How to keep your people focused amid a tough, volatile environment

How do you keep staff focused, motivated, and engaged when their friends are being laid off, budgets are getting cut, bonuses aren't being paid out, and companies' futures are uncertain? It's not easy, and there's no simple solution.

How do you keep staff focused, motivated, and engaged when their friends are being laid off, budgets are getting cut, bonuses aren't being paid out, and companies' futures are uncertain? It's not easy, and there's no simple solution.
 
But to paraphrase White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, every crisis presents an opportunity and it should never be wasted. So I asked some leaders in our field how they'd suggest tackling this current crisis.

“Sometimes a reminder is helpful to communication professionals that continuing to advance their own skill sets is critical, even in the midst of a... tough business environment,” says Ray Jordan, VP of public affairs and corporate communications for Johnson & Johnson. “In the face of reorganizations, I've seen a number of folks [step] up to much bigger challenges that might not have been accessible during ‘business as usual' conditions. Do those engagements always mean bigger inside opportunities? Not necessarily. But it means the individuals have expanded their repertoire as professionals – and that's a terrific investment in their own futures.”
 
At Chevron, candor is key. “Our approach is simple and straightforward,” says Dave Samson, GM of public affairs at Chevron. “We have an... open, honest communications culture inside the company, which is serving us well. Our leadership is communicating frequently, consistently, and honestly. Our aim is to help reassure our employees, while also being realistic about the fact that no company is immune to current economic challenges.”
 
“Transparency is critical,” notes Steve Lampert, executive director of corporate affairs at AstraZeneca. “It's important to recognize and acknowledge the challenges of today. You need to lay out a path forward and explain each employee's role. You need to respect colleagues who they may see leaving. You reward innovative thinking and keep communicating frequently.”

Rewarding innovative thinking is essential and has enormous potential for corporate communications organizations, where deeper skills are required across a range of issues and new, constantly emerging technologies.
 
As a result, a sustained commitment to training is a key barometer for many people to gauge how genuine a company is in its people commitment. Dell, for example, has maintained its commitment to professional development for its global communications professionals, even as it faces substantial market pressures.
 
Another good example is Deloitte. “We are continuing with the development of a state-of-the-art learning facility to foster professional growth, as well as the rollout of a major program... to help our people better integrate their personal and professional goals,” says Keith Lindenburg, director of national PR for Deloitte.
 
These kinds of forward-looking, proactive efforts maintain momentum, engender respect, and let valued staffers know they're a key part of the company's future. In today's environment, that's quite an accomplishment.
 
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a communications management consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. Bob's monthly column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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