Three Questions for Leaders to Consider in Tough Times

The pivotal issue influencing employees` engagement with their work is the balance of demands to resources. Increasing resources or reducing demands improves that balance, allowing people to devote more time, energy, or materials to doing the necessary work. A resource-rich work world inspires people to become more engaged with their work. As they feel more energetic and involved, they become increasingly confident that they can do great work.

Managing an improving demand/resource balance has some challenges. Leaders are responsible for allocating resources equitably and preventing a sense of complacency. However, these challenges are easy compared to managing a worsening demand/resource balance.

It has been crunch time for the public sector across much of the post-industrialized world. In the USA state and local governments have been shedding jobs and reducing compensation. In Canada, the federal government has voiced a commitment to reducing the size of the federal public service. European governments in the Euro zone have committed to ongoing austerity programs, a major element of which is reducing public service staffing and compensation.

The balance is worsening for public service operations in health, education, social services, and administrative support. Many private sector operations are getting leaner and meaner as well.

The challenge for a leader is keeping the team committed and productive through the transition.

Question1: Can I support this change?

A disenchanted leader creates a drag on the team. Without optimism and problem-solving from a leader, teams become cynical and discouraged. I have witnessed employee distress when their public sector executives disparage government’s plans for spending reductions. If they cannot influence the funding decision, leaders need to get on board or move on.

Question 2: Can demand be reduced?

Some reductions in resources come with a mandate to reduce services. For example, a major reduction in the parks budget for Colorado Springs a few years ago came with an announcement that the city would stop mowing grass and collecting trash. Changes in services provoked a response from citizens who valued those services.

Question 3: Can we work smarter?

Increasing productivity can be a short-sighted strategy for squeezing more work out of people. Ideally, increasing productivity comes through leveraging existing resource through new skills, procedures, or technology. A sign of this approach is that employees feel smarter the longer they stay with a company.

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