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Google Employees Were Hurt by That Diversity Letter. Here's How to Protect Your Own Team.

When an unforeseeable negative event occurs, employees become distracted, losing sight of their love for the company and their own hard work.
Google Employees Were Hurt by That Diversity Letter. Here's How to Protect Your Own Team.
Image credit: Shutterstock

First came Uber’s shocking scandals -- one right after the other. And now there's been the recent uproar which attended the Google employee’s letter that has rocked that company’s foundations.

Related: Managing People Is an Art: 32 Ways to Do it Right.

Such unexpected disruptions have been shaking the ground of even the sturdiest employees and companies. Surprising events, like Google engineer’s James Damore’s letter of his views about diversity at Google, are devaluing the trust employees once had with their employers, making performance management an even greater challenge.

Damore’s letter, which was obtained by Gizmodo, argued that gender gaps are due not to sexism, but to what he described as biological differences between men and women. While this position was certainly not shared by Google’s leaders, Damore's letter sparked an uproar and opened a floodgate of employees sharing their disapproval of the company’s diversity programs.

Challenging company situations, like those at Google and Uber, don’t require just immediate public relations efforts but also longer-term retention and employer-branding strategies. What's more, companies that haven’t been hit with such major scandals need to act proactively to make sure they're not next.

Related: How Big Data Will Change Everything About Managing Employees

Even though most companies will never experience a challenge like a controversial -- some might say shocking -- 3,000-word manifesto on diversity, difficult situations may arise at any moment that will shake the core of a company -- meaning its employees.

Here are three ways company leaders can support and protect their "A" players before, during and after challenging situations erupt:

1. Make your mission undeniable.

Many companies' mission statements have been branded to the website and embroidered into employees’ minds since their onboarding. But do employees really understand the mission and purpose behind these documents?

Unfortunately, a 2015 report by Achievers, The Greatness Gap: The State of Employee Disengagement, revealed that a staggering 61 percent of employees surveyed didn't  know their company’s mission statement. Even more surprising, of those who were familiar with their company’s mission, 57 percent said they weren't motivated by it.

From point of recruiting, all the way through onboarding and employment, employees need to be completely aware of, and understand the mission of, their company's mission statement.

Beyond that, they need to see how leaders are carrying the mission forward and making it a reality. This means that making a few public statements about what company leaders hope to do to drive the mission forward will not reassure employees during a negative time.

So, be visible and “real” to your employees. Get on the same level as every other team member by heading volunteer opportunities that connect to the company’s mission. Be an avid part of the planning process; then get your hands dirty right next to your team during volunteering stints.

Show them that company leaders aren’t putting on a show to impress the public or customers, but are genuinely interested in driving the company’s mission forward -- every step of the way.

2. Use performance management to help them keep their eyes on the prize.

Performance management isn’t just a tactic to keep employees motivated and earning money. It’s a way for them to stay connected, passionate and forward thinking about their position with the company and its future.

However, when an unforeseeable negative event occurs, it’s easy for employees become distracted and lose sight of their love for the company and their own hard work. When this happens, it’s difficult to regain focus; eventually, declining employee engagement will start a disintegration of retention.

Before, during and after unfortunate events, keep the flow of work and positivity moving with performance management. Recognize employees for their continued determination and quality work. Make sure they’re on track and focused on immediate tasks by offering frequent one-on-one meetings and team-brainstorming events.

During one-on-ones, leaders should refocus on goals and address any negativity or concerns head-on. Then, brainstorm with team members to help ignite -- or reignite -- passions surrounding the success of their company, customers, the team and each individual.

3. Build trust in leadership -- the real kind.

Deep trust in leadership is difficult to build -- even when you're not up against difficult circumstances.

However, it’s when these circumstances do arise that leaders make major trust-building mistakes. They may make big promises for change, sugarcoat the situation or even attempt to force employees to be on their side. That's natural -- but harmful.

Team members will see right through these surface attempts to build trust, which actually end up distorting leaders’ intentions. No amount of performance management or employee-engagement tactics can help when the amount of distrust grows too great.

Related: 4 Techniques for Crafting a Mission Statement Worth Remembering

That’s why it’s crucial to be real and genuine in any attempt to gain or regain employee trust. Don’t jump in, intending to save the day. Instead, take a step back and lay out a strategy of both short- and long-term goals. As leaders explain how they suggest fixing the problem, employees should be encouraged to offer input and ideas on those solutions, as well.

Brainstorming with employees will give leaders deeper insight into the issues they’re trying to solve -- and they just might find the best solutions in these discussions, due to their proximity. Above all, taking the time to find the right solution alongside your employees will help you develop a natural and organic trust that will withstand the test of whatever challenging issues arise.