Management Tips for an Uncertain Economy

Guiding staff through turbulent times requires an approach that accentuates the positive and keeps employees feeling empowered and focused on the bigger picture. Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, provides his insights on how to effectively lead staff through the turmoil.

 

Question:

 

To reduce costs, my company reorganized several departments without warning. IT had to let some full-time staff members and contract professionals go. Immediately following that, our longtime manager abruptly quit to take a job with another firm. I was asked to take his place. I am excited about the promotion but worried also about taking over the reins. The team's morale is low, and things are so disorganized. Do you have any tips for leading staff effectively amidst all this turbulence?

 

Dave Willmer responds:

 

Guiding staff through periods of significant change and economic difficulty isn't easy, even for the most seasoned managers. As the newly appointed leader for an IT department that has directly felt the impact of the current recession, it is understandable you are feeling a bit daunted by the task at hand. But you also have an opportunity to help drive positive change and get your staff to move beyond what has clearly been a very challenging and stressful time.

 

You may have your work cut out for you, at least initially. It sounds as if your team had little time to absorb the emotional impact from the layoffs or adjust to the new demands of the leaner staff structure before the departure of the team leader. No doubt, some of your employees may be feeling betrayed, discouraged and rudderless, even with a new captain at the helm. There are several things you can do that will set the right tone and encourage your staff to shift their focus from the negative events of late to the future.

 

Keep staff informed

 

Hopefully, your organization will not be experiencing any more dramatic change in the near future. But the economy remains unsettled, and it may take some time to achieve a level of "normalcy" in your department. As a manager, it is imperative to communicate openly and often with your IT staff and keep them in the loop on anything that may directly affect the department or their positions. Although you may not be able to share everything you know, be as honest as you can. You will keep the rumor mill from grinding and fueling fear and suspicion, which can drag down morale and undermine productivity. Remember, if your staff doesn't hear the news straight from you, they will certainly hear it from someone else, and it may not be delivered accurately.

 

Recognize employee contributions

 

Don't ever assume your IT staff members know they are appreciated. Be sure to give frequent, timely and specific praise, not only when people are engaged in lengthy or difficult projects but also when they are simply "doing their jobs" well and with enthusiasm. Recognition is especially important if you are asking staff members to take on additional responsibilities to cover gaps left by employees who had to be let go.

Don't make the mission impossible

 

Because layoffs and budget cuts may mean one person is doing the job of two, or even three, people, it is easy for employees to become overwhelmed by their duties and burned out. Set your IT staff up for success by deciding which duties are mission-critical and helping them prioritize their tasks accordingly. Delegate remaining projects, bring in project professionals or put some items on hold. And even though you may feel pressure to push your IT department to perform, avoid labeling every project, deadline and meeting as "urgent." No one wants to be put in crisis mode unless there is a good reason.

 

Put the emphasis on 'team'

 

By reminding your staff that every employee plays a role in the company's success, you will help keep them engaged during this period of economic uncertainty. Encourage staff to approach you with their ideas for how the IT department can meet its objectives more efficiently and cost-effectively. Often, the best ideas come from those who are working on the front lines. If certain ideas cannot be implemented, explain why, while also emphasizing that you value the individual's input. Employee suggestions should not be dismissed without constructive discussion, otherwise, your staff will believe you are not sincere when you say want to hear their opinions.

 

When an IT department must cope with a great deal of change in a short span of time, it is imperative that managers do everything possible to create an atmosphere of stability while remaining aware of the pressure and uncertainty that employees may be feeling. By communicating, giving praise and encouragement, providing support, and emphasizing that "everyone is in this together," you will help your IT staff feel more empowered and motivated to keep performing at their best, even when they are not sure what tomorrow may bring.

 

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at http://www.rht.com. For more advice on managing a team in today's economy, request a free copy of The 30 Most Common Mistakes Managers Make in an Uncertain Economy by visiting http://www.rhi.com/30mistakes.

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