How One Man Leads Demoralized Teams Back to Greatness

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For managers, employee apathy can be debilitating. Left unchecked, the problem can evolve beyond the doors of the establishment, and potentially force a business to shut down because of a poor reputation.

It may be easy to blame the employees themselves, but before jumping to this conclusion, have you—the manager—figured out what you could do to fix it?

Unmotivated employees hurt a business’s ability to work productively. Not only can disengaged employees cost employers up to $550 billion per year, but they’re also not much fun to be around. And that could very well be the problem.

As an organizational leader, apathy is something that you need to take ownership of and rectify immediately. No matter how bad it may be, attitude can always be turned around, but it will be up to you to make that happen.

Let’s get started.

First things first: Own the problem

It’s time to stop blaming your employees for your shortcomings as a leader.

If there’s a gap in competency, it needs to be addressed through proper training. This includes providing the necessary steps to complete a task properly; following up; providing feedback, and—perhaps the most trying step for some—trusting that your employees will adhere to and effectively communicate the expected standard of performance to others.

In fact, in order to effectively lead a demoralized team back to greatness, there are five things that you need to do today:

  1. Be accountable
  2. Delegate responsibility
  3. Cultivate the right leadership style (authoritative, democratic, laissez-faire)
  4. Communicate effectively
  5. Encourage innovation

These actions are well within the capabilities of a competent leader or manager, and can turn around even the worst scenarios.

As I’ve experienced in my own capacity as a leader, employees enjoy being assigned tasks, and feeling that their work is valued and that they are moving “up” in the company through continuous training.

During one stint at a particularly troubled restaurant I was transferred to, I was told walking in that:

  • Half of the staff had been deemed “untrainable”
  • Many of them were “spoiled teenagers”
  • They were only trained in one function or role

One of the reasons that this restaurant fell into disarray was the fact that it lacked a cohesive training program. The location opened two weeks early and established hiring practices were greatly loosened to staff the restaurant as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this led to taking on a glut of employees who may have been ill-equipped to work in a quick-serve establishment.

Aside from the fact that most of them were perceived as rebellious teenagers, a large portion of the back-of-house staff also didn’t speak English.

Despite these obstacles, I resolved to transform this team into a top-performing unit that worked really well together and enjoyed every second of it. 

What I did to create a top-performing unit

My approach hinged on an underlying principle: Learn how to effectively engage each employee based on his or her personality. Not everyone learns the same way, so by making my training methods flexible, I was able to determine the best approach for each one.

For all employees, I drafted a training schedule that would effectively cross-train everyone on the floor for all positions within a two month period of time. I would set dates, times and expectations beforehand to take advantage of slow periods and ensure their full engagement.

This approach may have been slower than the fast-track method that got them in the door, but it did give me and the trainees the confidence that they knew the position inside and out. After two months, I was able to effectively train and document progress on every single employee on the floor. The old “aces in their places” approach was thrown out in favor of a dedicated training schedule that allowed everyone to continually learn and become proficient in every position.

Of course, this also opened doors for career advancement, with a select few of them working their way into salaried manager positions even after I moved on. The program was such a success, that it was integrated across the entire organization and eventually, a practice that the business became known for.

Before leaving, I asked my team how they’d rate their training. I was told multiple times that giving them goals to work toward was their favorite part, and they even commemorated my time with them by creating a custom wooden plaque with their names on it.

It was during my time there that I learned that managers, trainers, and leaders can turn around any bad situation, as long as they’re willing to put the energy into it and evoke true change.

The takeaway

When managers take the time to properly train their employees, not even language barriers can interfere. Knowledge is truly power, and “organic motivation” is a by-product of effective communication, a clear training regimen, and opportunities for advancement. This of course leads to a competitive advantage for the company, as happier employees lead to a better customer experience.

If your team is struggling with motivation, start small and set goals that everyone can work toward. Everything else will come naturally.

What have you done to motivate your employees? Did you have to make choices that went against established practices? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted in Management