Like most business leaders, I’ve been fortunate to lead my organization through times of great success, but I’ve also had to navigate through turbulent times. Now, of course, we are all faced with a challenge leaders around the world never imagined.
Over the past decade, we’ve experienced both record-high sales and a record-setting global downturn. The wisdom gained through these experiences has increased my depth as a leader, and made our organization more adaptable and focused.
The most significant factor leading to sustainability of the company is the dedication and grit of our employees. The culture developed through these cyclical periods allowed the company to endure and return to success and growth.
What I’ve learned as a leader is that employees feel a sense of control over their decisions and are ultimately more committed when you are transparent, authentic and empathetic. By focusing on integrity, mutual respect and contextual communication you will foster a culture where employees dedicate themselves to the health of the company and stick with you, no matter what the numbers say. Let me share some tips I’ve learned about building a loyal, resourceful workforce.
Demonstrate your commitment to transparency
When a leader demonstrates a commitment to transparency, it breeds a trust that is vital in difficult times. In the midst of turbulence it’s not sufficient to make broad, imprecise statements like “We are in the midst of a global recession” or “We need to reduce costs.” To establish and maintain the trust and dedication of employees, leaders need to explain the context of major decisions affecting the employees. As a leader, you must allow your employees an open door to ask “Why,” and be prepared with a thoughtful answer for them.
Of course, this commitment can be difficult to sustain in the face of turmoil. For example, leading a subsidiary of a publicly traded global company doesn’t always afford you all the facts required to be fully transparent all the time. A thoughtful approach to sharing what you know and maybe what you don’t in a timely manner will serve to address the concerns of employees and foster trust. A leader of any organization must attempt to gain as much organizational insight as possible, and can only speak to the facts as he/she knows them. Transparency can only go as far as the facts allow.
Stay dedicated to company values and culture
The values and culture you have established in your organization should not be compromised by economic circumstances. In my experience, the reinforcement of values and culture is more important during times of turbulence as you redefine what success looks like in terms of other metrics such as sales, profit, market share, etc. As you manage through difficulty, you will surely emphasize different objectives than in times of no trouble in order to protect the company. For example, if your organization moves from hyper growth to decline, you will have to exercise different management tactics while staying true to the values and culture you’ve established. Employees maintain loyalty and performance under consistent, predictable leadership.
Deliver clear, consistent messages
Honesty and transparency are important, but a lack of clarity in your message can cloud its meaning for employees. As the leader, your team is relying on you to bring simplicity to complex problems. It’s vital to contextualize issues clearly and consistently, provide a path forward and be willing to accept feedback and change course quickly as necessary.
Commit to omni-channel communications
The ability to clearly communicate and, even more important, demonstrate through actions that employees are the heart of the company, are critical factors to your organization’s success.
There is no such thing as overcommunicating. With the variety of tools available from group chats, video collaboration, and e-mail, there is no excuse not to deliver your clear, consistent messages and demonstrate commitment and transparency. Even the simple act of sharing an e-mail update on a regular basis can serve to alleviate employee anxiety during times of uncertainty. No matter the employee count, geography and complexity of an organization, the leader needs to develop channels of communication to reinforce the values and culture.
Employees are not a line-item on the balance sheet, but they are the most important asset of a company. They are the stewards of your brand and the single biggest success factor in navigating through outside challenge and change. Competition in today’s business environment is tough but if you provide an atmosphere of trust and thoughtful leadership, you will attract and retain great employees, ensuring your company’s success and sustainability in the long term.
Carmine Cinerari is the president of Sharp Electronics of Canada
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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