Have you ever seen a company that was known for its positive culture and high retention rates transition into one with rapid turnover and low morale? Perhaps you were employed within the organization, or maybe you were just on the outside looking in, but in either scenario you witnessed a company that once had potential candidates swarming towards it suddenly transform into one that struggled to retain even its most seasoned employees. This is a surprisingly common occurrence and it’s unfortunate to witness devoted and loyal staff, who once saw the bigger picture and went the extra mile, quickly become jaded and worn-out.
What Is the Cause?
So what is the cause? The answers will always vary from company to company and many interwoven factors can initiate this type of negative change. However, it is startling how often the root cause of a negative downturn in a business is not traced back to many factors but instead one single organizational shift; a single change, as small as adjusting an existing policy or as large as a corporate merger, can become the catalyst for large seismic shifts within a corporation with many unanticipated long-term consequences. I coin this period of transitional vulnerability as “organizational moratorium,” during which an often well-meaning company, stressed from the demands of change, runs a higher risk of employee burnout, shelved company culture, and dwindling investment in their employees in order to meet bottom line metrics. Sadly, these negative changes and habits which were meant as a temporary adaptation to just “get by” often take root in the company culture and psyche long after any change was implemented.
However, there is a solution. While subjects such as staff morale, employee investment or corporate culture may seem like they conflict and compete against the types of daily pressures organizational moratorium breeds, this is simply not the case. Making smart investments in employees empowers them to solve those daily demands and meet metrics which not only fortifies them against stressful storms but positions them to take the helm, pro-actively evolve to the environment, and positively change those around them including the organization as a whole.
So how does a company make smart investments in employees during delicate times like an organizational moratorium? For each business the answer may slightly vary, but generally speaking there is no better, faster, easier, or more fine-tuned way to invest in employees smartly than through leveraging the power of consistent coaching.
Coach the Individual
During complicated transitions, tensions often arise when outdated company processes, roles, and expectations are not adequately or quickly adapted to the changing circumstances. On the other hand, when new policies and metrics are enacted too quickly and broadly without management having a robust understanding of the many implications and consequences, it is employees who feel the pressure to stretch to fill this unnecessary gap. Whether the expectation is old and outdated or new and untested, an expectation that doesn’t realistically match with the current resources, capabilities, and climate of an organization will pin its staff into a lose-lose scenario. Luckily, individual coaching solves these ambiguities by facilitating honest conversations about the current landscape, creating opportunities to take ownership, and actively finding and filling gaps.
Discover The Gaps
When time is limited, even small and somewhat informal conversations with staff can show management the actual gaps between abstract expectations and hard realities. Nobody understands those gaps more than those on the frontlines who are expected to bridge them daily. Consequently, candid conversations give management a pulse on the current situation which allows them to develop a more concrete and dynamic understanding, see the warning signs early on, course correct rapidly, and make adjustments on-demand.
Coaching also allows management to see and quickly address knowledge gaps in employees. It’s easy to assume if an employee attended a training or saw an announcement that they will immediately know how to implement it. However, even the most star employees can struggle to navigate how to apply their new knowledge (especially during an organizational moratorium) when new and unseen scenarios arise in rapid-fire and competing demands make it difficult to decide what to prioritize and what should be shelved. With coaching, employees can bring their training to task by pausing and reflecting with a mentor on their daily, real-world scenarios and situations where things feel less black and white. They can then strategize on how to bridge the gaps between the real and the ideal. Through guided coaching they can work through and troubleshoot complex scenarios with management on a case-by-case basis and collaboratively decide on the best approach forward. This reflective exercise naturally lends an employee a more robust mental hierarchy of how to apply the principles taught during training making that employee stronger, more specialized, and more skilled in the workplace.
Managers that put in the work to help staff break down large issues into manageable pieces demonstrate that big changes and large tasks are in fact manageable when separated, organized, processed, and delegated. Showing them they have this kind of control and power boosts employees’ confidence in themselves and in the situation at large making them more proactive and less reactive when moratorium brings in large waves of change. In fact, just knowing that management is there to actively support, strategize, and troubleshoot when new and dynamic issues arise can provide a huge amount of psychological relief during organizational moratorium. Employees are more likely to take personal ownership, engage in calculated risk-taking, proactively problem-solve, and gravitate towards active leadership roles during uncertain times when they know they have a net of support from management via coaching and some level of space to accommodate trial and error.
Coach the Team
During stressful junctures like organizational moratorium, it is easy to default to fight or flight mode. When just getting through the day or the week feels risky enough, it’s all too easy for a company to slip into autopilot and shift into habits more aligned with just “making do” and just “getting by.” However, as with most planes stuck on autopilot, missing the mark by just a few degrees can land you miles away from your goal. This is why coaching is even more vital during a moratorium than any other time. For departments that lack time to coach each individual to the level they would like and want to throw in the towel altogether, I would suggest this possible solution – Focus on coaching teams versus individuals. You can expend your resources on coaching the individuals that need it most and direct the majority of your resources towards coaching teams because strong teams naturally coach, nurture, and sustain the individuals in it as well as the company at large.
What are some of the biggest differences you have noticed when you were in a strong team compared to when you were in a weak one? The first thing I notice is the energy. In a strong, tightly knit team the energy is electric. The synergy of the group naturally places people into a growth mindset because the team that trusts its members will naturally leverage each other’s strengths and the team that respects each individual will naturally create a social safety net where team members cover for each other’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The saying goes we stand together, or we fall separately and this axiom is never truer in the corporate sphere than during organizational moratorium. During a moratorium, fewer things boost employee morale more when facing uncertainty than knowing their community is facing the problems together. And once you build and coach the team, that investment often becomes self-sustaining in a lot of ways. Connection and care within a team always leads to the internal coaching of each other which overtime actually saves a lot of time and resources as the team learns to self-correct and internally adjust to upcoming challenges on their own accord.
Synergy Breeds Strategy
Team synergy creates something else that is really special – Synergy breeds strategy. A tightly knit team engaging in high levels of communication, cooperation, and collaboration adapt and learn in quicker iterations not just as individuals but as a collective. As synergistic teams collaboratively learn from previous mistakes and slip-ups that often come out of the gray areas and blurry lines of organizational moratorium, they slowly work their way up to finding smarter and better ways to do things. After improving and refining their internal team and daily systems and processes they intuitively look outward to improve and refine their outward environment and even explore what types of structural adaptations could benefit the company in the long-term. A strong team’s inherent efficiency lends them the time needed to see the bigger picture; it lends them time to pause and reflect on what went well for the company, and what can be improved. With that long-term mindset, a synergistic team actively anticipates upcoming needs that sprout from organizational moratorium and strategizes new and innovative ways for the company to address them. Overtime, good teams can not only shift companies out of organizational moratorium but also change the landscape and usher in a new and better culture.
Strategy Breeds Morale
In these modes of high levels of connection and high levels of creation that come from both individual and team-level coaching, nothing boosts employee morale more because coaching gives employees power over their situation. Through coaching, employees are not just looking into the future, they are actively creating it. Especially during high-pressure company transitions, individuals can take comfort in knowing that while a situation may be stressful today, they and their team can actively shape their environment so they aren’t stuck in that same mire tomorrow.
In the end, growing pains within a company are hard and even the highest levels of preparation often cannot smooth out every bump in the road, especially unexpected ones. Meeting regularly to coach individuals and teams is a foundational way to fortify and strengthen an organization during uncertain corporate shifts and transitional changes. This is because employees that are invested in, will naturally invest in the environment around them; furthermore, nothing could protect a company during an organizational moratorium more than having employees that care about and the organization’s success and health. This type of investment most naturally sprouts through authentic and collaborative coaching where shared goals are created. In the end, coaching is a conversation. Conversation breeds connection, and connection creates relationships where mutual and reciprocal investment flourishes.
About the Author: Annabel Detering
Annabel joined CMOE in 2021 and brings diverse curriculum development and teaching experience to the Design Team and CMOE clients. She graduated from Utah State University with a Masters degree in Instructional Technology and Learning Science. She works with the Design Team to guide the design, development, and production of innovative learning and development curriculum.