As a marketing leader who has managed global organizations in Fortune 50 corporations and high-growth start ups for over two decades, a common problem that I often faced was how to boost employee morale. I am often brought into situations where a team lacks direction, plagued with internal power struggle, or short-staffed in many critical areas. Unless employee morale is boosted in a short period of time, it’s virtually impossible for a new leader to undertake any strategic initiative that can produce tangible results. Over the years, I have perfected a process that boosts employee morale in almost any company. I want to share my insight with the readers how to do this.
My method involves a four-stage approach to lift and sustain employee morale
- Listen: Get feedback and ideas.
- Communicate: with solutions to business issues and employee concerns.
- Implement: specific measures in alignment with steps 1 & 2
- Recognize: business and employee accomplishments and successes.
STAGE-1 (“Listen”): I meet face to face with each of my team members worldwide within the first 3 weeks, and solicit their feedback on what they perceive as major challenges for the company, the organization and their individual roles. I collect their input on what they see as positive aspects of their job, their core strengths and motivations, and their long term career goals. I often ask what issues in their view are impacting morale and how they think morale can be improved. I even ask how employees personally prefer to be rewarded. At the end of the process, I usually cross-check the employee feedback with people in other neighboring organizations.
STAGE-2 (“Communicate”): At this stage, my goal is to create a shared understanding of the challenges and solutions facing the organization, and to promote higher levels of employee engagement.
Inspire an Ownership Spirit Among Employees: I strive to create a culture where employees work with the same level of passion as the leadership team, and feel their work is more than just a job. The cornerstone of my strategy is as follows:
- Connect employees to the big picture: I discuss how the company defines and measures success; the changing landscape of the products and markets; and an in-depth SWOT analysis of the company with an eye towards creating a better GTM strategy.
- Make decisions/ debates transparent and collaborative: I am a firm believer that when employees have the full context about a decision and the options considered, they are more likely to support it regardless of whether they agree with it or not. A highly participative team yields better buy-in for decisions as people more fully support ideas they help create. Depending on the magnitude and impact of the decision, I use a combination of voting, consensus and/or delegating techniques whenever possible, and disseminate timely, accurate and transparent information in those situations where the final decision had to be made by me after considering all the hard choices.
- Improve Communication: I always send weekly emails with important updates, and devote a few minutes in regular meetings to bring people up to speed with what's going on. I hold frequent informal grapevine sessions to control the flow of the rumor mill, and explain how any changes or decisions affect the team. I ensure flow of information goes both ways and encourage my team to come to me any time they have questions or concerns. I listen actively to what they have to say, and respond in a timely manner to problems or suggestions.
STAGE-3 (“Implement”): I usually take a few quick steps to boost employee morale in a short time, and then follow it up with a more sustainable long term-strategy as part of my overall team building process.
- Grant time off to employees to pursue pet projects: Personal projects can provide an energizing break from the daily grind, and can serve as a source of innovation for the entire company as Google has demonstrated repeatedly through their “20% time” policy. This also provides a career progression path for those employees who see their responsibilities reduced after an organizational change. I create a “Flex Day” each week where my team members can work on anything they feel passionate about, as long as it is related to the company’s products and services. Participants present the results of their projects in monthly meetings, from which a handful of ideas are adopted for further enhancement.
- Reward employees who go beyond "the norm”: I encourage my staff to join cross-functional teams and participate in cross-training exercise within the organization to develop skills outside of their comfort zone. Work on these assignments becomes part of the performance evaluation process with employees gaining "extra credit" for joining and active participation. I institute an ABCD Award for employees who have gone “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.”
- Recruit best talent: I immediately start the process of hiring key talents to fill critical areas of need that were previously short-staffed, and actively involve my team members in the recruiting process.
STAGE-4 (“Recognize”): I seek out successes stories, and thank employees for their contributions to the company and/or team initiatives. Every effort is made to point out quick wins such as a project deadline met, a new order placed, or improvement in a KPI. Depending on the magnitude of the success, recognition activities are done through formal initiatives (e.g. plaques, small bonuses, inexpensive fringe benefits or gift certificates), informal gestures (e.g. congratulatory email, hand-written notes, extra days off) or public recognition (e.g., team meetings, company publications).
As with any strategic initiative, I judge my success in much the same way I evaluate others. At the end of the 90 day process, my goal is to ensure employee turnover remains low, productivity increases, conflict between team members reduces, and people feel a renewed sense of purpose behind their work. When I see remarkable improvement in these areas, I know that my method has worked yet again.