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Jackie Jamieson Maintaining employee engagement in times of uncertainty

Editor's Note: This post was originally published by Jackie Jamieson in August 2016 and has been updated to reflect the current climate.

With Brexit just around the corner and rumbles throughout the western political landscape, nearly every business in Britain is feeling the effects of the current economic and political turbulence and uncertainty in some way.

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Many organisations are already entering a climate where doing the same thing is not an option anymore and are responding by introducing strategies left right and centre aimed at reducing costs, downsizing or restructuring. Doing more with less is without a doubt becoming accepted as the norm for 'business as usual'.

Nearly everyone is feeling the effects of impending change, and in some instances this change will be complex. We all know that this can cause feelings of fear and anxiety, even for seasoned veterans of organisational change, but we live in uncertain times and the consensus is that there's nothing we can do about that.

But could the current climate of uncertainty provide us with as many opportunities as it does challenges?

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary destinations.” - CS Lewis

So how do leaders create an engaging environment and foster motivation during times of uncertainty? What can you do to make sure your people are engaged during the ups and downs of change?

Finding the right answers to these questions can take time, because each organisation will require a different answer. It will depend on culture, environment, size and effect of change and how secure your people feel.

But something you could do right now to help maintain the motivation and engagement of your team(s), is to add communication to your L&D strategy. Here’s a few things you can do that will have a big impact for your employees:

Put yourself in their shoes

By doing this you’ll find it easy to see why they have an instant desire to know what is going on. The usual mantra in times of change - 'communicate, communicate, communicate' is so true. Complex change and uncertainty can have a significant impact on the direction of travel for the organisation and indeed the team. This is why leaders need to communicate with clarity and direction, sharing what the organisation’s new vision and strategy might look like as changes unfold.

Hold regular forums

Create an open and honest dialogue where you can share current information, clarify any misinformation and respond to rumours promptly. Admit to your team what is still unknown, follow-up with everyone quickly when new information becomes available and keep people in the loop. This way you will start to build trust in the information being shared by you and the organisation, and it's no secret how important trust is in creating a motivated and engaged team.

Adopt the behaviours you want to see in your team

Next, consider how you can role model the change you need to embed within your team. Here are five suggestions of behaviours you can adopt in order to inspire and influence your team:

  1. Suggest new ways you can use the expertise in your team to drive change and make people feel valued
  2. Involve the team in creating the ‘new world’ by defining what success will look like
  3. Begin and encourage conversations about a positive future
  4. Use questions to motivate and engage individuals to own their own future
  5. When appropriate, share your personal thoughts on the change

Have conversations and ask the right questions

A useful frame of reference (there are others of course!) for how to develop conversations and questions that create a positive change, is the principle of Appreciative Inquiry. The principle is a widely used approach when introducing and embedding complex change. The underpinning philosophy is that an appreciative leader places equal value on both the process and their people. This encourages leaders to nurture positive conversations and ask the right kind of questions in order to build meaningful and collaborative connections for the whole team.

So, what do Appreciative Inquiry questions sound like? Here are just a few examples:

  • What could you do to move this forward if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What is the one thing you would do differently if your success was guaranteed?
  • If you were to make a success of this, what would that look like?
  • If you were to be really ambitious about the future of our team/organisation, what do you picture?
  • What is the biggest idea you have about improving our service/product/team/organisation?
  • What is the boldest idea you have about improving our service/product/team/organisation?
  • What does excellence mean to you/our team?
  • Could this be the way we redesign the architecture of our team/organisation?

I think Peter Drucker sums this up perfectly:

"The best way to predict your future is to create it".

So, let me ask YOU - what’s the one thing you could do differently to create engagement if your success was guaranteed?

If you're in the process of building a new L&D strategy to help tackle employee engagement during time of uncertainty, you might want to take a look at our expert whitepaper. It's all about building a successful learning strategy, from measuring ROI to assessing how aligned with the business you really are. Download here


 Jackie Jamieson

Jackie Jamieson, Learning Professional

My main focus is best described as 'Inspiring Managers to be Inspiring Managers'. In my blogs I’ll discuss topics such as Employee Engagement and Leadership Development.

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