How important is employee morale at your company? My guess it’s probably not something that you think about until it’s so low you can’t stand being around anyone. Are you more or less in tune with the employee experience at your company than you were 5-10 years ago? If you’re not as concerned, is it because unemployment is high and more qualified candidates are looking for a job? Are we just too busy to even consider the feelings of our employees? Is it because no one really cares anyway? Is this an outcome of a decade of leading by ‘metrics” and top-down management?
It’s not okay to not be concerned with how your people feel they are being treated. I’m not saying they should run the show, I’m merely saying their work experience should be considered. What do they love about their job? What keeps them up at night? What do you think they worry about regarding the company? What ideas do they have that can help the company grow and be a better place to work? Do they feel secure in their role? Are they getting better at what they do?
Getting beyond basic work conditions, we need to be considering our business from the point-of-view of the people that work there. They need to know their opinion matters and their input is valued. Shouldn’t it be? Don’t the people that work with and for you truly define your company? What are your employees saying to their friends and family about the place they work? Would they refer a friend to work there?
The people that are willing to work in a feedback and recognition-free environment are the least productive, lowest-performing people. You are actually creating a place where low-value people are content and high-value people are repelled. Who wants that?
Let’s assume you do value their input. How do you give them a voice? What ways do they have to communicate up the organizational chart? Over the years, many companies have utilized employee suggestion boxes. The method might be outdated but the concept is solid. I remember when several of the U.S. carmakers initially offered their employees that worked on the assembly line a percentage of the savings their process improvement ideas generated. One of my friends that worked at the GM plant in Oklahoma City, had a suggestion that made her a few thousand dollars. Of course, she was excited by the money, but that was only part of the story. She got excited to go to work. She actually started “thinking” instead of just “doing” her job. She went on to make many more suggestions, some that were and some that were not utilized. She was inspired by the opportunity to change the way the company was running. What a great example of employee engagement at its best.
What are your people doing with their ideas? Have you provided them a forum to communicate? When was the last time you asked for their opinion? How about the last time you ran a change that was about to happen by them before it took place so you could get their feedback? No, you can’t do this with every employee or with every change but how about a few strategic conversations with your “field leaders”? We all have them. They are the people that have the ear of the rest. Whether it’s tenure, title, likeability, expertise or something else, these are the people that others go to. They can usually tell you, fairly accurately, how everyone will respond to certain situations. They can be incredibly valuable to you if you engage them.
Another effective strategy is the “fireside chat” made famous by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He led our country through the Great Depression of the 30’s and through World War II and comforted a nation by simply taking to the airwaves and talking about issues facing our nation. This is a practice Presidents still use to this day. It allows a more personal delivery and reminds people that the leader is working on their behalf.
How about you having a fireside chat with your company or team? A monthly or quarterly meeting that people have access to you as a person AND as their leader. A time for them to ask you what’s on their mind and where you actually listen. You don’t have to have one single solution to comfort them. Just being heard is enough for most. They can leave knowing that someone in the leadership of the company cares what they think. That they matter to you and to the company. Too touchy-feely? Then use the suggestion box but do something that will facilitate communication between all levels. The days of autocratic leadership are over. People won’t put up with that kind of work environment anymore and they shouldn’t. Being collaborative makes for happier employees and a more well run company.
Excerpt from the Best Selling Book….”What Exceptional Leaders Know”, co-authored with Wally Schmader.