Magazine article Management Today

The Human Factor

Magazine article Management Today

The Human Factor

Article excerpt

When share options are under water and the concept of a profit-related bonus sounds like a bad joke, one of the hardest tasks facing managers is to motivate staff and maintain morale. Difficult markets make it more important than ever to hold on to the key people in an organisation. Yet when job cuts are in order, the challenge is to ensure that crucial talent doesn't trickle away along with the more dispensable.

This is when leadership is put to the test. Staff need to be convinced that there is a bright future, for the business and for them within it.

The boss may be looking at poor trading figures and a sinking share price, but still he must persuade staff that their efforts will be well rewarded eventually.

If there was an overwhelming reason why Ian Harley should not have continued as chief executive of Abbey National it was that he had lost any ability to lead his troops. After four years at the top of Abbey, the dour Scottish accountant had become a leader with no following. Four executive directors had preceded Harley out of the door in the past year. Some botched treasury dealings and the bank's first ever profits warning were the trigger for his departure, but Harley had become such a negative factor that new chairman Lord Burns really had no option but to seek change.

Rather than wait until a new CEO could be found, Lord Burns has stepped temporarily into Harley's role. His twinkling enthusiasm should provide an injection of hope to the battered and bemused Abbey workers.

When the business climate is chilly and no job totally secure, positive messages from the boardroom are crucial. Otherwise, talent can dissipate frighteningly fast. In the case of Camelot, almost a third of its staff left as it resorted to legal action to secure a second term as national lottery operator. Such is the firm's dependence on a single contract that it was powerless to quell fears that it might not have a future.

Businesses intent on holding on to talent through the lean times need to make that talent feel appreciated. With money scarce, words resume their importance as useful currency. Managers must rediscover the morale-boosting effect of the 'herogram' to express thanks for a job well done; encouragement is always welcome but never more so than when the sales figures are refusing to rise despite prodigious efforts. …

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