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How to build and keep your team motivated during uncertain times

(Image credit: Image Credit: Have a nice day Photo / Shutterstock)

The environmental and economic challenges of 2020 have leaders scrambling to keep their teams focused, motivated and above all else, healthy. During disruptive times, it’s easy to fall into ineffective work streams by taking on too much or failing to clearly communicate objectives.  Spending time and energy on tasks that fail to return positive results or growth kills motivation.  Today, most teams are busier than ever, rebuilding 2020 plans -possibly more than once - or taking on more responsibility due to reduction or delay in resources.  Working towards a constantly moving target makes staying motivated nearly impossible.

It may sound simple, but maintaining open and constant communication and setting smart KPIs the most effective way to keep your team on target and progressing.  Even bad news communicated is better than no news communicated - and can help rally support from all levels to get back on track or pivot from an ineffective strategy.  Leaders today must communicate over and above (almost to a point of annoyance), especially with limited face to face interaction that leaders previously relied on to accomplish goals. 

Most leaders stabilized their strategy and their teams are producing at an appropriate level, allowing them to turn their attention back to business growth and building their teams.  Like everything else this year, recruiting practices require a process shift.  Lack of in-person interviews makes it more difficult to gauge a candidate’s personality and cultural fit within an organization - which is more important than ever. It’s critical to hire candidates who can hit the ground running. 

Leaders should pay just as much attention to a potential employee’s work ethic, values and cultural fit as they do their work experience and ability to meet the job requirements. Leaders recognize the importance of having a workforce with a shared set of values and culture. As businesses navigate through current disruption and plan for a post-Covid-19 world, they must be prepared for implications on their team’s engagement. The onset of the pandemic tested many companies’ cultures and demonstrated that those committed to supporting a strong company culture and values prior to the crisis were more easily able to weather the storm. So how can business leaders create this level of team engagement?

Embrace change

Organizations must quickly adapt during crisis, accepting new ways of working, communicating and servicing clients. With a nimble workforce that is always prepared to pivot, even at the eleventh hour, companies can continue to thrive even in times of crisis. If your company lacks this agility, take the opportunity to re-evaluate your culture and examine how you can future-proof your workforce. 

Dedicate yourself to developing a culture that embraces change. A good leader values growth over comfort, so inspire your team to do the same.  Remember that for some employees embracing change can be a challenge. In our comfort zone we feel experienced, knowledgeable and in-charge, whereas we can be anxious and resistant during uncertain times. As a leader, realize that nothing is permanent except change. If you can do that, employees will be ready and even excited for what will come or what they might learn when the change happens.

Make rapid, informed decisions

Reward employees when they make rapid, informed decisions. These star employees are vital in fast paced industries and in times of crisis. When you reward employees for their ability to act decisively and implement plans without delay, you increase their confidence and eliminate future hesitation. That will help you create a flexible, confident, authoritative workforce which will be the cornerstone of success during difficult times. Invest in training and inspire confidence among your employees - and your workforce will respond with the business’ overarching goals in mind.

Value teamwork over individual gain

Encourage a team-first mentality. The feeling that everyone on the team is in this together will help your organization weather the toughest situations. We are more powerful together than we are on our own. While competition is healthy in most environments and can bring out the best in some individuals, it can be disruptive to have hyper competition within teams during difficult situations. Leaders must cultivate a team culture and hire accordingly, so the business can reap the rewards of a collaborative workforce. When employees work together to achieve a common goal, they feel a sense of ownership and pride in the team and company’s shared achievements. Teamwork, efficiency, motivation and creativity also reduce employee burnout. Strong teams are able to continue producing quality work under pressure, maintain momentum and continue delivering business value.

Be bold and confident

Inspire employees to make bold, brave moves. While some employees are naturally confident and self-reliant, other employees might need more reassurance by their managers. Make it a priority to inspire employees to be more self-assured and you can increase productivity and creativity. Welcome ideas from across the workforce, from both senior and junior staff members.  When employees understand that those who make calculated data driven decisions succeed faster than those who are very risk-averse, they will be more willing to share new ideas that may challenge the status quo.

Appreciate diversity of experiences

Ensure that you are not hiring people who think just like you. Diversify the pool of employee backgrounds and experience to drive creativity and innovation. Building a team of employees with both deep technical expertise and critical thinking skills across various disciplines gives companies a competitive edge; a team of divergent thinkers with unique perspectives results in fresh ideas and inventive new ways to improve services or products. Invest in curating a team with diverse training and backgrounds, retain top talent and you will outpace and out-innovate organizations not following suit.

Value integrity and respect

Hire people who treat clients, partners and colleagues with the respect they deserve. Be a champion for this behavior and ensure that managers and business leaders do the same. Lead by example to create an inclusive, positive work environment where employees feel valued, supported and nurtured.

Promote meritocracy

Instill a culture that values talent and hard work. Ensure your employees understand they are valued for their ability to do the job well, and are not limited by their previous training. Give everyone in the workforce the opportunity to grow personally and build a career, regardless of their background and skill set. Give employees the chance to explore new skills and exceed expectations in a workplace that rewards talent, good work and a positive attitude.

Dedicated leaders who invest in company culture create united and engaged teams that enhance workforce productivity and - in turn - company growth. Keeping a sharp focus on personality, cultural fit, and diversity benefits not only your employees, but the company itself. Employees will be empowered and thrive in this environment – driving creativity and innovation. 

Remember, company culture is not just a checkbox – it should be a shared set of values that transforms and drives the workforce and benefits the business. If you commit to strong company values now, you will create a resilient workforce that will continue to prosper through periods of blue skies and crisis.

Phil Ahad, Chief Digital Officer, Toluna

Phil Ahad is responsible for leading the strategy for Toluna’s suite of digital market research products. He’s passionate about identifying first look technology that innovate companies, industries, and business concepts.