Leading with Confidence in Turbulent Times

There’s no question that the workplace euphoria of a few years ago has been replaced with workplace scarcity—employees ask, “Will I be next . . . or will I be able to get a job?” Prior to 9/11 and the Iraqi War, Generation Xers and the Millennials had been sheltered from high levels of adversity and conflict. They went to school, graduated and got attractive job offers. Life was good, very good.

Then the economy shifted. Today, they go to school, graduate and don’t get the lucrative job offers envisioned. Work life is not so good. The hiring of Chelsea Clinton by the consulting firm of McKinsey & Co. at a six-figure salary would have been the norm pre-2000. 

Granted, she’s a graduate of Stanford University and Oxford . . . but can you see this young woman coming into your company as a consultant . . . with real, practical experience? Most likely not. The former first daughter’s most valuable asset is her pedigree.

The New Rules of the Workplace
The workplace has gone from boon-to-bust. The reality factor is in play—good, qualified people are losing their jobs; good, qualified people are having trouble find a job; and, those left behind and still working look over their shoulders . . . will they be next? Is loyalty and the rewards for it a dinosaurian concept? 

It’s common for coworkers and in many cases bosses, to befriend each other. How could a friend—the boss—lay-off a friend? How many managers are so new to managing they never even suffered through a layoff, let alone had to deliver the news? What needs to be heard, redefined and done?

It’s time to create the Excruciating Correct Realities and Behavior for the Workplace.

What does an employee need to understand? Start with:

Welcome to the real world, the big boy and big girl school of hard knocks, wild cards and dumb luck. Continue with:

• Your company is not your mother—it will not take care of you forever. 

• You may love your job, but it doesn’t have the capacity to love you back.

• Terms of employment—don’t assume anything, it’s time to review. 

• Know that your boss is first and foremost indeed your boss and not your friend. Your true friends wouldn’t/couldn’t fire you, but your boss will. In a heartbeat if necessary.

• Seniority, skill, pay, gender, education—none of these necessarily make any difference when you’re looking at who’s being invited to leave versus those who are—so far—unscathed.

• Loyalty never did exist. It’s a myth. Loyalty is a fantasy that we delude ourselves into believing during those rah-rah company meetings. Loyalty is… you do the work, we pay you. Reality is—we may not need your work tomorrow. 

That’s a big ouch. What does management need to imprint on employees? Start with—the state of your company and business. What needs to happen to turn things around and prevent reductions (or additional ones)? Continue with:

• Setting goals, and be honest about how realistic they are. Avoid any pie-in-the-sky scenarios.

• Support starts at the top—not the bottom. In rough and bumpy times—speak up and don’t hide behind your closed door.

• People are sick of ‘do more with less.’ Prompt them to focus, and set priorities that are realistic. 

Overwhelming a bewildered staff with fantasy ‘musts’ may send a manager home at night satisfied that s/he’s ‘doing everything possible’ but in fact, you’re driving any real talent away. Just because the job market is flooded doesn’t mean your best workers won’t leave.

• Austerity measures do not preclude training and appreciation. It’s not hypocritical to reward people for hard work by holding offsite meetings or celebrations. 

In fact, it’s crucial to motivation and re-building workplace camaraderie and confidence. What is hypocritical is to hand out large bonuses at the top while employees are being told to recycle paper clips.

Before implementing ‘cost saving measures,’ truly pencil them out. Requiring employees to do work that can be outsourced for a nominal amount of money and deflecting them from the work they were originally hired to do and now not accomplishing is nonsense. 

Either their talents are no longer required or the work they should be doing isn’t needed. If it is, it’s not being done. Do the math.

Take a walk on the wild side. Talk to the lowest-ranking employees. Ask them what’s changed that bothers them the most. You may be shocked at changes you didn’t even know had been put into effect. 

Ambitious supervisors and managers can get carried away with the opportunity to put bullet points on their annual reviews… “Saved $500 annually by ordering staples and paper clips recycled.”

When times are tough, you must lead with confidence and keep communication channels open. If you don’t, your workplace can easily become a war zone. 

Snipers and saboteurs are lurking, ready to be cloned. Messages should be delivered with style and positive energy, acknowledging the phase the company is in. 

If times are bad and pink slips likely, employees don’t feel blind-sided. Remember, good times or bad—you lead, follow or get out of the way. Leading should be your choice.