Could Your Organization be in Shock?

How most organizations are in more danger than they realize – and what they can do about it

It’s been an interesting couple of months. A historic election ushered in change in Washington and around the country. Huge financial institutions vaporized, along with trillions of dollars of investment value. The largest reported job losses in memory. Consumer confidence at an all time low.

And yet the greatest potential problem in business today is that most business leaders are radically underestimating the impact of these happenings on the effectiveness of their employees.

The good news is that you can do something about it.

Call it an Employee Confidence Crisis

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Many employers, for lots of reasons, begin to think of employees as something like machines. Supply a compliment here, a benefit there, some clear direction and voila! Results! If you don’t get what you want, do some maintenance or simply upgrade to a better machine and replace the ineffective one.

The problem is that employees are human beings – not machines – and people are impacted by far more than what’s happening at work. As employees hear about other businesses failing and people losing their jobs, they begin to worry about providing for themselves and their family, and these emotions begin assuming a life of their own.

Even as people resist these concerns, they steadily drain people’s ability to focus on the job at hand. People begin to question themselves – Am I doing the right things? Am I safe? Should I even be worrying about this? Am I stupid not to worry about this?

Executives and senior leaders are likely worrying the most, and many have taken proactive steps to keep things under control. Let’s be prudent! Reduce all non-essential expenditures! No new costs! We’ll get through this – just hunker down and do your job!

Yet this crisis of employee confidence cannot be reduced by minimizing expenditures. Even as cuts or spending pull-backs are made, those intelligent business actions add to the emotional mindset that this is serious and maybe we are going down and what can I do to prevent imminent disaster?

Crash! tinkle tinkle

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It’s as though we have collectively been involved in a serious accident. We’ve pulled ourselves out of the wreckage, removing ourselves from further harm. It doesn’t appear that we are injured, and we feel driven to go back to what we were doing before the accident. However it’s pretty likely that we are in shock – that otherworldly experience where our bodies are overreacting to the situation. We think we’re going to be ok, and yet unknown internal injuries or even the shock itself could actually kill us if not treated.

So connecting this picture back to the situation at hand:  the “prudent” actions of companies to minimize further expenditures are roughly equivalent to moving away from immediate harm. A vitally important step, yet most companies stop there and tell everyone to get back to work. Meanwhile, the patients remain in shock, with subsequent reduced productivity and carrying the potential for the entire company to, one day, suddenly collapse and die from that shock.

So now what?

1.  First, take care of yourself. This is akin to “putting on your oxygen mask before helping others.” Get some support from outside your immediate business to get clear on what’s real and what’s simply fear talking. You won’t do much good for others until you’ve dealt with shock yourself.

2. Next, make sure your employees are treated for shock. Ask how they are doing. Listen to their concerns, even if you can’t do anything about them. Think of the paramedic in the back of the ambulance – how do they connect with patients to find out what’s happening and what they could do to help?

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

3. Finally, get employees involved in the steps to recovery. Remember those pain medication buttons? They have drastically reduced use of medication by allowing patients to control their dosage. How can you help your employees shift their perspective and feel more in control by getting their help in making your organization stronger and more resilient? Hint: most people in shock don’t drive themselves to the hospital – get expert facilitation and support to help your organization be more successful together.

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Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.