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How Investing in Your Team Can Pay Off – Even in Tight Times

Invest in Your Team image When the pressure is on to perform at a higher level due to limited resources and tight time constraints, your team’s morale is likely suffering.  As a manager, you are probably also feeling overwhelmed.  Many of us have experienced wanting to be proactive but struggling to find time to focus on the less tangible aspects of motivating and developing a team.

As someone who has helped grow a team from two to almost 100, I’ve learned that recognition and trust can go a long way to happier employees and better work outcomes.  Here are some ideas for investing in people that won’t drain your limited budget but will still pay off in tight times.

Recognize we are demanding more of our teams

Whether you are a federal leader or a contractor managing a team providing services to government agencies, we all have similar pressures in this environment of limited resources:

  • Employees are being asked to take on more responsibility sooner
  • Increasing demands on time mean that managers  have less time to develop and mentor teams
  • Training budgets are shrinking
  • Due to hiring freezes (affecting federal teams) or elimination of contract positions due to funding limitations, smaller teams are being asked to manage the workload that was once handled by a larger team
  • The pressure to make deadlines has not let up. In fact, for most the pressure has increased

You are demanding more of your team – it’s time to give them something, too.

Support your teams to achieve better results

Hopefully we can all agree that our employees need to feel supported in order to succeed in challenging situations, but if you’re asking yourself, “What can I really do with such limited resources?” think beyond paychecks to the kind of culture you can foster as a manager.  Here are some strategies I’ve found successful:

Empower your teams – when the heat is on, you need your team to perform at a higher level, so the first step is to give those who are performing well more authority to use their judgment and make decisions without checking in with you (or prescribe a process they can use to determine in which instances they need to check in with you);  once you empower them, hold periodic meetings to review what they are doing (remember the old saying, “trust but verify”); if you are not comfortable empowering them, is it because they are not meeting expectations?  If so, give them that feedback and hold them accountable.  Not holding everyone on a team accountable is a morale-killer in and of itself, not to mention in stressful times.

Support risk-based prioritization – Morale and performance can be hindered if leaders demand that quality, quantity, schedule, and other performance criteria must be maintained in spite of new resource constraints.  Allow the team to prioritize tasks and put some items on the back burner – and support the team if those decisions result in external pressures to maintain unrealistic performance levels.

Try a "Kudos Wall"
Try a “Kudos Wall”

Provide praise and constructive feedback. They’re free – for a new twist on recognition, try implementing a kudos wall (virtual or physical).  At our office, folks’ achievements and complimentary emails received from customers or leadership are displayed on a bulletin board for all to see.  You could even have a “white elephant” type trophy that is passed from one employee to the next at each of your team meetings to recognize superior performance (think of something goofy lying around in your attic or at a thrift store that would create a buzz – at my previous employer, it was an 18” hideous Elvis Statue).  Also, we all know that praise is a great motivator but even negative feedback, when provided with suggestions on how to improve, shows that you respect the person and  care about their professional growth

Encourage team members to pursue professional development – there are learning opportunities to fit most time and funding constraints.  For example, at Integrity, we encourage all of our Acquisition Analysts and many of our Program Analysts to take advantage of the Acquisition 101 training offered by DAU.  It’s an online self-paced resource that is free.  Most of our employees use their evening hours to complete this training to minimize potential disruptions to client service.  Knowing that it will help in their daily work, plus add credentials to their resume, is a big motivator.

Help staff envision a successful career beyond today’s uncertainty – Talk to your team about what their future looks like at your organization three, five, ten years down the road.  Help them see what opportunities lie ahead so they will be motivated to stick with the team in tough times knowing that better opportunities await them.  Stay positive when discussing the future.

Be honest with your teams but keep your emotions out of it – It is important that you communicate with your team in a way that is in alignment with your leadership’s messaging.  Don’t try to minimize the uncertainty they are feeling or give them vague assurances that you can’t back up as this could lead to an erosion of trust.  Most importantly, don’t let your frustration with resource challenges affect your mood and outlook; it will surely impact morale and team results in a tangible way.  It’s ok to tell them you are frustrated, feeling the stress, etc. as well (you do have a human side after all) but I advise against airing your grievances.  I know almost every manager has a desire to be part of the solution – acting on that desire demonstrates leadership at a time when employees need it most!

The Payoff

Everyone is being asked to “do more with less” these days, even managers.  Budgets are tight but you can still make investments in people – through empowerment, feedback, goal-setting, and a solutions-oriented approach.  My experience is that by following these principles, you will achieve a level of buy-in with your team that will result in a higher level of productivity, increased innovation, and better retention – all things that are critical to succeeding in these demanding times.