How to Re-Engage People when Everything is Going Down?


To many managers in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the ongoing economic crisis brought a total new perspective on work. For more than two years, negative surprises kept coming one after the other in a chain reaction.

Volatility was topped by fear and insecurity, which in many companies translated into a deadly cocktail for the work environment. Managing this on top of other concerns about how to steer a company on stormy waters was probably a lifetime lesson for many CEE leaders. According to some of them, the key was more communication, proper communication and simpler communication.

Leaders of several top Czech-based companies gathered on May 26, 2010, at a seminar organized by the executive search consultancy Williams & Partner to discuss these challenges. For Markus Köhler, HR director with Microsoft Czech Republic, the solution was to be prepared long time in advance. “It was a common challenge to do more with less. Besides, we set up the motto for our fiscal year 2010: Yes, we can,” he said. In 2009, Microsoft was nominated the Best Employer of the Year in the Czech Republic, according to a study published by Hewitt Associates; in 2010, it got the second place in the same competition, plus the first distinction as the best employer in the IT industry. Köhler said his company measures employees’ satisfaction four times a year. “This is how we receive feedback from our people and pinpoint the needs for new developments,” he said. Another essential issue for Microsoft was to focus on managers’ development. It implemented new assessment centers and tried to match people’s career development plans with the company growth perspectives. “We’re large enough to make sure our people can achieve their dreams within our company,” he said.

Another challenge pointed at by Barbara Frei, country manager with the automated technology provider ABB was that, normally, a manager spends some five percent of his time talking to employees. In crisis, this amount raises dramatically to over 30 percent. In these new conditions, the manager must show a good control over his emotions, in order not to let them influence employees’ mood. “You become a role model for your people,” she said.
Jana Riebová, HR director with UniCredit Bank Czech Republic said that in 2009 her company experienced a loss of employee engagement. This was caused by several reasons. First, the crisis damaged the image of the banking industry heavily. Second, there is still a certain distance between the UniCredit employees and the new company brand. UniCredit experienced re-branding at the end of 2007, when two banks, HVB Bank and Živnostenská banka, a local bank with 139 years of tradition, were merged to create the fourth largest Czech back by volume of assets. “Before, people could identify easily with Živnostenská banka. Now that’s a challenge,” Riebová said.

In the future, UniCredit aims to boost its share in the Czech retail banking from 22 percent of total revenues to roughly 50 percent. This means that engaged employees might be the key for the bank success. “We need to bring engagement back. For that, we need to stay simple,” Riebová said, adding that the UniCredit management came up with 10 “golden rules of simplicity” that will be used for a better communication with employees.
Finally, Branislav Hunčik, the director of the HR services department of the international consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers said that the golden rule in these new market conditions is trust. Managers need to inspire trust to employees and give them trust, in order for employees to give their best to the company. Clear goals are also an essential part of the picture, together with the fact that managers must be authentic. “This will boost a company’s competitiveness and set it ready for difficult times,” he said.

Overall, it can be said that engaging an employee is not very difficult. A person who joins a company or a project has already vision and enthusiasm to put things in practice. However, various factors such as the economic crisis, a challenging labor environment or poor management practices can decrease the initial engagement. This is why it’s more difficult to re-engage someone scared, frustrated or disappointed than to hire someone new. However, talent shouldn’t be lost in the process. Managers need to handle re-engagement among other challenges brought over by the crisis. It might be an effort to re-assess people’s dreams and see whether they match the company’s new development plans. For that, managers need to care for their people first, and see the bigger picture for their company second. Such an approach could raise managers from simple administrative roles to becoming true corporate leaders, the seminar concluded.

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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