Mistakes Managers Make in an Uncertain Economy

Sep 30, 2008

Katherine Spencer Lee

Economic uncertainty is changing the way many managers approach their jobs, including everything from how they lead employees to the methods used to maintain productivity and address risk-taking. These adjustments are intended to help their departments adapt to a changing environment and survive further business challenges.


Unfortunately, the shift in leadership strategies doesn’t always yield positive results. Fortunately, we can learn from the mistakes made by managers in good times and bad. Here are some common ones to avoid:


Hiding the truth. It’s better for morale if employees don’t know your budget’s been cut 20%, right? Not necessarily. Instead, inform staff of the situation and invite their input. When people are involved in the decision-making process, they have less anxiety and may play a valuable role in a turnaround. Remember, too, that if you don’t disclose critical news, chances are staff will hear about it through the grapevine, which can fuel rumors and cause apprehension.


Asking for 110% with every project. Employees can’t give their all to everything on their to-do lists. They need to be able to prioritize, so let them know which tasks are critical and which can move to the back burner. Also be careful with deadlines. If you’re constantly putting people in crisis mode, job satisfaction and productivity will decline. You also may not be taken seriously when a project truly does need to be completed at once.


Believing employees are fortunate to have their jobs. Talented IT professionals are in demand in any economy. If you’re not showing your appreciation for those who work for you on a regular basis, they’re likely to pursue other opportunities.


Failing to reward staff. You may not be able to provide substantial raises or give employees new iPods to recognize excellent performance, but you still can provide meaningful and valuable encouragement. Fortunately, a big price tag isn’t always necessary to achieve big results when it comes to rewards. Verbalizing your appreciation during a staff meeting or letting employees go home early one afternoon after they’ve completed a major project, for instance, shows you notice and value their contributions.


Shooting down new ideas. When business conditions are unstable, it’s easy to resist change and stick with what you know. However, innovation often is what helps an organization get through rough waters. Maintain an open mind and encourage your employees to make suggestions. When you can’t implement ideas, share the reason and reinforce that you value the input.


Reducing training programs. Training is particularly critical in the IT field, so people can keep up with the pace of technological changes. If budgets are tight, be selective with educational options and make sure you’re providing the development programs that your staff needs. Ask vendors for references and have employees returning from seminars or conferences share what they’ve learned with others.


Adopting a half-empty mindset. It can be tough staying positive in an uncertain economy and easy to let your personal feelings about business challenges show through. Keep in mind, though, that you set the example for your team. If you’re pessimistic, they will be, too. Make a point to mention positive news whenever possible but, at the same time, avoid sugar coating situations just to improve staff morale.


Management strategies during uncertain times should be consistent with prosperous times: Treat employees with respect, value their input and give them the resources and encouragement to thrive in their jobs. If your team is motivated and satisfied with their work, you can be confident that they’ll remain loyal and help your company navigate the ups and downs of the business cycle. 


Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at

Tags: Wall St., Staff motivation, Effective management, Down times, Troubled waters,

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