Table of Contents

Ways to improve morale

By raising your awareness of how you impact your staff’s morale, and taking the time to learn more about the factors that impact morale, you can dramatically improve your effectiveness.

Focus On What You Can Control, Not On What You Can’t

The first step in examining how to improve morale is to get clear on this point. Gallup’s landmark research has shown that an employee’s supervisor affects their performance and loyalty far more than does the CEO or the overall organizational climate. Thus, even if your senior management team doesn’t seem interested in improving morale, research shows that you can make a huge difference. The key to both your effectiveness and job satisfaction is to focus on the things you can control and influence, and practice letting go of those things totally out of your control.

You have control over whether you take the time to learn what factors and practices affect morale. You have control over whether you make a conscious effort to do the things that make a difference, and whether you engage in professional development to improve your supervisory skills. You also have control over whether you study how to become more influential, so that you can increase the odds that others will do their part to improve morale.

Do “The Big Three”

If you were to do only the following three things, you would still make a significant improvement in morale. These three action steps are based on research revealing what factors make the biggest difference in morale and engagement.

#1 Practice noticing when your people do something well. Then tell them about it.

Unfortunately, noticing good things doesn’t come naturally. Noticing what’s wrong is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Our survival was more closely linked to noticing what’s wrong – i.e. potential danger (“Avoid that poisonous snake”), than to noticing what is right (“Oh, look at that pretty bird.”). Thus, it takes conscious attention and discipline to offset this hard-wired tendency.

#2 Don’t’ just talk at employees; aggressively listen to them.

Listen to their ideas about process improvements. Listen to their concerns. Listen to their opinions. This doesn’t mean you agree, nor does it mean you have to act on every recommendation you hear. It does mean that you respect them as people. Few things damage morale – and an employee’s respect for management - more effectively than a know-it-all boss who doesn’t value the ideas of the people in the trenches. Not listening to concerns also creates a “Why should I care about you, if you don’t care about me?” attitude in employees.

Conversely, managers who listen engender engagement and loyalty. Listening also cultivates respect, because front line employees know that it’s just commonsense that the people doing the job might have a few good ideas about how to do that job better. Managers who don’t get this, lose the respect of their people.

#3 Practice showing more appreciation.

A number of landmark studies over the last several decades have shown that appreciation is the #1 motivator for employees. Managers who don’t express appreciation not only miss out on this powerful motivator, they also sow the seeds of discontent and disengagement. Few things alienate workers more than when hard work, going the extra mile, and showing initiative are taken for granted. Therefore, practice noticing when your workers do these things and then letting them know you appreciate their efforts.

Ask For Feedback About Your Management Style

When I became a manager, I told my staff “My job is to bring out the best in you. If I’m not doing that, I’m doing my job. So… if I do anything that gets in the way of your doing your job well, or if I inadvertently say something that hurts your feelings, please let me know….” Because they had been in the work world long enough to question whether their boss really meant that, they didn’t immediately offer feedback or tell me when I said something that disturbed them. I had to be mindful of checking in with them every now and then to make it clear that I really did want their feedback. If I wondered about the impact of a difficult conversation we just had, or if I had been too heavy handed about something, I would check in. Doing that not only provided me with useful feedback about how to manage each person more effectively, it also kept hurt feelings from festering and getting in the way of their working enthusiastically. It also communicated to them that I cared about and respected them. As we all know from personal experience, and as Gallup’s research backs up, whether or not we believe our boss cares about and shows us respect has a huge impact on our morale and level of engagement.

If you truly want honest feedback, you’ll need to prove it. You do this by checking in with your people every once in awhile, rather than giving a one time speech. Through repeated exposures, your people will begin to believe that you really do mean it. You’ll also demonstrate your sincerity by graciously receiving the feedback, rather than getting defensive. Doing so is a challenge for most of us. In fact, when the Franklin Covey organization compiled the results of 360° feedback surveys their clients had conducted over the past decade, the two items that received the lowest average score were “receives feedback without getting defensive” and “is open to constructive criticism.” Even the great managers, on average, have a lot of room for improvement in this area. Because it’s hard for most of us to respond non-defensively to feedback, especially if we disagree with the perception, you might want to get some coaching on how to respond productively. This will increase the odds that you will eventually receive the kind of feedback you’ll need to improve your ability to cultivate high morale and productivity.

Ask yourself: “Am I Inspired?”

If you’re not, how can you expect your staff to be? If you don’t feel inspired, if you don’t feel fired up about coming to work, do some soul searching about why. Are you simply tired from overwork and therefore “running on empty?” If so, it’s hard to get excited about anything. Do you no longer feel connected to your organization’s mission or do you even feel at odds with it? Does your job or profession no longer enliven you? Or… have you simply been running on autopilot and need to reconnect with what you love about your work and the value you and your organization provide? Whatever the source, if you’re not inspired, you need to rekindle your passion if you want your people to be inspired and motivated. You would be suprised at how infectious your mood is on others.


Learn More About Human Nature And How To Work With It, Rather Than Against It

Legendary quality guru Dr. Edwards Deming once sent Dr. Peter Senge, author of the business classic The Fifth Discipline, a letter containing the following line: “Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people.” In discussing Dr. Deming’s observation at a conference of quality professionals, Senge noted: “What Dr. Deming was getting at was that our prevailing system of management is fundamentally inconsistent with human nature.

”When managed in ways that are inconsistent with human nature, people operate at a fraction of their true capacity. Furthermore, when people are managed in ways that are inconsistent with human nature, they bring a much poorer version of themselves to work. They are not nearly as engaged, loyal, creative, flexible, or even mature as they are when they are working in an environment that is in sync with human nature.

To illustrate the importance of a manager understanding human nature, and the consequences of not doing this, let’s use an agricultural analogy. Imagine someone going into large scale commercial farming without learning the growing condition requirements of each vegetable they hope to raise. Imagine this person, responsible for a multi-million dollar operation, deciding that he is too busy to learn about the growing condition requirements of the various vegetables he will grow. Instead, he decides that he is just going to “fly by the seat of his pants” and “wing it.” How will the quality and quantity of his produce compare to that of competitors who understand the nature of each vegetable they grow and satisfy those conditions?

Granted, this is a rather absurd analogy. No intelligent, prudent businessperson would stake their investment and livelihood on such a haphazard, uninformed, undisciplined approach. Yet, if you are a manager and you haven’t invested time and effort in learning more about human nature and how to manage in ways that are in sync with human nature, you’re “winging it.” If you’re winging it, you – and your employer - are only getting a fraction of your workers’ true potential.

There are many theories about human nature (Myers Briggs, Graves spiral model), but the best is your own personal observation. What worked and what did not work. If it didn't work, try something different.

Here are some pointers:

25 January 2009 (2)