Center for Simplified Strategic Planning

Improve Morale — Increase Motivation!

Dana Baldwin
Senior Consultant, CSSP, Inc.

Dana Baldwin

During these tough economic times, with all the bad news hitting the headlines, how many of your staff are emotionally at a low ebb? How many are really putting the extra effort into their lives? How many are feeling extreme pressure, whether it is from their jobs, their home-life or the general state of the nation? If one analyzes today's situation carefully, it becomes apparent that not only is there a crying need to improve people's morale, but there is a wonderful opportunity to increase their motivation to do well and to serve your customers more effectively. With everyone somewhat down in the dumps because of the slower economic times and the threats of war and terrorism, those who make the extra effort now will be in a better position when the economy turns up next year.

There are quite a number of things one can do to build up morale and to increase motivation. First, let's define each term as we are using them. Morale is the general condition of the emotions of each person in the affected organization. The more positive the outlook and emotional state of the individual, the higher their morale will be. Motivation is the push behind everyone's efforts, the desire and effort to do the right things well and as they should. More motivated people work more intensely, harder and often better. Admittedly, these are soft definitions, but we are dealing with the soft sciences here, too.

What can one do to bolster morale? First thing that comes to mind is to recognize the importance of the ability of an individual to trust the management and staff of the company. Without trust, there is little likelihood that morale can be improved. So, how do we build trust? There are a number of ways one can do this.

Get and stay in touch with the people of your company. Don't isolate yourself on the wrong side of "the wall" (the wall between the shop and the office). Go out to the people who are actually making the product or performing the services you sell. Talk with them. Learn their names, their kids' names, their wife's name, their dog's name, where they like to go fishing or snowmobiling. Find out what their team did in the bowling league, how their high school football or basketball team is doing. Talk with them as an interested individual, not as a boss. But, mostly, listen to them. If the total number of employees is large, pick out a few key people in each department to approach — and not just supervisors. Ask their opinions about how things are going from their point of view. Find out what gripes they have and why they have them. Don't promise to do anything about them, but learn what they are. If it is logical to correct them, then go ahead and do so, without fanfare and without looking for credit. If one or more of them has a good idea, give them full credit, without basking in the reflected light yourself. Important: this is not "feel-good management." This is simply smart, practical use of your time and your ears to find out what the ranks think of your company management.

As you do this, watch for the non-verbal signs that each person gives off. Do they reinforce the message being given or do they contradict it? Understand that you are under the microscope. Every word you say will be micro-analyzed for content, intent and their ability to interpret it in any possible way. To be safe, say as little as possible and listen as much as possible. A good question to start with is: "Is there anything I should know about?". It must be asked genuinely and sincerely. Responses should be used judiciously. Where possible to settle gripes, do so in the most appropriate manner. Where the response results in an improvement, give credit generously.

Another important area is proper and effective delegation. Many managers are overworked and under-trusted by their employees. This often happens because they do not know how to delegate, or they are afraid to delegate because they will be held accountable for the results and they do not trust others to do the action as well as they can do it. The result of not delegating means that the manager is not responsive to the requirements of his/her subordinates. How to overcome? First, inform your team or your employees that more delegation of responsibility, authority and accountability will be coming. Then, as you delegate a problem, set the expectations out clearly and concisely. Third, be sure that each person to whom you are delegating a specific task understands three things: The scope of the task, the expected results and the time in which the task is to be accomplished. Be very clear in what you communicate. Too often, managers enunciate goals, but do not establish clearly what the expectations are. The result is that too many subordinates do not have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. The outcome of this mess can be a task which is poorly done, not accomplishing the objectives. This ends up with everyone feeling badly about the whole process. The subordinate feels picked on because he/she did not get clear instructions and expectations from the boss. The boss feels that his/her instinct to do it him/herself was right after all, because the outcome was not as it should have been.

Why are some managers poor delegators? According to the Agile Manager E-Tip series, there is a list of ideas why some are not good at delegating.

"Lone Ranger Syndrome (or "I'm the only one who can do it right.")." This type of manager won't delegate effectively because, in his mind, no one else can do the job as well as he can.

"I'm responsible for what happens. You're right, you are. Sure, it's scary. Richard Nixon once said, 'I have an absolute rule. I refuse to make a decision that somebody else can make. The first rule of leadership is to save yourself for the big decision. Don't allow your mind to become cluttered with trivia.'" The key here is to prepare your subordinates to make bigger and bigger decisions until they become comfortable making them.

"I don't have time to teach someone else. Oh, really? If you don't, who will?" One of the major elements of a manager is to prepare his own successor, so he may move up when opportunity knocks. If there is no one to take your place, then you can't leave, can you?

"My people are overloaded already. Well, who isn't? If you can find anybody in your organization who doesn't complain about being too busy, they're probably prime candidates for downsizing. Although you should be sensitive to your employees' work loads, morale and protests, you should also realize that most workers feel "too busy" today. Besides, it is not hard to delegate compassionately, sympathetically and tactfully."

"I hate to lose the credit. If you're in a team-oriented organization, it's likely that you're sharing credit for your group's success already. Teamwork isn't compatible with credit thieves and Lone Ranger mangers. Even if your company hasn't adopted teamwork, however, appreciate the wisdom and long-term benefits of sharing credit with your people. The better they look the better you look. After all, you're responsible, right?"

Why do some managers have such poor relationships with their subordinates? How many of us have had something like the following situation? A small group is working on a project, but the work is being slowed by one of the group. Your reaction is to question what is wrong with this person. Why is he or she doing this? Can't he/she see how important the project is, and what effect their behavior is having on the rest of the team? It is difficult to concentrate on the project when conflict interferes. How does one overcome this?

First, be sure you are not part of the problem. Often, a manager will see only one side of an employee. We see their function as a part of the company, and little else. We forget that people have many roles in life, and their role at work is only one of them. Individuals who are flexible and accommodating when they are single, may find themselves able to be much less flexible when the demands of a family and children present themselves. When a manager asks someone to do something out of the ordinary, which in years past they were able to do, and they no longer are willing to help out, the manager should ask him/herself what has changed in that person's life that no longer allows them to be as accommodating as before. A little understanding of the situation can go a long way toward solving the differences before conflict becomes too heated. Ask what has changed in that person's life and the answer may surprise you. It certainly will prevent some unnecessary clashes.

Next, don't talk down to others. It is easy to blame someone when things don't go as planned. For example, one person, talking down to another, indicates that the other has not been paying sufficient attention to the project. In response, the second person, also patronizing, says that the first person doesn't know enough about the situation to make that kind of judgment. The result is two people angry at each other, and a setting for deteriorating relationships. How can one prevent this? Stay in control of your emotions. Don't talk back to someone in the same mode — talking down. Shift the base of thought. Change the atmosphere and save the situation and the relationship.

Make sure both people have the same information, and share a common perception about the situation. It is easy to have poor communication, and the resulting poor relationships, when two people come from totally different points of view and do not take the other's perspective into account. A first step to resolving conflict is to agree on the facts.

All of the items above are aimed primarily at minimizing distrust and building trust. They may sound basic, but the world is built on basics, and we have to get them right. As trust in one's superiors grows, morale can improve. But there is not always a direct correlation between the two. The other side of this coin is motivation. Those who do much of the fundamental day to day work inside a company need some direction and vision to function effectively. They need to know where the company is going and how it will get there to have the intrinsic motivation to excel in their jobs. How does one develop this motivation?

Clearly identify your expectations. Expectations are not goals. Goals are the final results you are shooting for. Expectations are the processes and activities needed to attain the goals.

Communicate those expectations to your people in whatever way makes their full understanding most likely. Depending on the situation, you might do this in writing, one on one, or in a group, or in some combination of the three approaches.

Be sure your people ask enough questions to clear up any misconceptions. Don't just assume that because you told them, they will understand. Everyone comes at a problem from his/her own point of view, and what you understand something to mean may not be the same to someone else. Clarify until there is complete understanding.

Work with the individual or the team to set interim goals or waypoints which can be measured. Set dates for review meetings — keep them short and to the point or you may lose the others. This allows good visibility of the process and the progress to date, and good accountability for those responsible for carrying out the tasks.

Know when to step in and when to stay out. There is a real tendency for some managers to want to jump in and prevent mistakes. Others will allow those responsible for doing the job to delegate upwards, putting the burden on the back of the person who delegated the job to begin with. Either can be a mistake. A good manager will allow some mistakes, as long as they are within certain limits, so the person or people who are charged with the job can see what their mistakes are and learn from them. A good manager will also be available as a counselor to advise the team when asked, without allowing the team to push responsibility back up to the manager.

Another way to enhance motivation includes eliminating non-productive tasks or waste. As stated above, most employees feel themselves to be overburdened today. One way to lessen that impression is to analyze work, and to eliminate those things we don't need to do, or to improve those things we need to do, but currently do poorly or ineffectively. Avoiding or eliminating waste is seen by the employees as a higher and better use of their time and company resources, and many will respond by working better and smarter themselves.

By having a good, well-developed strategic plan, effectively communicated throughout the company, the vast majority of workers at all levels should understand how their own efforts will have an impact on the success of the company. A well communicated plan brings the fundamentals into focus for most employees. And it gives them something to build on, for themselves. Knowing that the company has planned out where it is going, they will have a much easier time in establishing their personal faith in the future of the company. While this sounds somewhat idealistic, there is, in reality, much more to this than first meets the eye. When a person believes that the company he/she works for has a plan for where it is going, this brings a certain level of security to that individual. Based on that secure feeling, that person is more often willing to make a better effort, do the extra bit to make the company meet its goals and to be more successful. The snowball effect is real, and the company most likely will be more successful, given a realistically generated, effective strategic plan.


  1. Discover what your employees think of their management and the company.
  2. Learn how talking with employees, mostly listening, can help improve the internal situation in your company.
  3. Learn, and teach your managers, how to delegate more effectively.
  4. Clearly explain your expectations to those who will carry out the task. Be sure they truly understand what the goal is and how they are to get there.
  5. Know when to jump into your team's problems, and when to stay out, for the best learning experience for the team.
  6. Ask your employees how to eliminate wasted effort and unnecessary costs. They are closest to many of these situations, and often have the best input.
  7. Have a good, well-developed strategic plan that you share with the employees and involve them in. With knowledge of the company goals, most employees feel more secure and will contribute more to the success of the company.
  8. Communicate regularly with everyone, not just when there are problems. Use effective two-way communications as a trust-building tool. This effort should pay significant dividends over time, but don't expect instant results. Give it enough time to really become effective.

    Dana Baldwin is Senior Consultant at the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached at .

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