Four Things Your People Need in Tough Times

Tough times present great opportunities to grow our leadership and shape our legacy. The current recession is no exception. The problem is that many leaders I have spoken with have grown weary of trying to keep things moving forward with fewer resources.

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In times like these, it is tempting for us to stay in our offices and become introspective. But we absolutely must not do that. It’s time to suck it up and lead. Our leadership will make a difference—for us, for them, and for our organization’s mission.

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Specifically, in tough times, our people need four things:

  1. Acknowledgment. People need to know that we “get it.” They need to know that their work is not going unnoticed—that we see their commitment, hard work, and scant resources. We may be tempted not to acknowledge these facts because we don’t want to give them an excuse. We must resist that temptation and speak up. Our empathy will go along way toward boosting morale.
  2. Appreciation. People need to be thanked. We may not be in a position to give raises, bonuses, or other perks, but we can be grateful. It doesn’t cost us anything, other than the time it takes to write a note or drop by someone’s desk and say, “thank you.” Our appreciation needs to be personal, frequent, and specific to what was accomplished. We need to celebrate the small wins.
  3. Affirmation. People need to be told they are doing a good job. In fact, we can’t say this too often. When times are tough, people become fearful and uncertain. They need to know that their work matters. They need our reassurance that their efforts are not in vain. They are doing the right things and eventually it will pay off.
  4. Vision. People need to be reminded of the vision. This is often the first thing to go in challenging times. Leaders aren’t sure the vision is still possible, so they stop talking about it. This is a mistake. The only thing that gives the vision life is our articulation of it. In order to stay focused and on-task, people need to see where their hard work and sacrifice is going. They need to be reminded of what they are really building. They need perspective.

Hopefully, we are getting these things from our boss or board. That certainly makes it easier to pass it along to your team. But if not, that can’t be an excuse. Regardless of what level we are in the organization, we must be proactive and reach out to our own team members. They need our leadership now more than ever.

Question: What are you doing to encourage your people in tough times? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jon Smith

    These are great points, and, in my opinion, they all have to happen for any of them to work. I think articulating the vision is the most important. The other three go a long way initially, but if the vision isn't being articulated along with those, acknowledging, appreciating, and affirming grow unsuccessful at keeping your team engaged for the long haul.

    One thing we do is to 'share the wins'. Anytime someone in my team gets a good compliment from a customer, we send it out to the entire organization and include how making customers 'raving fans' fits into our long-term vision. It's a small thing but seems to go a long way.

  • @BLichtenwalner

    I would add:

    Prioritization. As the difficult times continue over extended periods, servant leaders must make difficult choices and prioritize only the most important work. This ensures sustainability of work loads. Otherwise, we will eventually experience burn out, poor morale and higher turnover. If people are truly our most important asset, we must not run them into the ground.

    As usual, your wisdom is excellent and greatly appreciated. Thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Prioritization is a very important point. Thanks for adding that.

    • Guest

      Amen and amen…so I survived the first round of layoffs and I'm on board to help the company pull thru, but what does that really mean if I'm not in a sustainable situation – more like a stalemate with burn out? I'm left to wonder if this is all there is to the professional life?
      Mike, please shout this message every chance you get!!!

  • Stan

    This is a very timely reminder. The only thing I would add to your list is "presence". You mention we need to get out of the office and not hunker down, but we need to be very visible in as many of our locations as possible. In tough times we tend to narrow down those appearances, but that's exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. Our team members need to experience our honesty and candor first hand.

  • fogbound

    That's great! You would think by the way some talk that we are the first generation to go through hard times. Well, my parents lived through the depression after WWII and survived very well. They still share the memories of those days when most people had very little. This is a challenge for us today and the church and its leaders need to be leading the way with hope and with focus beyond our materialistic culture. Your list is so important to keep people focused.

  • DerekDRobertson

    I would be ecstatic to work for someone like this. It's nice to get paid and the perks but it's even nicer to get complimented or appreciated. I have gotten complimented on rare occasions but it's always followed by something negative. We need more leaders like you.

  • AnneLangBundy

    I was having a little difficulty assimilating the difference between acknowledgment, appreciation, affirmation. I'm filtering this through my brain likewise:

    Acknowledgment is about what a person is doing now
    Appreciation is for what a person has done
    Affirmation expresses confidence in what a person can do
    Vision gives direction and provides context for all of the above

    If I didn't get it, or if this conflicts with your intent, I'd welcome further clarification.

  • Michelle Traudt

    I couldn't agree with this more! We all need those things to flourish in our work. And a vision is so important to keep us on the right track.

  • Lynn M

    Very true. This just goes to show you that often we over-think things in business but should use common sense. These are the things that every employee would like to have whether they are working administrative jobs, sales jobs, or IT jobs. It's ALSO the same thing people want in their daily lives. Isn't this what one wants from their parents? Even from their spouse? Often the simplest ideas are the most valuable.

  • Courtney (

    Great list – thank you!!! Also, I am reading the Zondervan book “IT” you sent!!! AWESOME! It has helped me so much! I have it all marked up and highlighted! Thank you thank you thank you! I plan to have my husband read it next! Thank you!

  • Mac Lake

    Practical stuff, thanks Mike, great reminder.

  • dfoster7597

    Another fantastic post filled with leadership wisdom. All four of these are so important in these challenging economic times. Often we can go through the day with no encouragement or reminder of why we do what we do and it can be depressing. I've shared this with our entire management team and other leaders I know. Keep it coming!

  • Bonnie Grove

    These are all excellent. I think vision casting is so important in difficult times.

    I would add the need for leadership to provide avenues of communication within the organization that allow employees to problem solve at their level. Difficult times can be times for employees to shine with flexible thinking solutions, resource sharing, peer support, and problem defining. Trickle down support, nurturing, and visioning paired with employee empowerment can help an organization soar in the midst of difficult times.

  • Wally Bock

    Great post, Michael. I especially like the vision point because that's often forgotten when the winds of economic storms blow cold. And yet those times are the very ones where knowing that there is a vision and understanding what it is makes the most difference.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, vision is usually the first thing to go.

  • AimeeLS

    So true…and just as applicable spiritually as in the 'workplace'…

  • @pluriel

    Michael, it is so true that the list could go beyond #4. With my French culture, thoses statements sound politically correct (langue de bois)!

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  • Michelle

    I read this post and realized this is exactly what our CEO just did for us. And what I haven't done for my team…

  • mpearcangel

    its great to find this site! I realized there are so many inexpensive things in this world that we often neglect. but once we give importance on it, it could make a huge impact and spell a big difference.

  • Wally Bock

    Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

    Wally Bock

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  • @jtpedersen

    Excellent article. I'm presenting at a Leadership event in March. These are some of the very same points I'm planning to speak to as well.

    Important to a healthy, productive environment regardless of economic conditions, they are (of course) even more important when times are tough.
    My recent post What Does Your Company Stand For?

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  • Colin_Faulkner

    This is good and timely for me. I'd add to #4 (sharing the vision) and say tough times call for "over communication." The tendency when times are tough is to close the door, pull the manhole cover over, be secretive about things that are happening or not happening. I think that open, honest, transparent and more frequent communication is another big key to leading your team through tough times.

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