How to Powerfully Lead and Engage Your People During a Down Economy

by Gavin Pommernelle on April 18, 2023

Too often leaders follow a one-dimensional crisis mode - one that is highly reactive and people-avoidant. They focus on action and give very little attention to strategy and the role their people can play in helping them through the crisis. The result is uncertainty, lack of focus, disengaged people, and the resulting inability to retain key talent.

The business environment is starting to become really challenging for your business. At first, you tinker around the edges and make some easy changes. But it’s not enough and things keep getting more challenging. When the economy downshifts, you start to see challenges in your business like skinny pipeline numbers, extended time to close on deals, etc. You start to question your own decisions. You start feeling personally pressured. You know that what you choose to do now is likely to have long-term consequences. Now is not the time to hunker down on your own, or with just a small group of people.

Now is the time to become much more visible, communicative, and to involve others more. 

As the President of our executive coaching firm, I’ve worked with senior executives during these events, which has helped me observe some critical insights into the variety of ways leaders reacted to each of these situations. 

This article is going to focus on your most powerful resource to overcome these challenges - your people. 

(Spoiler alert: leaders need to be giving more attention to leadership and engagement, not less) 

Leading and engaging people during a weak economy can be challenging, but there are several things you can do to keep your team motivated and focused on achieving success. All of these may require some courage but are in your power and ultimately simple to implement:

  1. Be transparent and communicate regularly: It's important, to be honest with your team about the state of the economy and how it is impacting the company. Let them know what changes are being made, what they can expect, and how they can help. The combination of leader-led regular town halls, manager-facilitated team meetings, and one-on-ones creates the context, environment, and time to discuss progress, get input, and address concerns.
  2. Provide support: Employees may be feeling anxious or uncertain during a weak economy, so it's important to provide support and reassurance. Let them know how they do and can contribute to the company being more resilient, focusing on what matters most in their roles, and what you are doing to help them succeed. There are many resources available to support this in addition to the communication foundation. One of our clients has approached this in two parts: They have given specific examples of how to utilize their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), making it easier to get support and reducing any perceived vulnerability. They engaged Werq to conduct regular internal focus groups and to advise and coach leaders based on the insights and themes arising from these groups.
  3. Empower your team: Encourage your team to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to help the company succeed during challenging times - in fact, create specific opportunities for them to be able to do this. Don't leave this to chance. Schedule time for activities like "The Top 5 cost savings ideas.", "The top 5 things we should stop doing to focus more on the results that matter." etc. Give them the autonomy and resources they need to take ownership and make a difference.
  4. Recognize and reward success: Celebrate successes, no matter how small, and recognize the hard work and dedication of your team, especially as it relates to dealing with the business environment and how you empowered them. Often, the most powerfully motivating rewards are recognition and genuine gratitude. Both free.
  5. Focus on development: This environment creates opportunities for people to grow. They may bring skills and capabilities you weren't even aware of. They create scenarios that each person can learn from. They create the impetus to build new skills and take on new roles. It's much less expensive to invest in the people you have and help them grow than it is to hire external talent.

When a board asked me to help their relatively new CEO overcome a misaligned senior leadership team and an unhappy workforce during a recent crisis I found these simple things missing. The CEO was rightfully giving attention to shareholders/clients and to shore up the business, but had completely neglected his senior team and the people across the business. While he was able to recover some of these consequences, he was never able to fully rebuild the trust and commitment across these stakeholder groups and eventually left the underperforming business. 


Staying close and connected to your people during a time of challenge or crisis for your organization will make it more likely for you to get through this and will create your foundations for growth in the future. People mostly remember how you made them feel, and each one of these suggested actions will directly increase their emotional commitment to you and the organization.

About the Author

Gavin Pommernelle is the President of Werq, as well as an experienced Executive Coach and strategic advisor who works with C-suite teams and leaders to drive exceptional results. Connect with him further on his Linkedin

Topics: Effective Leadership, Strategy Work