This post is a follow-up to my two-part “Eight Rules for Good Trainings.” (You can read Rules 1-3” and Rules 4-7 in the archives.) The series comes from a request I recently received to help a company evaluate a group’s staff (did you read “Taming Gilligan’s Dinosaur“?) and making suggestions for how to increase morale.
Increasing workplace morale — now that’s a nice challenge. Thanks.
This task (increasing morale) isn’t rare. Lots of people get asked to perform it lots of times in lots of places. A few years back the big thing was “The FISH Philosophy.” The program and training were based on the experiences of a very successful Seattle, Washington, fish market.
Employees loved working there, customers loved shopping there, management loved managing there, and profits were skyrocketing. The call went out: “Quick, somebody write a book about how they did it.” And then, “Quicker, somebody else package a training so that others could do what this Seattle fish market had done.”
I don’t think anybody counted the number of cooperative players who were involved in that fish market’s success. Employers, employees, customers, Seattle, fish — there were so many elements that the likelihood of replicating that success was iffy at best.
I got to observe a bunch of FISH Philosophy trainings and their aftermaths. Yes, some companies were able to incorporate key elements and grow. But the majority of companies didn’t because they couldn’t get all the players to play nice.
Management told employees to go fish but never fished themselves. Employees can only fish for so long without bait before they realize ain’t no fish gonna jump in the boat, so customers couldn’t go fishing either.
Morale, like detritus, rolls downhill.
Morale Us, Joseph
Good morale begins with open, honest management. The most enthusiastic workers will lose their enthusiasm or move on if management doesn’t support that enthusiasm. The kicker is that management needs to support employee enthusiasm in ways employees recognize as rewards for their enthusiasm.
This is where I suggest that management’s taking an active, personal interest in employee advancement and training is an incredible morale-booster.
I’m talking about mentoring. Some people think mentoring and micro-management are synonymous. They’re not. Mentoring is based on mutual trust, while micro-management is based on management’s distrust that the employee will succeed. Mentoring builds morale; micro-management destroys it (most often in my experience — I know there are exceptions).
- Not every employee needs mentoring. The first part of morale-building is recognizing employees who need a little guidance and those who don’t. Yes, those who need guidance are more work to manage and if that’s a problem, how did they get in your group in the first place?
It’s best to work with what you have, so identify those who need the extra guidance and approach them about it. Ask them if they’re struggling and offer to help. Let them know the offer is genuine. Usually they respond with relief and gratitude.
- Invite them to pick a more experienced employee and work with them on a project that’s giving them problems.
You still keep an active interest. This is not shuffling the problem off to someone else. Set some boundaries on the help sessions, maybe even turning them into a group learning class. If that doesn’t seem to help…
- Recognize when an employee’s fear of failure is paralyzing them from success.
It doesn’t matter if you know an employee can do a job or not. It matters whether the employee believes they can do the job. Protecting employees from failure is a crucial part of building morale within a group. Knowing you won’t set them up to fail gives you the moral authority to have them take on increasingly difficult tasks.
- Co-author solution paths. Often employees (even experienced ones) encounter solvable problems that are simply out of their realm of experience.
Help them determine step-by-step solution methodologies — more than one — and follow up. Remember that it’s important for morale purposes that they contribute to the solution path, it can’t be something management “threw” at them.
- Milestones and timelines are important. It’s equally important that employees you’re mentoring remember that you’re management in addition to being their mentor.
Sharing milestones and timelines keeps that idea in employee’s minds while providing them with the opportunity to address concerns. It also opens up a conduit for them to report intermittent successes and failures to you and get your feedback on their efforts (very important!).
Morale-building often comes from good mentoring. Five steps to good mentoring are:
- Recognize who needs help and who doesn’t.
- Provide expertise from within the group when available.
- Protect employees from their own fear of failure.
- Work with them on solution paths.
- Be managerial in a supportive way.
And I’d love to know your thoughts and feedback on this. Please feel free to share.
Please contact NextStage for information regarding presentations and trainings on this and other topics.