I began my building career in the late-1970s–anybody remember 18.5% interest rates? But a lot of your staff members have not lived through it. The current housing market doom and gloom can take a toll on your employees, who feel the pressure from above to do more with less and who may fear wage cuts or job losses. But it's that workforce that is going to get your company through these tough times, so it's more important than ever that you, as a leader, keep staff motivated and committed.

Dr. Jim Harris Here are six simple yet powerful best practices to help you maintain a motivated team.

1. Ask your employees what motivates them. This is so simple, yet few LBM managers I ask really know what drives their staff. Gather your team together and brainstorm and rank a list of things that motivate them. Ask them for ways to increase the power of that incentive at work. Keep the list handy and refer to it when your team needs a lift.

2. Ask your team what demotivates them. Again, ask them to rank a list. This time, though, ask your team for ways to decrease each item's impact and frequency within your workplace. This is a particularly powerful best practice to retain your top talent. As I like to remind my audience during keynotes and workshops, "It only takes a couple of extra burrs in their saddle for your best employees to decide to ride another horse!"

3. Simplify processes. Ask your team what takes too long, what requires too many sign-offs, where do they feel they are wasting money and time, and where are things just too complicated. Ask for volunteers to create action plans on how to simplify each process.

4. Listen. Just listen. Few things motivate employees more than knowing their managers really listen to their needs, ideas, dreams, and even complaints. Focus on improving your listening skills. Read books, listen to communication-building tapes, take a course on interpersonal communication. Block out distractions, focus on the employee, and take the time to let him or her know that you care enough to listen.

5. Eliminate fear. A sad fact across too many LBM yards today is that many employees fear their boss. The employee is afraid of what the boss might do, especially if that person makes a mistake. Even Jack Welch, one of the toughest bosses in the past century, understood the importance of eliminating fear. Speaking to his GE shareholders in 1996, Welch stated, "We can no longer tolerate managers who force compliance rather than inspire excellence."

6. Allow your team to arrange the workplace to best meet its needs. This may be as simple as moving a piece of equipment to another location, as noncommittal as slightly modifying a current rack system, or as involved as totally reorganizing an entire workspace. Now could be a perfect opportunity to invest a little time and effort into better organizing your operation in anticipation of future business.

Motivating your workforce in tough times is not as tough as you think. Use these six best practices as a benchmark to maintain committed, productive employees. After all, you need them now more than ever.

Dr. Jim Harris is president of The Jim Harris Group, a Pensacola, Fla.?based leadership and management consulting firm. 850.476.6633. E-mail: jim@drjimharris.com