In an organization facing a lot of tough challenges or restructuring, or where jobs are under pressure, is it possible to maintain strong morale? It’s the job of the leader to implement an organization’s tone day in, day out. They’re the “front line”; their behaviors and expectations will set the standards for how people feel and respond to all sorts of situations. Even in good times a leader needs to maintain engagement and minimize complacency. Whether things are slow or full of internal change and pressure, a leader needs to know how to respond and work with their team in such a way as to keep people on board. Whatever the strategy for the team or organization, a leader has to win hearts and minds if he or she wants to see their team perform at their best. But building such high-performing teams doesn’t happen accidentally. It is the result of behaviors, values and beliefs which underpin the way people work together. Sometimes these values or beliefs are unspoken; sometimes they operate at an almost sub-conscious level. But they still affect the attitudes, behaviors and performance of every individual within the team and wider organization.
Sometimes, however, despite the best of intentions—despite setting and clearly communicating the expectations and vision for how people work together—some things sabotage the results. Take a look at the following and see if any of these apply to you or your organization.
1. INCONGRUENT ACTIONS When the boss does or says one thing, then turns around and does or reinforces the opposite, employees are quick to see the inconsistency. The more a staff sees this happen, the more they lose respect and trust in the individual leader and the wider organization. High-trust environments are built on consistent and congruent actions. Erosion of trust dampens morale and creates negative emotions inconsistent with high productivity.
2. NO ACTION Leaders can sometimes “talk a good talk”—they state grand visions, plaster values and belief statements everywhere—but then they take little or no action to ensure these grand statements are actually followed through. It is hard to expect a team to take vision statements seriously when they see nothing actually happening in regard to them. They begin to think, “We’ve heard this all before,” or “Here goes yet another meaningless initiative.” Leaders must act on their vision, and they must act within a reasonable time frame.
3. OVERCOMPLICATING THE VISION Sometimes leaders offer visions that are so complicated, people can barely read them, let alone remember them. If people can’t remember the vision, chances are it isn’t simple enough.
4. LOST IN DETAIL Some leaders are so detail-oriented that they simply find it hard to understand the idea of vision. They give little creative attention to tomorrow and the “big picture” because they are consumed by detail. It’s not that details aren’t important, but they should not become the sole focus.
5. SABOTAGING THE VISION Sometimes people within an organization will try to sabotage the vision. They understand it, but they disagree and try to work against it. Other people know they are doing this, and they expect the leadership does, too. If nothing is done to stop these efforts, those who are genuinely trying to adhere to the vision end up thinking, “What’s the use?” Leaders must act swiftly when they see this happening. And it begins not with a reprimand, but with a question to understand why people are behaving in this way.
By taking time to uncover some of these “morale killers” and taking steps to change things, a leader can improve morale at least within his or her own team, and sometimes—even despite morale issues—in the wider organization.
Five Common Mistakes Managers Can Make Which Kill Morale, Motivation And Engagement by Shona Garner. Adapted by Gary D. Foster, Gary Foster Consulting