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How to inspire your managers to be steady, effective leaders

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This is an updated excerpt from our Surviving an Economic Downturn with Talent Optimization guide.

You’ve come up with a revised business strategy. You’ve taken necessary and even difficult initial action in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The next steps are all about organizational resilience. Now you must inspire your people to push through times of uncertainty. At this point, you may have the following questions: 

  • How can we develop our managers to step up and effectively lead hard-hit teams? 
  • How do we manage the organizational complexity created by remote work
  • How can we rekindle collaboration and communication within and across teams? 
  • How do we rebuild our culture to unite employees around shared values? 

The Inspire aptitude of talent optimization is about empowering employees to manage themselves and their relationships with others. In any economic downturn, people are stressed and relationships often become frayed. Communication breaks down, collaboration deteriorates, and employee disengagement may follow. Anticipate and act on these changes before they become the new norm for your organization. 

Empower employees to be resilient.

Resilience is what will hold your business strategy together, even when times are tough. But resilience also applies to the people of your organization. When the chips are down, every action or decision your people make comes under scrutiny. Everyone’s time becomes more valuable—because you now have fewer people than you expected. And this will test your people’s mettle. 

According to Jan Bruce, CEO of meQuilibrium, “Resilience is the ability to manage through stress and adversity—then rebound and optimize. It’s about managing through these situations and not letting them manage you.” 

How, then, do you improve employee productivity in times of stress? How do you improve efficiency to make every work hour count? You do so by developing and empowering your employees, beginning with your managers. 

Maintain career pathing.

Traditionally, career pathing is an opportunity to identify and create new roles as your organization grows. It’s also a way to incentivize employees and reward high performance. The dynamics change significantly in a crisis scenario. You may have a hiring freeze in place. Without the ability to bring on new employees, you don’t have the same ability to promote vertically and fill in as needed. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t create opportunities for individuals to grow. As mentioned in the Design section of this guide, a change to your business strategy can eliminate existing functions and create new ones. These roles give employees an opportunity to prove themselves and develop in a new part of the business. 

Other opportunities may open up as senior leadership assesses the behavioral fit of its team members. Just because hiring has stopped doesn’t mean the organization won’t need new leaders in new places. 

Even when you don’t have open positions, be creative to retain and engage your high performers. Assume a high-potential manager finds their role scaled down after your strategic realignment. If you create an opportunity for that individual to work in a role that speaks to their personality and behavioral traits, you increase the odds they’ll give you higher-quality output. 

Develop self-aware leaders.

Leadership opportunities can be equally valuable. For one, they provide another means of engaging employees. But they also upskill your people and build leadership capacity at a time your organization needs it most. 

When developing leaders, it’s important to teach the value of self-awareness. Using behavioral data, you can objectively walk employees through their behavioral strengths and blind spots. You can then compare their behavioral makeup to others within the organization. A 360 review can also work in a pinch. You can even use a leadership rubric to assess an employee’s current leadership capacity.

Having self-awareness is critical to leading effectively. When you manage someone who’s similarly wired, the process is intuitive. You likely have the same communication style, and your direct report may enjoy your natural leadership style. But when you’re wired differently, friction can arise. Left unchecked, this can lead to disengagement. 

In times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for leaders to anticipate friction and work to avoid it. As organizations adjust to working remotely—some for the very first time—the need to build strong relationships becomes even more crucial. 

Dr. Matt Poepsel, SVP of Product at The Predictive Index, stressed the importance of building this rapport: 

“We can’t pretend that everyone reacts the same way in times of crisis. For a manager, having the right behavioral insight about your people so you can meet them where they are—that’s incredibly important. Especially when it’s so easy to close yourself off and lose sight of that personal connection.”

If you wish to ease the burden placed on managers, tools like the PI Management Strategy Guide give you the ability to teach managers how to tailor their communication, feedback, and leadership style to meet different individual needs. To facilitate honest, regular feedback between parties, encourage managers to hold a 1-on-1 meeting at least twice a month with each direct report. Given the current remote landscape, you might advocate for weekly meetings—or even more frequent ones than that. 

remote work-life balance

Inspire high-performing teams.

During times of rightsizing and reorganization, consolidation of teams is inevitable. Even when the changes are seemingly small, each team alteration can change dynamics based on new co-worker relationships. And, if you’re not careful, the performance of these groups can falter. At a time when resources are so valuable, every team must be optimized to reach its full potential. 

Using team dynamic tools like PI Team Work Styles, you can aggregate behavioral data across entire teams or departments. This lets you visualize which behaviors team members share—and which ones they don’t. That way, you can adjust your teams to maximize their intended function. 

Consider a company looking to implement a new system. When looking to build a high-performing team, the organization gathered its most process-oriented employees and sent them off to accomplish this task. Unfortunately, the team fell short of expectations. 

In this case, analysis of team dynamics might reveal the team consisted solely of reflective, reserved individuals. This, in turn, led to communication struggles. To solve the issue, the team’s leader could add an individual who’s more outgoing—even if they’re not as process-oriented—to open conversations and keep the team aligned and on track. 

Protect and adapt your culture.

Financial hardship will change your culture. As you continue to assess discretionary spending and shore up resources, many company perks—like paid lunches and outings—have been cut. Keep chipping away, and you expose the “raw culture” of your organization. This consists of your cultural norms—i.e., your core values and expected behaviors. Despite its reduced presence, this culture still has a critical role to play in fostering the engagement of your people. 

Your culture is what employees look to for stability and a shared sense of community. It’s what binds your people together—even in times of hardship and discomfort. So it’s incredibly important to protect your culture when and where possible. Do so by reinforcing and rewarding behaviors aligned with your mission. Even when reducing spend, look to provide learning and training opportunities. Encourage employees to shout out those who reflect your core tenets and display needed leadership competencies. 

But you should also look to adapt your culture where needed. When executing a revised business strategy, your culture can encourage employees to act in favor of your desired goals. To accomplish this, you want your culture to recognize and reward behaviors associated with your strategic emphasis. 

Regardless of the culture you pursue, make sure you’re clear about your cultural norms. If you’re altering these norms, you’ll want to be candid about why you’re doing so and how it’ll help the business. This becomes a delicate balancing act. Some behaviors need to change. At the same time, companies should take care to highlight core behaviors that will never change, even as the strategy shifts.

Empower, maintain, develop, inspire, and protect. That may seem like a lot for you to handle as a manager right now. But taken one step at a time, and with a sound cultural foundation in place, resilience is achievable. You’ve made it through the most difficult stage, and you’ve set your team up to evolve and endure.


Brian is the VP of product at PI. He flew satellites in college while earning his aerospace engineering degree!

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