9 Ways to Build Morale

By Scott Westerman

“The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy.” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower”

I love the art of the “turn around”. This is the challenging process of helping an underperforming organization find its champion’s heart. The first step in any turn around is convincing the team that they can be winners again. Building self esteem and morale are job one. How is it done? Here are nine suggestions on where to begin.

Learn more than just names – There are a ton of tools to help you learn names, but one of the best is associating the name and face with something else that makes the person special. And whenever you meet up with someone, unless you’re firing them, lead with the personal stuff. “How is the family?” “Has Justin decided where he’s going to college yet?” “How did the twins do in the 10K this weekend?” This is one of those things that radiates right back at you. It softens up any stress that might be surrounding the encounter and clears both minds for the work head.

Start your day by walking around – Create a circuit that you travel when you come to the office and try to say good morning to as many people as possible. You will find opportunities to express thanks and perhaps solve a small problem or two. The goal is to charge your positive energy into everyone else’s psyche. “You are the land and the land is you,” says the King Arthur Legend. Whatever energy we give off, good or bad, will influence others for the rest of the day.

Celebrate the Admins – Nothing happens in this world without an able administrative assistant. Behind every successful person, there is a supportive spouse, (a surprised mother-in-law) and an amazing admin. Treat these professionals with the same care and attention you heap on your best performers and favorite customers. Take them to lunch for your one-on-ones. Stretch their knowledge. Learn about their hopes and dreams and help them continue to grow in that direction. Make your work environment so challenging and fun that they can’t wait to come in every morning. And always remember that you will never be successful without them.

Work with the troops – Get out of your office, take some work with you and plop down amongst the team. If they are working on a task together pitch in. If they are focused, stay out of their way, but model the behavior by focusing, too. If you have a team that goes to an event early to set things up, be there to help. Anything you can do to bridge the inevitable chasm that comes with authority will promote trust and open communication. And the best place to find out what’s really going on is to hang out where the real work is being done.

Do Shout Outs – A great way to get any meeting off to a good start is to do the Shout-Out exercise. These are quick “Thank-Yous” that team members share with one another. Shout outs not only make the recipient feel good, they amplify properly modeled behaviors and often generate some Q&A about the situation that leads to idea generation and better communication. As a side bar, you should invite people from other units you serve to join your meeting from time to time, more often if you are both sharing a project. They’ll get the hang of the shout out culture quickly. They will tell their friends that your’s is the coolest and most energized staff meeting around… and perhaps take some of that back to their teams, too.

Give someone a book – “The more that you read,” says Dr. Seuss, “the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Few things make a memory like a carefully selected gift. And a thoughtful book recommendation is always welcome if you’re a reader. I’m notorious for giving digital gift certificates to my Kindle owner friends for books I think they will like. I’ll run by our rare book seller, Curious Book Shop, from time to time when I’m looking for a gift. Something that is custom selected is long remembered. And if you’ve written a book, keep a bunch in your brief case or back pack. Hand them out liberally to people you think might enjoy them.

Make Friday Appreciation Day – Generate thank you notes as soon after an experience as possible. Do it while the memory is still fresh. But mark you Friday calendar as a day of gratitude. As Mark Twain wrote, “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” Emails are ok if you take the time to articulate your gratitude. But something they receive in the mail is always better. If you have decent handwriting, nothing beats a personal handwritten note. To make an additional impression, you can use one of  two cool mobile thank-you apps: Postargram and the Apple Cards application. You can share both a picture and a thought with these two tools. In the right place and time, they work magic.

Work your VIP list – Keith Ferrazzi likes to tell us that there are a certain number of people out there who will be the keys to our long term happiness. Strengthening these relationships is paramount if we want to keep on track to make our dreams come true. Whenever I’m waiting for a meeting to start, stuck in an airport or in the outer office at the dentist, I’m pinging this VIP list. There are many ways to do this, but making the effort is the most important thing. Check in with your VIP list regularly, And don’t just limit it to email. Even in this era of text messaging and social media, you can solve many more problems and share a lot more good will in a brief face to face encounter.

Make random acts of kindness a habit – I always carry a few quarters in my pocket to pop into someone else’s expired parking meter. On game days, I take ice cold Cokes to the guys who guard the parking lots. When you witness someone doing a good turn, let them know you saw it. The best thing about modeling this kind of behavior is watching it spread. At work, random acts of kindness can change the whole vibe and have a direct and positive impact on productivity. Be the catalyst.

I pitch these ideas when I visit with leadership teams, but they can work for anyone in any situation. Robert Greenleaf believed that, the most productive leadership mindset,  “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” In fact, all of these behaviors we’ve been talking about in this message are in sync with Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership philosophy.

Understanding the whole person who lives inside a coworker. Walking a mile in their shoes. Showing authentic appreciation for the work they do. And adding value to their lives to help them become happier, more productive, more fulfilled individuals. This is the essence of a great team. Create that culture at your shop. Team members who feel valued have higher morale, work smarter and always deliver better results. And if they succeed, you will, too.