Leading an U.S.-based business during these volatile times in our history has never been more challenging. Race relations are being tested every day across the country. There's a threat that emerging public policy may wipe-out a large portion of the lower-end labor force. The direction of international business dealings is in question as the promise of new trade laws and tariffs looms. Many Americans are dispirited.
What's the problem? People are not quite sure what they stand for anymore. We've, in essence, lost our identity. We are no longer sure if our government is transformative or reformative? Are we about diversity and inclusion or are we just about exclusion? Is it a land of equal opportunity, or are opportunities limited to just some? All of these questions are being raised in a time of unprecedented globalization and digital transformation within businesses of all shapes and sizes.
It's no wonder that workplace morale is heading towards an all-time low. People are afraid that they can't learn what it takes to be successful. Clearly, working harder than the person next door is no longer enough to get ahead.
This loss of identity represents America's single greatest business challenge.
How can a business leader work to resolve it and fend off the pronounced business erosion that can result from a demoralized workforce?
The answers are not obvious or foolproof. But, there are some things that you can do to be the leader that bridges the gap for your people. Here are six ideas worth considering:
1. Give Them Something to Believe In - We all need something to believe in. Business leaders can provide a vivid and compelling vision of the future - and, most importantly, one that helps their staff to see them being successful within it. An engaging business vision can also give people something bigger than themselves to strive for and connect around.
2. Provide a Sense of Community - Since the larger American societal community appears to be breaking into smaller parts based, among other things, on race, class, education and proximity to urban areas. People need to feel like they're "in it together" with others (at least at work). So, stress a sense of community within your business. Help people gain an identity through their jobs and with the business that employs them.
3. Present a Bigger Picture - It seems that we've all lost some of that unspoken idea of what we are and how we fit into the bigger picture. People thirst for that understanding - it gives life meaning and purpose. Demonstrate to your staff through words and actions how what they do makes a difference and is important.
4. Demystify Technology - Many people are scared of technology. Some feel that it's too complicated for them to understand and master. Others fear that it will replace them on the job. It's important for business leaders to help change these perspectives. Even people that build things with their hands can use technology to build things better. Aid your people by demystifying technology - provide necessary training and frame new technology as today's power tools.
5. Leverage Differences - Business leaders need to re-think their existing cultural paradigms and re-caste them in ways that will help their organizations benefit from the individual differences that exist among their workforce. To remain competitive, the best leaders will courageously come to grips with the underlying attitudes, beliefs and expectations of their personnel and provide the thought leadership needed to ascertain success in the new epoch. This includes diversity of thought as well - provide opportunities for people to be heard, to understand differing points of view and to collaborate - then, watch your productivity rise.
6. Offer Hope - Help your people to transcend their despondency by presenting them with specific ideas about the opportunities that will exist for them and your business as the country evolves and moves forward. By positioning your business in a larger context, you can provide that spark of hope that we all need to get on with the work at hand.
These are just some of the ideas that you can use to re-energize a largely tired and disheartened workforce that has lost its sense of identity. Indeed, as a leader, you need to provide your people with a bit of compulsory inspiration and encouragement to pull them through.
To close, I think CBS News Anchor, Scott Pelley said it best just after the election: "Are you going to get what you want from the next government? No telling. Are we going to be OK? No question." Now, more than ever, your team needs to hear and believe this message.