What should leaders be doing to motivate their people in times of downsizing, salary cuts, or an uncertain economy?

With the challenging economy these days, where companies are losing money and people are being downsized, a very important question I get asked is, “How can I, as a leader, motivate my people in these tough times?”  I think there are three things you can do.

The first thing you need to do is to be a bearer of hope. That doesn’t mean you don’t talk about the truth of the present reality, but hope is so important. When our company was facing its toughest year, our CEO, Tom McKee, got out in front of all of the employees and told them the reality of the situation and how much we were down from the year before. But then he said, “I think we can come out of this. We’re going to do it.”  He was a bearer of hope.

The second thing you need to do is to involve your people as your business partners. After Tom spoke, the next day we had a massive brainstorming session that involved all 300 of our employees in small groups, coming up with ideas of how to cut costs and increase revenues. Your people have knowledge—make them your business partners and tap into that resource.

The final thing you need to do is to always remember to be a servant leader. I so believe in that. This is not the time as a leader to be self-centered and worried about yourself or your own job. It’s a time to reach out to your people and encourage them, serve them, and be with them. So be bearers of hope, involve your people as your business partners, and be ready to serve—not to be served—as a leader.

Know Anyone Who is Looking for a New Job?

Although the U.S. unemployment rate is estimated to be 10%, if you look at the age groups of our talent base that’s out of work, it is far higher among recent college grads and estimated to be 20% or more among those between the ages of 20-30.  Many people have proposed a “job corps” like the Peace Corps, where young people would serve their communities for a year or two, and their education debts would be forgiven based on the duration of their service.

There is so much energy and passion among this age group just entering the workforce, and so much social entrepreneurship happening from this new generation.  It is a shame that we may be facing a “lost generation” of new workers due to the economy!

My friend Harvey Mackay has a new book called Use Your Head To Get Your Foot In The Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You. Whatever age you are, if you are frustrated with your job search, or you’re facing a career change, you will get some very practical insights.

People are more discouraged than ever.  But stay positive!

Finding a job and advancing a career is tough work.  People need an inspirational force behind them and Harvey will share that journey with you. This is a great book, and everybody today, whether they have a job or are looking for one, will find a lot of useful information.

Keep Up

One thought we have to keep at the top of mind is we are going to make it through this challenging time, and we’re going to do it together. We are. And we can’t get discouraged. We’re figuring this out together. Positive thinkers are winners. Why? Because they get positive results. And we’re going to get those. It’s going to be a story. It’s going to be a celebration. So don’t get down—keep up. We’re doing it all the time. You have a great, positive day, and remember we can do everything together. Remember that quote, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

Staying Peaceful

I have a great saying for you today that my friend Pat Zigarmi gave me last year when I was recovering from my hip surgery.  This is a good one for all of us:

“Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

How is that?  That’s really pretty powerful. Because with all the stress and the movement with the economy and everybody working hard and all, you have to find a way to stay peaceful in the midst of turmoil. That happens by quieting yourself periodically as you work through the day and know that you’re doing good things—you’re making a difference in people’s lives. Calm yourself down, take a few deep breaths, and recognize that peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. Have a great day.

Starting to Make a New Ending

I got up really early a few times in the last month to do TV shows with Garry Ridge about our book Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A. I was also up early doing radio shows all over the country for Who Killed Change?

You might say, well, what is this all doing besides selling books?  I think the two big areas where we can really start to help our companies in tough times is, first, how they can get the best kind of performance out of their people. The whole concept of Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A is so helpful in these times so people know what an “A” looks like and what they need to do to help their company. We’re going to be putting in a whole version of that system in our company so we can all get a clearer sense of what an “A” is for us. I think we can make some real interventions in that and help change the way performance evaluations are done. In terms of Who Killed Change? I think one of the biggest issues for companies is how to implement change in a way that sticks and makes a difference—because we are in a constant flux of change. I don’t think these two things are just about books; I think they are really about opportunities for companies to survive and thrive in tough times.

I got a wonderful quote in the mail the other day from Paul Kreider, who has been with Hershey’s Chocolate for thirty years: “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anybody can start today and make a new ending.” That’s really interesting, you know. You can’t redo the past, but starting today, you can say, “What am I going to do differently today to get a different ending at the end of this week, the end of the year, the end of my life?”  I just love that quote. So today’s the beginning of the rest of your life. How are you going to get a new ending for what you’re doing now?