personal wholeness/business success

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Communication is best way to build morale, and it's free

Coach's Corner--September 28, 2009

The Client
Name: Adrienne
Age: 42
Title: Store manager
Industry: Retail
Issue: Building morale
Q. Morale is down because business is down, we’ve had to trim staff several times, and customers seem crankier than usual. Customer service is suffering, and I’ve no budget for any material incentives beyond the current pay structure. Any ideas for motivating my staff?

A. Address any damage from the past and explore intangible ways to invest in your team.

The inner game
For starters, how is your own morale? Do you believe that your business can move forward successfully, or deep inside have you given up? Focus on what you control and create a vision for a positive yet realistic future.

Then, consider the messages employees have been receiving. Repeated layoffs send a message that there’s no security. Lack of clear information sends a message that you don’t know or don’t trust them enough to tell them. Lack of investment in them sends the message that you don’t care.

What messages would you like them to get? Be specific about your view of the employees and their contributions, customers and their experiences, and the overall economic environment. Try thinking about what you’d like them to be telling their friends about their job, their boss, and their company.

Finally, think differently about ways to motivate employees. Make a long list of all the ways you could help them charge up. Money is not necessarily the top motivator, so don’t underestimate the power of intangibles such as meaningful recognition, challenges, mentoring, and leadership.

The outer game
The single most effective step you can take is to communicate, communicate, communicate! It doesn’t cost anything, and it’ll help you manage many of the challenges that lead to loss of morale.

More specifically, start to spread the key messages that you’d like your staff to hear. Cut off the rumor mill by sharing information more widely. There may be some information that you don’t know or you aren’t at liberty to share — let your team know that, too. Address the emotional fallout from layoffs so that people can move forward. Talk about the stresses customers are under to help employees greet them with greater compassion. Share your positive vision for the future and enlist them to help bring it about.

Look at what you control as you decide how to invest in your employees. Make a commitment to invest your time, knowledge, and insight in your employees’ development. Work with them on clarifying future goals and ways to increase the challenge and sense of accomplishment in their current roles. Be their mentor and coach as they move forward. If you don’t know how to do this, invest in yourself to build these skills — it’s key to being a successful leader. And look for ways to free up even a little from your budget for “icing on the cake” rewards such as treats at staff meetings or gift card rewards for special accomplishments.

The last word
Building morale is possible, even in down times, and can help regenerate your business during a recovery.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted September 28, 2009
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