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Posted: August 19, 2009

Employee call to action

How you can help your organization recover and thrive

Dr. Christine Riordan

Executives of today’s organizations are deeply worried about business: What do we need to change to recover from this recession and ultimately succeed? Can we make the changes we need to make to operate effectively in this new business environment?  Can we change fast enough?

Consequently, many employees are wondering when the pressure will let up.  Will I be able to keep my job?  Is someone solving the problems of the organization?  Why can’t we just keep doing what we have always been doing?  How much more work are they expecting me to do?  How can I possibly do more with fewer resources?

We often write about executives and managers’ roles during turbulent times, but rarely do we talk about the role of employees during times of uncertainty. We need strong leadership in today’s environment, but organizations will not survive or thrive on formal leadership alone.  They need all employees engaged in solving the problems and, most importantly, engaged in helping the organization prosper. Employee contributions are essential to an organization’s success.

All employees have the capacity to help their managers and their organizations succeed.  Executives often discuss the fact that they absolutely need their employees to rally around the goals of the organization and keep moving it forward.

Ultimately, the employees carry out the work of the organization. The prosperity of an organization depends upon everybody, not just the managers. Thus, all employees can and must make significant contributions to an organization’s success and failure.

Here are a few ways to ensure all employees stand out:

Think differently
Have no illusions, the business environment today is different. Even as we move out of the recession, the business environment will remain permanently altered. 

As a result, it requires that employees think differently about the business and their jobs and engage in an evolving set of behaviors and activities. All employees should ask themselves, “If I were to start this job all over again today, what would I do differently?”

Chances are if you are still doing things the way you have always done them, you may not be helping the organization as much as you think. Better yet, ask your boss this question and discuss your ideas with her or him.

Employees should creatively challenge themselves to bring new ideas to the table, look for ways to solve problems and be open to new ways of doing business.

Be active and engaged
Fully participate in the organization. Engage in behavior that is beyond the old limits of the job and demonstrate a sense of ownership. Managers are looking for employees to initiate problem solving and decision-making. It is time to be proactive and take action.

Focus on high-priority and high-impact activities
Align yourself to the organization’s purpose and vision. Focus on those activities that achieve maximum results with high impact. Eliminate those activities that do not directly improve results and realize desired outcomes. 
Do more with less
Managers are asking employees to do more today – without additional resources. It is possible to do more with fewer resources, if you stay focused on the big picture and think strategically. All organizations have room to become more efficient and effective. Now is the time to focus on places where you can save or reallocate resources, stop doing things that are not high impact, and focus time, energy, and other resources on top priorities.

Follow through and hold yourself accountable
Internalize your responsibilities and be accountable for meeting goals. Do what you say you are going to do, and more. Communicate more frequently about what you are working on and how the results are turning out, especially when things are not going well. Create the trust that demonstrates you will accomplish your work on time and with quality.
Now is not the time to be asking for new resources unless strategically needed. What you can do is collaborate with others on ideas to make your resources go further. Are there ways in which you can work more effectively with others to pool resources, people and activities, and create added enhancement while being effective?

Check your attitude
Today, organizations need employees that help keep a positive perspective. It is a very tough environment and frankly, most if not all people are worried. What affects an employee or department can affect the entire organization, so try to stay positive. 

Drive change
Finally, be a leader in the organization, even if you are not in a formal leadership position. All employees can assist in driving change. Make the changes needed in your areas of responsibility; support critical changes and ask what you can do to help. 

Employees who resist critical change are not only difficult but are obstructions to the organization. Be aware of how your own behavior can affect achieving the organization’s vision.  Do others see you as someone who proactively and positively helps with changes or someone who resists and complains about them?

There is no doubt that today’s work environment is difficult for everyone. That said, now is the time to for all employees to help their organizations.  It truly will take a collective effort.

The effects of the recent business environment are going to be far-reaching and will last for many years. Organizations are still struggling to recover; some will survive while already many have failed. The failure of organizations, in any form, has disastrous effects on all employees.  What is clear is that employees can largely make the difference between survival, failure, minimum recovery, or thriving.

Executives and managers are important in this environment, but just as critical are the employees who ultimately are a deciding factor in the effectiveness of all organizations.    

Start today: Ask what you can do to help your organization recover and thrive.

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Dr. Christine Riordan is dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, where she leads a global network of over 33,000 faculty, staff, students and alumni in providing business education, grounded in ethics and dedicated to transforming lives. DU's Daniels College of Business, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008, is ranked among the top business schools in the world by Business Week, U.S.News & World Report, Beyond Grey Pinstripes and the Financial Times.

Over the past two decades, Dr. Riordan has built a national reputation as a leadership development and workplace diversity expert. Her research focuses on labor-force diversity issues, human resources, workplace issues, leadership development, leadership effectiveness and career success.

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