Coaching a Weary Team through Change

 By Gerri Leder and Brigitta GyoerfiThe difference between managing and coaching your team through change .

In the face of unprecedented challenges, how are your company’s ambitions and limitations impacting your team?

Understandably, the pressure to grow is on.  A leader’s first instinct may be to focus on employees and their productivity.  Are members of your team feeling stressed, drained, unappreciated or unfulfilled?  What is it costing your team in low morale, dissatisfaction, illness, attrition?

How can you be the kind of leader that thrives on building morale, restoring trust and invigorating the weary? Or is that too much to ask of yourself.

What’s Wrong?

You may ask, “Why doesn’t my team follow my lead? I have done numerous briefings, town halls, offsite meetings and they just do not get it. Why don’t they see what I see?”

You have done everything in your power to communicate that elevated expectations require elevated effort, but have you done the right things?

Let’s be fair. Managers are facing an increasing challenge to motivate their teams. Along with profit pressures, they have adopted more stringent compliance and operational processes and, in some cases, soothed the fraying patience of shareholders.  It is understandable if the organization has been thrown into stress mode, when decision makers often shift to short-term reactive measures with constantly changing targets.

Pressing ahead with decreased resources and expecting to do more with less is not only stressful but unrealistic.  When employees stretch themselves too thin, have conflicting demands or are asked to focus on too many things at the same time, productivity comes at a cost. First, frustration and lack of engagement, then poor decision-making or even worse — turnover. You have to be careful that high performers don’t begin to look for other opportunities outside of the organization.

When was the last time people in the organization felt appreciated?  Achievements go unnoticed in the rush to pursue the next client, or to outrun the next deadline. There is little time to think or evaluate why you are doing what you are doing.

What would it take to shift your organization back to an environment of collaboration, empowerment and innovation?

 Coaching Through Change

How can you embrace corporate’s “new normal”? Leaders seem to be born to accept circumstances that aren’t what we hoped and fall short of what we expect. Yet, we find a path forward because there is no alternative.  Embrace the challenges you cannot change and be clear about changing the ones you can.

Then, be the best coach you can be by recognizing the individual skills and contributions of each team member. Take time to congratulate good performers for individual wins. Allow each person to feel success, understand his or her value and to be recognized by peers. Let each team member know you need a continued commitment to your team in order for the organization to succeed.

Ask more, direct less. Find out what untapped skills each person can offer if needed, even as you commend each one for their contributions. These meetings are the ideal time to validate the contributions to the group, affirm value to the team and ask for input.

It turns out, “doing more with less” may be an unfulfilled promise. The true answer to motivating the team lies in analyzing what you’re being asked to do and matching the expectations with the skills and resources you have available. Invariably, some of the activities or responsibilities have to be optimized or eliminated.

Optimize Activities for True Efficiency

How can you show up constructively and get the work done? Awareness is an essential first step. Staying connected to the team will help you realize when members are no longer responding as they have in the past. That may be when you hit the reset button.

Discuss the issue and your response, and plan with upper management to understand and gain perspective. As you know, change requires a strong commitment from above and even then, doesn’t happen overnight.

With upper management’s support, you can turn your attention back to your team. Engage members in setting clear objectives and bringing more mindfulness to current priorities. This focus on re-setting realistic priorities can help to raise team morale and energy and create a feeling of accomplishment. A great way to assess and refine the tasks, processes and outputs is to ask these questions around each major area of work:

  • How important is this task to our mission?
  • What do I really want to achieve with this project?
  • What would happen if we were to discontinue it?
  • What does it cost for the company to produce or generate the work?
  • What can I stop doing and how much would I save by not doing it?

Applying this test to each major task or deliverable performed by your group will help clarify what you are doing, where you could conserve your efforts and what you can cut out entirely. Sometimes knowing when to do less is the right answer.  It is important that you seek the consensus of your team, not only to tap into diverse brainpower but also to achieve energetic buy-in and support when you need to act fast and smart.

Objective Feedback

The opportunity cost of low morale is higher than you think in a company navigating unprecedented change, and the cost is often simply overlooked. Can you quantify missed opportunities and the absence of innovation along with tangibles such as high turnover and increasing number of sick days?

In times of transition and turmoil, many managers find it helpful to get objective feedback to navigate change. Solicit regular feedback from an advocate, such as a senior executive or coach, who can listen without judgment, provide feedback and serve as a sounding board for your brainstorming.

Even good intentions can go terribly wrong when they don’t resonate with the audience. Coaching can be a bridge between different organizational levels.  Coaches bring tools and exercises to challenge the status quo, reinstate trust or reveal new values that are better aligned with the strategy.  Connecting the “who we are” with “why are we doing this “creates a sense of fulfillment and uncovers the hidden potential. As change commands tangible outcomes and sustainable shifts in the organization, coaches can equip both leaders and team members with useful tools and the necessary structural approach to make it a success without a force.

Invest in your team and change how respond as a leader — as a good coach would. Through this work, you can set the tone for an organization that is retooling for the road ahead.

Gerri Leder, CPC, ELI-MP, a MD-based communicator and coach in financial services, and Brigitta Gyoerfi, CPC, ELI-MP, a European-based business manager for a financial services team, observe the financial services industry from their respective perches. Gerri and Brigitta met while completing their training for national coaching accreditation.

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