Finding Unity in Adversity


When you’ve had to make cuts and streamline processes to the bone, there’s one competitive advantage that must flourish — your staff.


Kevin McAlpin


‘Streamlining’, ‘synergising’ and ‘rationalising’ have all become common ways of companies describing a battening down of the hatches and/or cuts galore across industry. But while getting more for less is the maxim of virtually every business, the narrative has largely ignored what comes next.


Once you’ve driven through every possible efficiency through the system, a firm won’t be saved by those cuts — it will ultimately thrive because its staff are innovative and engaged in that new environment.

Before the financial crisis, employee engagement often gauged in terms of staff surveys and executive remuneration would be linked to the response.

But there now needs to be a new model put in place. There is so much more leaders need to keep focused on in terms of priorities, as well as keeping people energised and engaged.

Relationships and Trust — the New Differentiators

In the current environment maintaining relationships and building trust with employees are going to be key differentiators between firms.

To maximise employee engagement leaders need to be seen as someone they can trust who is setting the overall direction of the company, creating the right climate, and giving staff the right tools to do their job.

This kind of action gives people a sense of direction and the feeling they have the flexibility to do their jobs.

But this is much easier an environment to create when there’s money around.

With all the cuts going on many staff feel they are being told: ‘Make things as efficient as possible so we can make you redundant or replace you with technology’.

Since the credit crunch, we’ve seen a lot of firms moving from a positive approach to engagement to focusing on what is going wrong and who should be blamed.

Positive Messages Travel Far

The first message to leaders is don’t be overwhelmed by how difficult things might seem — take courage from things that are going well.

Where there are roadblocks, executives need energy, focus and perspective to challenge them: what are they? Are they organisational? Is it a question of self-perception more than anything else?

Making these kind of assessments can help leaders grasp a positive energy, which in turn allow them to believe ‘We can make a difference’.

Then it’s time to spread the word, and in these austere days honesty tinged with optimism is the way to take staff with you.

It’s at these times that developing more honesty, clarity and unity becomes vital:

  • Honesty —Treat people like adults; tell them times are tough but the company will get through it
  • Clarity — Tell them what your strategy is and if it changes, let them know. Offering clarity of vision and flexibility in how to get there, together with key outcomes, expectations and standards, will allow staff to apply their creativity in the most effective way
  • Unity — Tell them you are in this together and they will be looked after and recognised, even if it isn’t in a financial way at this stage.

Staff should also be encouraged to collaborate with their professional contacts; to use their networks to get a new perspective on what’s happening in the commercial environment as well as other industries.

As you can see, employee engagement is about much more than surveys. And it’s more important than ever.

Keeping Your Essential Assets on Board

There’s never been a stronger case for optimising employee engagement. It’s not just vital to reduce churn, but drive an atmosphere of cohesion, and find individual and collective reasons to go the extra mile.

Explore the Employee Engagement programme