Motivating in Difficult Times

Cranfield School of Management

Visit Cranfield School of Management's main website
Think: Cranfield

Motivating in Difficult Times
Professor Mike Bourne
In a very difficult business environment, managers will be only too aware that the motivation of their workforce can suffer. Yet perhaps more than ever, it is vital to engage people and bolster morale. Managers may feel their hands are tied, but my experience of working with a number of organisations suggests there are practical ways to counter constrained resources and tight budgets. Based on this experience, here are four important areas to consider in order to foster a positive working atmosphere.

  1. Communicate. Tell people what is happening, even if it is bad news. If you don’t, the vacuum will be filled with rumours and that is in nobody’s best interest. People already know when things are going well or badly, but having up-to-date, credible communication is key to keeping people on board. Communication also involves listening. In an effort to raise morale, one organisation asked its employees what were their priorities for low cost incentives. They came up with a range of measures, such as flexible working. More importantly, just having that serious listening going on was just a real motivation in itself for the staff, who valued that the company was interested in them and was giving them everything they could do in a constrained environment.
  2. Be cost focused, but not penny pinching. Careful consideration needs to be given to the way you go about reducing costs. Top-down and poorly thought-out decisions can cause resentment, disempowerment and plain inefficiency. When administrative delays in processing purchase orders mean that you end up paying more for air tickets for example, people rightly question the credibility of management and how much they are in touch with reality. Do not let excessive controls get in the way of good decision-making.
  3. Treat people fairly. If you have to reduce your staff numbers, do this as humanely and competently as possible. This matters both for those that leave and those left behind. If at all possible, you don’t want those made redundant to bad mouth the organisation and you never know when you will meet those people again. I know one executive who was introduced to a new job by a colleague he had made redundant many years before, so it pays to treat people carefully. Those who are left need to be motivated to help the organisation survive. How they feel about the organisation will be greatly influenced by how they perceive that you have treated their colleagues.
  4. Celebrate success and effort. Work can seem a long, dreary and hard grind when things are going badly, but celebrating success and effort can lift spirits and re-energise people. Just saying thank you is a start, it shows you have noticed and appreciated the work people have put in. Taking the team out and spending time together is important too and you don’t need to spend a fortune, as it is not expected. Remember “it is the thought that counts”.

Taken together, these suggestions represent an underlying philosophy and a considered approach to addressing a vital business issue. If managed well, this approach to dealing with people can make all the difference in pulling an organisation through tough times. To be successful, it requires active and consistent management. 

Mike Bourne is Professor of Business Performance in the Centre for Business Performance.

 Think Cranfield Archive

Knowledge Interchange Online

The Cranfield Knowledge Interchange Online (KI) for the latest management knowledge and business intelligence from Cranfield and around the world.

Management Focus

Management Focus contains articles on a wide range of topics affecting managers today, drawing on Cranfield’s research and expertise

We are always keen to hear your thoughts and comments on any of the articles featured in Think:Cranfield.
Please email us

Programmes and Executive

home about mba msc doctorates executive development research information contact us