It happens to all of us. Your team was excited about what you do, but now they’re not. Depending on your circumstances it might be because you’re losing market share to a gorilla that just moved near you, or you’re not going to hit your numbers for the quarter, or you just had to let go of several employees (or a long-time well-loved employee), or you’re stuck in a rut doing the same old things the same way, or there’s a system that’s broken that’s driving your employees crazy or …
The list of things that can kill morale is virtually limitless. And as a leader you know that moral matters. When your people have high morale, they get more work done faster, with better attitudes, they’re more flexible, they’re more helpful, they have better interactions with customers and prospects, etc. As John Maxwell used to say, “When big Mo is on your side, you can do no wrong. When Big Mo is not, you can do no right.” Everything works better with mo, everything is harder without it.
So, what can you do to get morale back when it’s dragging? Well, here are a few ideas to help you get started.
I. Practice Leader Draft
If you haven’t watched my video on Leader Draft, you can do so on my free video page. But the basic idea is that your people draft energy off of you. So, when you’re going through a tough time (like not meeting quarterly numbers or having to fire a long-time well-loved staff member) and you’re feeling blue, guess what, your people are feeling that as well.
What most leaders tend to not comprehend is that most of their people don’t know what’s going in their (meaning the leader’s) life, nor do they really care. What they care about is their life. In other words, don’t project on to your people what you’re feeling or wrestling with (they don’t care). What they want (and need) is for you to lead and be a beacon of hope for them. They want you to be excited and positive about your company and your future—and they’ll draft that energy from you.
So, if morale is dragging, my first recommendation would be for you to up your energy level. Get excited about your company and its future again. Whether you believe it or not, your people are drafting their energy off of you. So, “If you want your people to bleed, you’ve got to hemorrhage.” Morale always flows south from you. If you up your energy, the rest will follow.
Note: This is also true for your direct reports. If they’re dragging or not excited, all of the people they’re leading will be dragging as well. Help them understand that they don’t have the right or privilege as a leader to be down.
II. Cast More Vision
When morale is down, it’s often because people are focused on either the past or the present (“Nothing is going to change,” “We’re so far behind, we’ll never catch up,” “My best friend just got fired”). However, morale is at its peak when it’s focused on a positive future (not a negative one).
The old preacher line that, “Hope in the future equals power in the present,” is absolutely correct. When people feel no sense of hope, there’s no power for today. However, when they feel a sense of hope that things will get better, their morale immediately improves.
This is why casting vision every day is so important. Your people need to know that what they do matters and that your best days (as a company) are in front of you, not behind you. And because vision leaks every day, you need to cast vision every day (not once a quarter or once a year).
So, whenever morale is dragging, one of the first things you should do is simply increase the amount of vision casting you do. Remind your team of where you’re going and that what they’re doing really is making a difference in other people’s lives.
III. Start Eliminating Items on Your Company’s Stupid Systems or Things That Bug Us List
If you didn’t read my post on eliminating stupid systems, you can do so here. But the basic idea of that post was that every business has stupid systems—things that irritate your employees. If they’re never dealt with, every time your employees have to interact with them, you’re losing morale.
For example, let’s say your IT system has your email system so buttoned down that your people frequently aren’t receiving emails from people they’re trying to work with (customers/vendors/prospects etc.). Every time they call a client or vendor and say, “Hey, I just wanted to check with you. You said you were going to send me a document two days ago and I still haven’t received it,” and the client or vendor replies back, “I sent it to you two days ago ” you’re needlessly ticking off your people.
The list of stupid systems is huge in most businesses (Note: or it could be other things in your business that bug your employees—like a toilet seat that needs to be tightened down or an archaic vacation scheduling process, etc.). The longer those items exist and they’re not resolved, the more you’re losing the morale battle.
So, to turn things around, have your team create these two lists (stupid systems and things that bug us), prioritize the ones you can fix (especially the low hanging fruit ones), post the list publicly and then start crossing off/eliminating the ones you can fix. Every time you cross an item off that list, your team will be a little more happy and a little less ticked off—which would be two great factors toward increasing morale.
IV. Double Down on Communication
In the absence of information, most people fill in the blanks with their own ideas—and usually they fill those blanks in with negative assumptions. For example, if you just let two employees go, the natural assumption for many of your employees will be, “Who’s next?” “Are they cleaning house?” “Is our company in trouble?” “Are we not making enough money?” “Will I have a job here in six months?” Etc.
While you may know that none of the above are true, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the conversation going on inside the heads of your people.
So, whenever morale is lagging, you need to double down on communicating with your people. Walk the halls more. Have more conversations. Send more company emails. Call a company meeting. Send more notes. Tell more jokes. Reassure your people that you’re fully engaged. And the more you communicate, the more comfortable they’ll feel and morale will jump back up.
In other words, you have to do the opposite of what’s natural. When things are bad, the natural tendency is to hole up. To do fewer meetings. To rally your core team around you. To not talk until you have all the information. etc. But that is the opposite of what you need to do. When times are down, people need to see their leaders more, not less.
V. Up Gratitude and Praise
Everyday you and I are alive we all make a choice as to what we’re going to focus on. And, if we’re honest, there are always more things that could go wrong than right and there are always more things that we don’t have than we do have. However, all of us, as leaders, choose to focus most of our time and energy on what we do have and what could go right (if we didn’t do that, we would never be entrepreneurial leaders).
Unfortunately, what happens when morale sags is that we (and our people) begin to focus more on what we don’t have and what could go wrong—those two items will always kill morale—which is why one of your jobs as a leader is to change that conversation that’s going on in the heads of your people.
And two great options for doing this are reminding people of what they have, not what they don’t and praising them (encouraging your people both privately and publicly).
For example, find data that supports what you have. Tell your people how grateful you are for them. Find individual’s who are lifting up your core values and publicly share their stories with your team. Write more Thank You notes. Walk the halls and spread some leader dust (“I’m so thrilled to have you on the team. The way you do ___________ makes such a bigger difference to our team and customers. You’re a key reason for our success”).
The more you refocus your people on what you have (a great company filled with a lot of great people) and remind them individually that you really appreciate them, the more morale will shoot up.
So, there you have it. Five quick and simple ways you can raise morale fast.
1. Practice Leader Draft
2. Cast More Vision
3. Start Eliminating Items on Your Stupid Systems and Things That Bug Me Lists
4. Double Down on Communication
5. Up Gratitude and Praise
Now it’s your turn. In light of these five options, what are you going to do this week to up the morale of your team?
To your accelerated success!
Key Question: What other ideas do you have for raising morale quickly? Add your answers in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed).