to enlist their power to achieve the vision. Empowerment requires the leader to provide the team a laser focus and the resources for success, which include information, decision-making parameters, clear accountabilities, access to senior leaders, work tools and work space.

Consider chartering three to four short-term project teams that work in parallel, fleshing out the most powerful changes to bring to market. As work progresses, engage the teams in assessing the success of all the ideas. The goal is to generate broad agreement on the opportunities.

Monitor Progress

Stay close to each team, address difficulties they encounter and manage scope creep. Exercise caution against micromanaging; staying close does not mean directing work. Rather, it means assuring the team’s eye and energy are on collective success.

Reward Success

Look for every opportunity to celebrate the gains teams are making—nothing is more motivating for a team than to have their work championed and known to add the value the customer ultimately receives.

Leaders have great opportunities to shine in tough times by enabling staff to shine. Ultimately, bringing an organization through the chaos with minimal pain and greatest gain is the real measure of a leader’s success.

First published on Human Resouces IQ.