Stress doesn’t always have to be something that’s negative for your employees, according to leadership expert Liane Davey in a post for Harvard Business Review.
“If you’re trying to drum up new business, get a customer’s order out on time, or hit your numbers for the quarter, a little stress goes a long way. It’s even more important when you’re trying to transform your business or revitalize a sagging culture. That’s when you need enough stress to motivate action,” Davey says.
Stress in those situations creates tension that encourages employees to break free from habits. However, if stress gets too high, employees can become anxious and even immobilized, she says.
Somewhere in between is the right level of stress that drives change without burdening your team. Here’s how to reach that optimum level.
1. Assess the current state.
There are signs that the stress levels on your team aren’t sufficient to create meaningful change. Watch for people who are too comfortable with the status quo. On the other hand, watch for behavior changes that might indicate too much stress.
2. Increase the frequency and pointedness of coaching.
The secret to coaching toward an optimal level of stress is to increase the frequency of the feedback you provide, but decrease the intensity. If you don’t see improvement, dial it up.
3. Connect the person’s behavior to something bigger and more important.
Sometimes, an employee hasn’t made the link between how they perform and the organization’s ability to achieve something critical.
4. Allow a natural negative consequence for a lack of action.
Often, as a manager, you’re so invested in the performance of your team that you’re willing to pick up the slack from poor performance to avoid a bad outcome. That only reinforces the employees’ perceptions that they don’t need to change. Instead, allow poor performance to lead to a natural consequence.
5. Provide frequent positive feedback. In a low-stress scenario, you are coaching frequently to increase the sense of accountability. In a high-stress situation, you should still be spending considerable time coaching and providing feedback, but you need to change the content and tone. Your content should be focused more on recognizing and reinforcing small victories and on helping to problem solve to create momentum.
6. Break the problem into smaller pieces.
You can also break the project into sequential steps and focus on one at a time. The goal is to make the next task seem surmountable.
7. Add structure to the problem.
One of the worst things you can do when stress levels get too high is to jump in and solve the problem for your team. That can send all the wrong messages and leave you with accountability issues over the long run. The alternative is to go a little further than normal in helping your team think about how to tackle the problem.
8. Model confidence.
The simplest way you can turn down the heat for your team is to show them with your words and your body language that you believe everything will work out.