Bursting dot-com bubbles, energy crises, market corrections, mass layoffs, reduced revenues, tightened budgets, terrorist attacks, market-recovery delays, ethical scandals, and more mass layoffs -- even among companies long known for their "no layoff" policies. And all of that in the past two years. Ahhhh, life in a market-driven global economy.

Unfortunately, all of that volatility has left its mark on nearly everyone, including your employees, and that can chip away at the productivity you'll be relying upon tomorrow.

On the positive side, there are many indications that an economic recovery is underway and will continue to stabilize and build, however modestly. So what do managers and leaders need to be thinking about now? Let's take the briefest look back, and then start looking forward.

In the past year, the focus for many corporations has been on sharply reducing costs and making due with tighter budgets, fewer staff members, and less assistance from outside contractors and consultants. Employees in many companies, while no doubt happy to have remained employed, are finding themselves feeling more stressed, cynical and fatigued.

Starting now, however, managers and leaders need these same employees to begin rallying to a call for heightened morale and productivity, as their companies look to ramp up again to regain solid footing and a strong showing in the marketplace. And this is one of the key challenges that leaders will face in the coming weeks and months.

Just speaking about an economic recovery is too shallow, since organizational productivity, strength and growth will require a recovery in other areas as well. Productivity in your organization -- in terms of the bottom line, which is usually how productivity is defined in the traditional business world -- will be contingent upon a recovery in alignment, trust, morale, meaning and motivation. Though productivity is often defined in numbers, it relies very heavily upon people and their attitudes.

Where do you begin? Here are a few areas:

  • Acknowledge that there is a wake of destruction. There is enough data at this point from the last two decades that confirms that, even under normal circumstances, waves of layoffs have a negative effect on trust, loyalty, momentum, morale, concentration and productivity. And that has real costs. Add to that the more unusual events of last year -- contrived energy crisis, ethical scandals, terrorist attacks -- and you've got people who are just not thinking the way they were a year or two ago. That means your "same old" leadership and communication assumptions and strategies need to adjust to take new realities into account. The changes in your approach may be subtle, but they're important if you want to re-engage your workforce and gain a sense of forward-momentum.
  • Understand that a reorientation needs to be a priority. The reality for the past year -- and for some people, the past two years -- has been one of fear, uncertainty and stasis. Fear of getting laid off, uncertainty about the future, and holding off of any new or innovative efforts or activities. In order to shift into forward-momentum and ramped up productivity, leaders will need to realign and refocus employees on something more positive and forward-looking than the events of the past and current uncertainty.
  • Revisit, solidify and communicate a forward-looking vision. In case you've not been reading beyond the day's main headlines, the activities of the past year have caused a surge in the search for more meaningful, relevant work and a heightened sense of community. And that's a surge from what was already a pretty good trend making itself known in the 1990s. The same old dull and vapid vision and the same old restrictive, turf-heavy work environment are not going to cut it if you want to re-engage employees and rebuild trust and some sense of loyalty and rewarding community.
  • Unify and align your group around forward-looking shared goals. Even if your vision can be made only so exciting (and let's face it, how exciting can "we want to build world-class widgets" be?), then your focus needs to be on fostering well-defined shared values and goals that can be linked to individual values and priorities. A good communication program, and ensuring that your leaders and managers are clear and skillful communicators themselves, is key to creating this sense of alignment around goals that are correctly understood (rather than assumed).
  • Equip leaders and managers to connect individual employees with the organizational vision and shared goals. While it's always good to have communication vehicles geared toward and accessible to all employees, it's also vital to ensure that leaders and managers have helped to connect broader organizational vision and goals with departmental and individual goals. Seem too complicated and costly? Sorry, but if you're a leader or manager, that's a primary aspect of your job. Besides, it's an opportunity to be a servant-leader when such service and inspired leadership is desperately needed.
  • Have solid leadership and communication plans, and follow them with commitment and consistency. Some organizations have little formal communication, preferring instead to wing it. Others have massive communication programs that may be so focused on the tactical that they're strategically ineffective. The best bet is to ensure that you've got a purposeful (and that means intelligently planned) communication program that is (1) based on reality and (2) is specifically suited to your group and organizational culture and goals. Anything else is a waste of time and money; to not have one at all is also a waste of time and money. There are too many surveys showing the direct link between good organizational and leadership communication and bottom line benefits to skimp on it now, and it's more needed now than ever.
  • Be honest, authentic and ethical. This has never been something to assume, but after the Enron ethical debacle, it's more important than ever to get it right. If you wonder why so many people -- perhaps including your own employees -- are disenchanted and cynical, you can assume that actual or seemingly dishonest communications have played a role in creating those attitudes. Do an honesty and authenticity audit for your leadership and organizational communications, and find ways to bridge the gaps sooner rather than later. As soon as the economy picks up, employees will be shopping for those meaningful, honest, authentic organizations. Try to make sure your organization is a good candidate.
  • For guidance on how your group can be more productive, contact Ivy Sea to discuss their assessment services.

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