Company Morale: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

One of the biggest, seemingly amorphous, challenges that business owners and executives face is how to create "high company morale." The problem is, very few know exactly what that is ('we'll know it when we see it' really doesn't work) and even fewer know how to create and maintain it.

Penni Wells, the Leadership Quantified Expert in Customer Service, not only weighs in on this issue but gives you a very clear, behavioral path to high morale...from an unexpected source.
Given my line of work I'm particularly interested in the subject of company morale. That's because a company’s morale is a barometer of its dedication to its primary Internal Customers: its employees – ALL employees –  from the most senior, senior executive to the most recent new-hire.

So, I want to start with a two-part working definition of morale - a definition that applies to and involves everyone. Morale is the:
  1. Emotional manifestation of the overall culture of a company set by those at the top which, at any given moment...
  2. Can be and is a part of everyone’s responsibilities.
Here's an example of how I know - and how you can change what the morale looks and feels like in your organization right now:

Many years ago I was making the rounds during a company holiday party. As I approached one table to greet a friend I noticed that at her table were, among others, a new department manager and another staff personal nemesis.   

The table was large enough that I could greet my friend and even introduce myself to the new manager without addressing anyone else, which would have been fine with me! My nemesis and I had known one another for over a decade. Although we saw one another rarely and only worked together on the odd committee, 95 percent of the time we just rubbed each other the wrong way. We would invariably end up in an argument over something trivial making everyone in our presence roll their eyes. The only vindication I had was that there were many in the organization on whom he had the same effect. 

So what was he doing at this table? And how was I going to avoid being gracious to him?

As I chatted with my friend, making small talk with the new manager, I caught a glimpse of my Moriarty...sitting across the table alone and scowling. Just sitting there, scowling.

And suddenly I realized I had the opportunity, at that moment, to do the right thing. 

Finishing up my conversations, I walked to the other side of the table, tapped him on the shoulder and spent a few moments chatting with him. Seeing his face when I spoke to him, I knew I had done the right thing. His scowl turned to a genuine smile as we recalled other holiday parties.

And not only did he smile, but the feeling around the table ramped up as well.

The fact is, I could have left the table without speaking to him and it wouldn’t have seemed rude to anyone else. Even he wouldn’t have found it unusual. But by seeing the opportunity and following through, it made for a bright moment for both of us - and, by extension, for the others, too. It was good for his morale, for mine and for the organization’s.

We still never agreed on much and he remained my organizational nemesis. But it brought home the impact we all have on one another.

And that's how you begin - now - to change the morale in your organization to what you want it to be.

Morale is the embodiment of tolerance and civility.

It's demonstrated and maintained by expecting, recognizing and rewarding professional thoughtfulness despite differences, competition and the natural impact of downturns and upswings. 

This doesn’t mean treating everyone the same, particularly in an organization reliant on hierarchy. It does mean respecting every position in the organization – even if the person in it doesn’t match your style. 

And as challenging as it first may seem, the benefit is an organization that functions more smoothly and maintains a steadiness that is difficult to acquire any other way.

The Secrets of Success: Stop Whining and Start Changing

A few years ago, I was in one of my clients' offices and saw a sign that looked like this:

Nice thought. Not going to happen - unless something changes. People. Processes. Something.

So, let's talk about whining and change for a moment.

The reason that you or others complain (hopefully not whine) is because you don't like what's going on. Things aren't clear or consistent or rational. Priorities keep changing. You don't think the priorities should be what they are. There are too many politics being played out - all to the detriment of the organization...and possibly your career.

It gets worse.

There are innovations that you and others keep talking about that you want to put into place - but no one listens.

There are products, services and ways of doing business that would make the company more successful, your job easier and your life, in general, more enjoyable - but no one listens to that, either.

Okay, here's the thing. If you find yourself - in your head or out loud - sounding anything like what you just read, it's time to change.

Dissatisfaction is an indicator. But it's on you to make sure that dissatisfaction doesn't escalate into misery - yours or others'.

It just means it's time to change. Because you want to. Because you don't want to be dissatisfied anymore.

Sure there are things you can't control - but, let's face it, the higher-ups in your organization don't have a clue about what you're doing anyway...otherwise they probably wouldn't have let things get into the shape they're in. (You hope.)

So, start changing things. Little things. Then bigger things. Don't wait for permission - and, seriously, don't wait for some sort of organizational initiative that promises the world. It won't deliver.

And, whatever you do, don't wait for or count on consultants. They're really not going to solve your problem.

It's on you. Just as you do at home - where you're CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, CIO and more - if you don't like it, change it.

Do it in increments. Try things. Get others to join in the fun.

Every time a whine occurs, say, "Yeah, fine, but what's the answer?" Then, with the whiner in tow, say, "Okay, so, how about if we try...? And, no, we don't have to go ask permission. They may say 'no.' Let's just fix it."

If they're game, good. That's someone you want to stick with. If they're not game, lose them. They enjoy whining. It makes them happy. So, get them out of your way.

Which leads us to the last part of this particular secret: Look at yourself objectively the next time you find yourself whining. Because you may be a happy whiner - in which case, get the hell out of everyone else's way.

You may be happy being miserable, but there are lots more folks out there who are most happy when they're engaged, fixing things and being rewarded for their efforts.

LEAN: Lessons Learned from Banking Regulation

There's a fascinating piece in Joe Nocera's New York Times column today about bank regulation and complexity.  In it, he raises the question of whether the over-complexity of new banking regulations worldwide are going to cause greater difficulties and possible failures than a more sensible, streamlined approach.

This is an easy one. The answer is: Yes - because complexity causes failure.

Big failures or little.  Lost time or opportunity. Lost money, customers, employees, profits, revenues, name it, if there's complexity built into your system, there are losses and failures going on.

The problem is, in most cases, it's hard to see them.  That's because, in most cases (and unlike what's going on now around the world with banking regulations) the complexities are so deeply built into the way you do business that you don't even see them anymore.

That's actually why Quality, Lean and all the rest exist: to hunt out the variation (for which read 'complexity') in your systems.  Once you can see them, then you can decide whether or not they serve your purposes.

Just so you know - in most cases, they don't.  They're there because someone at some point came up with a solution that made sense at that moment that was reactive to a situation that no longer exists.  Or wasn't as well thought out as it should be.

What we know is that the banks need to be better regulated - simply because the world can't afford another meltdown like we saw in 2008.

What we also know is that, not only because of Dodd-Frank in the United States, but in looking at banking regulation being imposed around the world (and, yes, that includes China, too) there is no coordination or consistency.

The threat - at least by the banks - is that the regulations are so overly complex and onerous that they won't be able to operate or keep their best talent.  That may or may not be correct, but, let's face it, they've got skin in the game and a real reason for not wanting to be held accountable.

Putting their arguments aside, we come back to the same issues you need to be addressing in your own enterprise:

  • Where does complexity exist?
  • Why? What was the purpose of those policies or procedures?
  • Do they still apply?
  • If no, how do we get rid of them without causing replacement complexity?
  • If yes, how do we redesign what we've got to reduce the complexity?
  • And, finally, do we have the right measures to ensure that this - as well as other - complexities in our system are findable and addressable?
Go through that mini-assessment and you'll suddenly find that there are LOTS more profits available in your existing organization than you currently gain.  Fast and easy, too.

Then you can start taking on the hard stuff.

For more information on successfully implementing Quality and Lean, take a look at:

About Those Consultants...

When the email alert from FastCompanypopped up on my screen promoting an article entitled, “6Golden Rules for Turning Consulting Relationships Into Breakthroughs,” Iimmediately thought, “I’ve got to see this one.”

Mostly because, no matter what itpresented, I probably wasn’t going to believe it.  Or agree.

Not that I have anything against Mr.Vossoughi or his 27 years as an innovation consultant at Ziba.  I’m sure he’s done some very fine work.

It’s the consulting model that Ihave a problem with – and so should you.

Full disclosure, here.  I’ve worked as a confidential executiveadvisor for as long as Mr. Vossoughi. During that same time period, I’ve written and spoken and been a serialentrepreneur – and fought against the consulting model starting from the days before I started my ownbusiness and continuing, as you can see, to right now.

Why?  Because it’s a toxic model designed to create a sense ofdependency – not just for the immediate help you’re getting, but for any andevery other service the firm or its partners can justify selling you.

Don’t blame the consultants –especially if you have them in house at the moment.  (You really don’t want to get on their bad side.)  They’re stuck within the same toxicmodel as they’re imposing on you.

Instead, let’s take a quick look athow the model works – and what you can do about it now and in future wheneveryou think about bringing consulting help in.

The Consulting Model

No matter how expert in yourindustry the consultants you hire might be, the first thing to remember is thatthey’re not, actually, part of your industry.  They’re part of the consulting industry only. 

Sure, they’ve got smarts andexpertise you want – but they’re not you. They’re them and they have a different agenda than yours – even for yourcompany.

Because the way that consultingengagements work from an inside-the-consulting-firm perspective has nothing todo with the work they’re doing for you right now.  It’s all about the follow-on work that they can sell you.

If you’re playing with the Big Boys,the partners are expected to cross-sell other services.  If you’re playing with a mid-size orboutique firm, it’s in their best financial interests to generate continuingbusiness with a handful of clients rather than the senior members spending theirtime marketing.

That’s what the writing and speakingis for.  Marketing in absentia.

And even if you’re working with asmall or mid-sized firm, you can probably count on their being part of someform of consortium of consultants…which means they’re cross-selling into theother consultants’ expertise.  Justlike the Big Boys.

Don’t get me wrong.  They won’t do a ‘bad’ job for you onthe gig they’re doing.  In fact,they’ll do the best they can to do a great job for you.

It’s their agenda that’s importantfor you to know and understand. It’s not this gig.  It’s thenext.  And the one after that.  And the one after that.

So What’s an Executive To Do?

There are three keys to making theconsulting relationship make sense from a corporate perspective.  They are:

1.    Define the Terms
2.    Make Sense of the Measures
3.    Terminate.  Forever.

We’ll take them one at a time.

1. Define the Terms

You probably think you’re alreadydoing this – and you are.  At leastfrom your perspective.  But nottheirs.

When you define the terms of theengagement, limit the services you’re buying to very specific, time-limited,highly measurable outcomes – one of which is to ensure that the consultants arebuilding expertise and an infrastructure within your organization made up ofyour employees so that there is no need for the consultants to return.

2. Make Sense of the Measures

Consultants usually provide theirown measures for success.  Theypromise you that they will deliver a something – whether in the form of hoursor cost reduction or something else that they can easily tie to theiractivities.

The trick for you is to make surethat what they’re delivering ties directly into your strategic measures.  Not their operational ones.

Frankly, their measures don’t – orshouldn’t – matter to you at all. The only measures that count in your organization are the ones thatdemonstrate that the enterprise is achieving the strategic goals you set outfor it.

Otherwise – consultants or not – whyare you doing what you’re doing?

So don’t let them tell you how youmeasure the success of their activities. You tell them.

3. Terminate.  Forever.

If the consultant has any inkling atall that there’s an open door for them – or their colleagues or consortiamembers – to come back and provide new services, you’re a goner.  Remember, that’s their goal.  That’s how they win.

So, when you’re defining terms, makesure that the most important term is the time limit and the fact that they willnot be invited back again. Ever.  Even if they do thebest job in the world for you.

In fact, if they have done the bestjob, then you won’t need them back. At least not for anything like what you have them in for now.

Be polite – but show them thatthere’s a door and you’ll be escorting them through it exactly when you say youwill.  They’ll get paid – but onlyfor this gig.  They’re not going tobe able to plan their retirement around you.

A Final Word

Consultants really are wonderful forwhat they do.  They bring newknowledge, expertise and perspectives into your organization that wouldn’totherwise be readily available.

But, even as you look to theconsulting world to answer your questions, look, also at the local colleges anduniversities to see what courses – both credit and extension – areavailable.  And don’t forget thetechnical and community colleges. Sometimes they’ve got exactly the answer you need at a much lower cost.

The goal – whether with consultantsor any other means – is to build success within.  Focus on that. Make sure that your people are being developed – all the time – andyou’ll find that you don’t need as many consultants as you thought you didafter all.

You can read more about this - and other immediate fixes to your organization - in my new ebook, The Proactive Troubleshooting Guide to Quality, Change and Development Initiatives available from Amazon.

Leadership: Apps, Games and Punishment

I play solitaire.  A lot.

I play when I'm on planes, trains and automobiles (not when I'm driving, I promise).  I play when I'm listening to music.  Or podcasts.  Or television shows (which somehow come out better as radio than television).

It's a distraction, yes - but more than that, it's a thinking mechanism.  It gives me space to let my brain do what it wants and needs to do while I'm doing other things.  Or, at least, as I let myself pretend I am - because I know full well exactly why I'm playing.

To think.  To ponder.  To determine what's next and how I'm going to get there.

Only, just the other day, I found out that built into my free little app (I recommend the Solebon Solitaire game apps from the iTunes App Store very highly) is a punishment tool.  Yes, I'm being punished.

And it's the game designers' fault.  Please allow me to explain.

One of the capabilities in the game allows players to undo a move.  Now, depending upon how sensitive your screen is or the size of your fingers, you may need to do this simply because the game did something you didn't want it to do.

Or, because the capability is there and you realize that you could have made a better move had you played it differently, you hit the "undo" button and there you have it.  A fix!

Granted, if I were playing with a deck of cards, that would be absolutely wrong.  Unacceptable.  Never to be considered.

But if you're playing on the app version and they give you that capability, why not?

Ah, because you're going to be punished.  Just a slap.  A little "reminder" - but punishment, nonetheless.

It occurs when you check your stats (another handy-dandy button they provide).  As you win each game, a counter tells you how many you've won.  When I got to my first hundred, I thought, "Okay, this is interesting.  I'm a stats sort of person.  Let's see what else it can tell me about my wins."

So I hit the Epsilon and it told me all sorts of interesting things.  It told me my percentage of games won versus played (that part was okay), the average time of my games, etc. - but then it had that extra little line entitled "Wins Without Undo."

There it was.  The slap.  The congratulations on the one hand with the seemingly gentle reminder, on the other, that I couldn't have done it without breaking the rules.

Because, as stated above, if I was playing with an actual, physical deck of cards, I wouldn't have done those undos.

And this is where the leadership lesson comes in.

Your people are doing amazing things every day.  They work in a system (as do you) that was created at some other time (whether last week or last century) that was built for a purpose that was understood at that time.  With operating instructions to match.

Even if yours is the most high tech, innovative organization in the universe, you have a history with policies, procedures and operating instructions that were built using the best information - and the most necessary emergency reactions - that was available.  Then.

And the organization built on it.  Piece by piece.  Decision by decision.  Procedure by procedure.

All of which is the miasma within which you and your people operate every day.

The fact is, in far too many cases, organizational systems are designed to fail.  But the good news, as a result, is that your people are performing miracles every day making their way through that history and wading through the muck that is that miasma of all the decisions of the past.

Your employees give you a higher ROI every day than even you know - because they know all the obstacles they encounter and workarounds they use to conquer them.

Then there comes a moment when some management type says, "You can't do that.  That's not allowed."

There's the slap.  It doesn't matter that what they did was because of your systems.  (Think the "Undo" function and finger size.)  No matter how gently the slap is given, that's the end of that employee's commitment to finding ways to fix your organization and do what you need done.

The happy part about leadership is big picture.  Everyone wants to be what is known in the business as a "big idea / big concept" person.  That way, all the little deets that take up so much time can be overlooked and left to someone else.

In fact, that's what you're counting on.  At least that's what you're counting on if you're getting it wrong.

Because if, while you're playing strategy and vision and competitive landscape, you have people in your organization who are, with all the strength of the historically correct and rarely updated procedures manual at hand (for which read, bureaucrat par excellence) telling your folks to stop doing the things that are making your organization a success, you've got a much bigger problem on your hands than what your vision is.

Your problem is that you're not going to be able to execute and deliver on it.

So, in your role as leader, make time - all the time - to help train and mentor your people at all levels to contribute their ideas.  Get them out on the table.  Talk about them.  Discuss their trajectory, consequences and potential.  Consider the organizational context.  Make sure you've got adequate measures in place.  Try things.  All the time.  New things.  Old things.  Things.

Save the slaps for those who really are hurting the organization...including, very often, those bureaucrats who muck up the works and create obstacles of their own to your and your organization's success.

Then you can safely go back to the big picture - knowing you're good to go on executing and delivering it.

And, if I may, I recommend you play Solitaire while you're figuring out what, exactly, that beautiful, successful picture is.