Enterprising Leaders have incessantly been engrossed in the bearing of morale on results throughout the ages, but the recent economic degeneration has unreservedly smashed businesses over the skull creating an upshot of gut-punched workers.  Having survived copious rounds of layoffs, unnerving uncertainty for their futures, relentless reactive upheaving change, and fearful atmospheres of overwrought anxiety, many employees are fighting off a recessionary post traumatic exhaustion.  We are experiencing soars in

productivity from a workforce that has been coerced to toil protracted arduous hours for less compensation.  This phantom productivity gain has been compelled by survival instincts rather than tangible productivity improvements generated through process improvement, technology application, six sigma strategies, and the like.   The Gallup Management Journal’s semi-annual Employee Engagement Index puts the current percentage of truly “engaged” employees at 29 percent. A slim majority, 54 percent, falls into the “not engaged” category, while 17 percent of employees are “actively disengaged.”  Just as the workforce is anticipating a respite, Leaders are contriving to exploit the productivity upsurge to gain a jump on the impending economic recovery.  A keen Street Smart Leader will possess the facility to elevate morale throughout this opportunistic fiscal transition, re-engage his team, and leap beyond his competition.

Several years ago I was being interviewed by a mid-range “human-resourcer” for a national executive leadership position I was very intrigued in.  As we progressed through his predictable tedious entreaties, I endeavored to generously respond with the mundane conventional ripostes that would amply check off his questionnaire and propel me forward in their process.  Everything was proceeding smartly and then he hit me with it.  “How do you motivate people?”  As my brain filtered through the imaginable index-card retorts I had stored from the management books, my gut tightened and sent a repulsing shot back to my throat causing me to choke on the “canned” answer.  There I was, a moment of truth.  My brain pushed headstrong with an internal argument of, “Just answer the question and move on.  What are you doing?”  But my guts countered for a grasp of authenticity and challenged, “You are not going to cave-in on this one too, are you?”  With my integrity intact, I innately postponed my quest for employment as I leaned in, looked the neophyte straight in the eye and authoritatively responded, “I do not believe you can motivate others.  People must be motivated for their own reasons.  Without understanding this, you are only manipulating them”.  As he writhed to recoup his speech along with the decision of whether to not drop his pen or not drop his clipboard, I knew my unconventional position had closed the interview.

The first step in having a motivated A-Team is to hire motivated people.  Although this concept may appear sophomoric at first, take a moment and reflect on how many unmotivated people you know.  Motivation is not a given that can be taken for granted.  Motivation is a value which some people possess and act upon and some do not.  As with all values, you cannot thrust motivation upon an individual through mandate.  No matter how strong of a manager you believe yourself to be, the best you can accomplish with an un-motivated player is short-term manipulation.  Constantly manipulating your employees is a trying and tiring methodology for the long run.  Unmotivated workers must be culled from the workforce if there is to be a chance for good morale to succeed.

Although you cannot motivate someone else, you can be diligent in understanding what motivates each motivated member of your team and then support their motivation with an enriched environment for it to thrive.  Thriving motivation equals exceptional morale.  To understand what goes into a moral supporting environment, let us look to the studies of psychologist Frederick Herzberg, who in 1959 published his “Dual Structure Theory”.   Herzberg rejected the prevalent manipulation methodology of “stick and carrot” (which he dubbed KITA for “kick in the ass”) and developed two lists: Motivator Factors and Hygiene Factors.  He believed that Motivator Factors lead to satisfaction and Hygiene Factors lead to dissatisfaction.   He proposed that Motivator and Hygiene Factors operate independently of each other based on their psychological impact and therefore are not opposites of each other.  So the lack of satisfaction does not equal dissatisfaction, it equals “no” satisfaction.

Herzberg’s theory can be summarized as follows:

The understanding of Herzberg’s Theory has been widely adopted and expanded upon.  Managers everywhere have committed to fulfill these necessities with an assortment of policies, programs, and initiatives.   Rages of “new age” thinking to promote cultures of “feeling good” have saturated the workplace in the hope of fashioning “good morale”.  Here is a short list of ill-fated ideas I plucked from the internet for improving morale:

  • Encourage employees to discuss their problems
  • Protect employees from unfair criticism
  • Develop salary and review guidelines
  • Make training available
  • Encourage employees to rotate jobs
  • Implement rewards to show appreciation
  • Use team building games

This partial list could go on with multitudes of formulas for attempting to make people “feel better”.  The problem with them is that their successes are short lived at best and quickly revert back to “carrot and stick” mentalities.   Herzberg contends management not only must provide hygiene factors to avoid employee dissatisfaction, but also must provide factors intrinsic to the work itself in order for employees to be satisfied with their jobs.  Accomplishing all of this with any half dozen initiatives is an impossibility.  Focusing on individual programs to increase morale is a short-lived waste of time.  A Leader must determine how to raise morale with a complete comprehensive approach to Herzberg’s Theory which will deliver long-lasting and far-reaching impacts for his team.

A Leader acknowledges the absolute answer to achieving incomparable morale through a team of motivated people comes down to one unconquerable action –WINNING!

This lesson was brought home last weekend when my wife and I were lunching at a deli-counter and she leaned over to me and asked what kind of ring the gentleman next to her was wearing.  I recognized it, but encouraged her to ask him.  As she inquired, the seventy-something year old man, who had been fixated on the behind the counter action, softly left his trance and proceeded to take off his Superbowl Ring for my wife to adorn.  As she slipped the humongous golden hoop onto her slender finger, Pro George Timberlake

began to tell us of his days as a Green Bay Packer in the mid-1950s.  He became animated and enthusiastic as he shared his tales of the pre-facemask, pre-Lombardi, and pre-money days of football.  I noticed him straighten up slightly as he pointed out how he played both offense and defense in those days, never coming off of the field.  A light beamed from him as he chronicled his contribution to the genesis of the National Football League and the bestowment years later of his honorary ring.  As his story extended and he described his trade to the Washington Redskins, his shoulders began to faintly slump again.  He became more solemn and dismayed as he spoke of departing football to “get a real job”.  Expecting to hear of a horrific injury, I asked him why he left the game.  With his head sagging a bit and his eyes downcast he slowly returned the prized ring to his finger and explained, “…the Redskins could not win a game and after a few years of continuously losing, the situation was just miserable.”  So he left what most would consider the dream-job of a lifetime.

Show me any winning team and I will show you exceptional morale.  Reflect back on those champagne-flying locker room celebrations you have witnessed after championships … that is what morale looks like and feels like.  Good morale is simply about winning and there is no substitute for it.  It has been said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser”.  I will also show you a demoralized person.

Your responsibility as a Leader is to win!  Motivated people give everything they have with the expectation that they will win.  If they don’t, they will leave.  Remember, you need to begin with motivated people.  But once you have them, you must win with them.  Winning is contagious and builds a self-realizing momentum which creates successive wins.  Winning is not an easy goals to accomplish.  It takes intelligence, strategy, goals, planning, execution…but most of all, it takes winners.

Tough Leaders face the contest of re-energizing their teams during these threatening transitional times.  As excited as you may be to hear of an economic recovery, it sounds like more work and stress to your employees.  You must not wait for the “win” if you are to leap ahead of your competition at this key moment.  Begin winning now!  Start acting like a winner; start talking like a winner; find ways every day to make your team feel like winners.  Winning is as much a philosophy as it is an action.  A Street Smart Leader accepts he cannot be Herzberg’s everything to everyone, but he knows deep down that if he can take a motivated team of people and win, exceptional morale will materialize and everyone will want to stay on the field and keep playing at their best!