How to Keep Your Team Motivated When Times Are Tough

Leadership Coaching
10/20/20 - Nicole Wood

I don’t think I need to tell anyone that this year didn’t go as planned. For some, that meant unforeseen income and success, but for most of us, our businesses and wallets took a major hit. If you’re in a leadership position of any kind, you’ve likely felt the pressure to keep your team motivated to be all-hands-on-deck and in survival mode while they are simultaneously dealing with very real stressors at home and at large.

As a leader, keeping your team motivated over this very long period of uncertainty and turbulence may feel like a losing battle. You recognize that your people are stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. And yet, you still need them hustling hard to hit goals if the business is going to survive. So how do you encourage a supportive and healthy workplace while not shying away from the need for accountability to business outcomes?

These 10 tips will help you keep your team focused and motivated when times are tough.

Acknowledge External Influences

In most cases, I would encourage leaders and team members to focus on what is within their control and not make excuses based on external factors. However, sometimes you just can’t separate business performance from environmental conditions, and now is one of those times.

Your team may be doing absolutely everything in its power to sell, but the demand just isn’t there. Or they may be extremely budget conscious and strategic with sourcing, but supply costs have simply doubled.

It’s important to acknowledge efforts as well as external factors so your team members don’t feel their work is futile. They can continue to mitigate impacts of the outside environment and prepare for a strong rebound in the future, but it’s important to ensure that they don’t feel like a failure in the meantime.

Anchor On Purpose

Any time work gets difficult and stressful, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place.

There’s a reason you and your employees took this job or started this business: an impact you wanted to make, a segment you wanted to serve, or a mission you wanted to achieve.

To keep your team motivated, constantly remind your team (and yourself!) of why we are all here. ALV Chief Coaching Officer Foram Sheth says, “Remind people why they come to work every day. It’s the why that gets us through the toughest times because we know “we’re doing this for a reason that matters to us.”

Don’t Shy Away From Difficult Conversations (and over-communicate)

Don’t deal with difficult situations by avoiding them. People know and can feel when things aren’t going well. Not addressing challenges head on creates a culture of fear and can often be a catalyst for a rumor mill. Make sure you communicate the facts to your team without sugar coating them. Be as transparent as you can without invoking fear. Specifically address what the company is doing to pivot, adjust, pull through and then add what you need from them to support these efforts.

ALV Career Specialist Shari Santoriello adds, “Communicate….a lot. In fact, over-communicate.”

This does a few things. It helps your team members feel that they are “in the know” and involved with the business moving forward. It also helps to dispel any assumptions.

Workers will tend to rely on their own (negative) thoughts if they aren’t given other information. This feeds into low morale and low engagement, two things that are a disaster for growth. An added bonus for over-communicating in the land of remote teams is that it may touch a person who tends to be quieter and give him the boost he needs to come forward and engage at a higher level.

Don’t Make Every Conversation A Difficult One

ALV Director of Career Services John Roccia says, “Be wary of the unintentional curse of “Every Meeting Is Bad.” This is something that can happen to any business. The businesses that are most vulnerable are those with remote teams and those under external stress. That’s a LOT of businesses right now!  The “Every Meeting Is Bad” curse is exactly what it sounds like – every meeting where you interact with someone else in your company is about not hitting goals, lack of performance, dangers we’re facing, etc. These conversations are all real and necessary, but their compound effect is brutal on the team.

Think about your team like a garden. If you have an especially brutal winter, your goal shouldn’t be to tell all your flowers how bad it is and how much they need to grow despite the hardship. Your goal is to build a greenhouse – an environment where your garden can do its best growing while shielded from the bulk of the bad.”

Stay Human

When facing challenges, many leaders go into execution mode which can come across as robotic and insensitive. While your company needs you to be a strong operator now more than ever, your team members also need to know that you are a human being who is right there beside them struggling too.

Feel free to show some emotion. Talk about the things that are challenging for you personally right now. The goal here isn’t to make this about you or to moan and complain. It’s about showing glimpses of your humanity, so your team knows you are feeling similar stress. You are choosing to continue showing up each day and building toward a brighter future.

Provide More Support Than Usual (and tailor it to the employee)

Your team is used to operating in “normal” times. For many of them, they may not have worked through an economic downturn before, let alone an economic downturn resulting from a pandemic. The regular playbook doesn’t apply, and your team members may be floundering.

ALV Leadership Coach Jennifer Maynard says, “Don’t be afraid to increase the number of direct one-on-one conversations you’re having. Let each person know you are there with your support. Ask each to share what is going well and what they need help with.” 

Each of your team members will likely need support in different ways. Some may need something as simple as guidance on how to prioritize their time, while others may need more emotional support and reassurance. Jennifer suggests, “Use this time to get to know them, support them, direct them and re-engage them all over again.” 

Celebrate Small Victories

You may not be hitting the major goals or the budget that you set back when, in 2019, we were hopeful and unknowing of what was to come. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still great work being done and wins being achieved each and every day.

It’s important that you still take time to celebrate the smaller victories and the milestones that your team is achieving. This helps keep your team motivated along the way! Foram adds, “When things feel hard, it’s human nature to see only what isn’t working or what’s getting in the way. Celebrate every win because it creates a boost of confidence and self-efficacy. That’s the recharge that your team needs to keep pushing and to be reminded that while the situation is tough, these micro moments of positivity are what get us through.”

Prioritize Health and Wellbeing

When things are going well and goals are being met, hard work and hustle can feel like a necessary evil on the path to a worthy cause. When the same hard work results in missed goals and mediocre metrics, it feels incredibly draining. Even though you need your team members hustling, you must give them breaks and time to restore themselves. If they burn out physically or emotionally, they won’t be able to continue working toward goals.

Prioritize the health and wellbeing of your team. Some ways to approach this might include:

  • Survey feelings and needs and then take action accordingly
  • Designate certain days as “Zoom free” days so people don’t have to be on camera all day
  • Require everyone to take a mental health day
  • Schedule team calls to check in on everyone’s health and mental state, rather than covering business topics
  • Be flexible with work hours

Note that not one of these ideas costs the company money. The investment of time made will certainly pay dividends as employees will feel more appreciated and will have an opportunity to rest and recharge.

Balance Change and Acceptance

You’ve probably heard the word “pivot” more times than you’d like in the past few months. So many businesses have focused on pivoting their models and adapting to the times. This is absolutely a smart strategy and something that needs to be done and continue to be reevaluated.

At the same time, heads spin and people wear out if every two days new tactics are implemented to improve performance. There is a delicate balance to strike between being responsive and nimble in an uncertain environment and accepting that certain things are out of your control right now and might not warrant a reaction.

Stressing more, worrying more, and creating unnecessary activity won’t create better business outcomes (and won’t keep your team motivated either). Make sure you are being proactive and thinking strategically about how your business can adapt. Accept too that this is the world we are living in right now and that patience is certainly part of the equation.

Remain Truly Optimistic

There’s a difference between being naive and being optimistic. You should not be saying that everything is great when it’s not, but you should be saying why you’re excited for the future. Share what you see as the opportunities that will result from these challenging times. Share with your team what successes lie ahead. Continue to be strategic about how you position yourself for future growth. And, provide confidence that you will all get through this difficult period.

It has never been tougher to be a leader, yet strong leadership has never been more important. These tips will help you to keep your team motivated and operating at the highest capacity possible while acknowledging and addressing the challenges and stressors that everyone is facing.

Remember – this is temporary. You and your team will get through it, and you’ll be stronger and more nimble as a result.

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