March 15, 2021
No one — aside from Bill Gates, perhaps — could have predicted the fateful storm of events that unfolded in 2020. Now, even with the promise of a vaccine, the pandemic and its devastating effects still persist, leaving many of us cautiously optimistic about how 2021 will play out.
So how do you keep your team motivated throughout a year that will likely hold a few plot twists of its own? Below are three tips I’ve learned to apply both personally and professionally during unsettling times.
1. Empower your team to change the narrative
A few years ago my wife and I started a ritual of re-evaluating our “big picture” together at the end of each year. In doing this, what I often noticed is that our priorities had shifted. Audacious goals we’d started working towards were sometimes no longer relevant, while dreams we had previously thought unrealistic were closer in reach or had grown in importance.
The same principle applies to team work. Aligning on the end goal for any project you invest resources into is critical, but as you move forward, occasionally stopping to question why you started — and evaluating if it still makes sense — can be more effective than blindly moving ahead at all costs.
Giving employees the license to question the impact your collective work is having on the business and empowering them to initiate changes along the way is a great way to keep them engaged and build a better way. Does our direction still make sense? Do we stay the course or make modifications to the path?
The more honest and intentional you are in these conversations, the more likely you are to get alignment across the board. This pause and look forward is a foundational step in re-energizing your team and keeping them motivated even when times are tough.
2. Confirm the destination, not the route
Alignment on a goal is a beautiful thing, but the process of getting there can and should be messy. When everyone’s bought into where you want to be, it can be tempting to set out a roadmap of how to get there. If you get too detailed in your plan, however, you may be setting your team up for failure.
Not only will there be unforeseen obstacles that you didn’t plan for, but often overplanning means under utilizing your team's individual strengths and collective resourcefulness. One team member might be a sensei on foot, while another might be a road warrior, breaking record speed on winding pavement to get to the destination.
The point is, there is more than one way to reach a target. When you place trust in your team to problem solve and utilize their own skills and resources to reach a shared goal, they are less likely to get discouraged when an unexpected issue derails the plan. They are also more likely to stay motivated and engaged in the journey.
3. Stop rewarding selflessness
Striving for a shared goal takes hard work and of course, you want to reward your top performers who exceed expectations. You also don’t want to burn them out.
Regardless of how aligned or engaged your team is, if they are sacrificing self-care on a regular basis, their motivation is going to wear thin, particularly during a global crisis. A recent survey conducted by FlexJobs and Mental Health America found 75% of its participants had experienced burnout at work; 40% of those surveyed said they specifically experienced burnout during the pandemic.
Long hours and weekend work may reap immediate ROI, but long-term it can lead to higher turnaround and lower productivity rates. Instead, consider creating a culture where self-care is not just acceptable practice, but applauded. One of the most effective ways I’ve found to do this is to openly share and prioritize your own self-care practices with your team. Think about it. Saying it’s okay to take breaks is a lot different than having your CEO chime in about her new gym routine or telling her team she needs to log off at 4pm to make a Monday meditation.
When leaders show that self-care is a priority, your wider employee base is more likely to follow suit. The results speak for themselves. Companies that promote employee health are less likely to experience productivity declines , even during stressful events such as market downturns.
The global crisis has shown us how swiftly consumer behavior and market trends can change and how vulnerable even the greatest of businesses are when they’re unable to adapt – quickly. We may not be able to control what lies ahead, but we can arm our teams with these simple strategies to help keep them motivated regardless of what 2021 throws our way.
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