No matter your political affiliation, 2017 was a rough year for federal employees. There was the hiring freeze, buyouts, and threats of deep cuts to pay and benefits. Talk about a bunch of morale killers. But, the calendar year is almost over and its time again to begin thinking about the new year and what that will mean for you and your team. And, perhaps more notably, how you can start 2018 in a positive light and keep your staff moving forward.
- Involve everyone in goal planning: Set a time for some end-of-year planning. Sure, it’s not the end of the fiscal year, but a new year often invites recommitment and renewed optimism (kind of like that plan for going to the gym every day). Invite the whole team, regardless of role, and set some goals for the new year and discuss focus. When you’re in your planning session, encourage creativity. Don’t stifle your team by shutting down ideas you know may never happen or even be approved by your boss. (If you're stuck on ways to encourage creativity, this will help get you started.)
- Listen and act: These two go hand in hand. When you conduct your planning session, ask your team for their feedback on current projects, what they’d like to see in the new year, changes that could be made to improve efficiency, your performance, anything. Listen to that feedback without negativity, and then act on it. Show your team that you value their feedback by making a change, or at least doing what you can to attempt to implement their ideas. (Read up on active listening.)
- Encourage a customer focus: Everyone has a customer, and those who understand who the customer is and what the customer wants tend to be happier and more productive. When you’re planning, encourage your team to focus on their customers. Ask what outcomes the customer is trying to achieve and figure out how you can help meet those goals. As you move into 2018, when problems arise, focus on finding a solution for the customer rather than looking for someone to blame (even if that person is yourself).
- Keep an open door: Let employees know that they’re always welcome to set a time to speak with you, whether it concerns work or a personal issue that is preventing that person from performing at his or her best. Keeping an open door helps workers understand that you have a vested interest in their wellbeing and helps improve relationships and trust among your team.
- Provide praise and be grateful: Recognize team members for meeting a goal or just doing something well, no matter how insignificant it seems. Make your praise public, but do so without appearing to shame the rest of the team. The happier your employees, the more productive they tend to be. And team members who receive praise are likely to continue improving and innovating. (Need tips on rewarding your team? Check this out!)
- Curb negativity: This applies to both you and your team. When you bring baggage to the office from home or you verbally express frustration to your staff about management or leadership or Congress or the White House, you encourage them to develop a negative attitude as well. Negativity does not breed productivity. Go a step further by showing your employees the respect they deserve and expecting the same in return. Don’t let one bad apple on your team ruin the atmosphere of the whole group. (Learn more about keeping positive.)
- Be honest: Let’s face it. Everything in your team isn’t sunshine and rainbows, and despite the appearance of negating the point above, being honest doesn’t necessarily invite negativity. Let everyone know when they aren’t meeting expectations in a constructive manner (either individually or as a group, depending on the situation), help find a solution, and then help everyone implement it. Or, if a project your team was excited about gets rejected, let them know. Don’t string anyone along, and don’t blame those above you. Simply go back to the drawing board, as a team.
- Encourage rest and relaxation: Don’t set your team up for failure in the new year by overworking them during the holidays. Yes, work still needs to get done, but it’s also vital to recognize that spending time with family and friends, taking a breather, and starting the new year refreshed is a benefit for everyone.