2010 Advice: Feed Your Starving Staff

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Whether or not you make New Year’s Resolutions, here’s a 2010 leadership resolution I challenge you to make.

Fix Morale.

Morale is a leading indicator of your team’s ability to deliver  game-changing results. Take a good hard look at the individual and collective vibe among your direct reports. Have you fed their confidence or inadvertently starved them in the last year?

Relax, I’m not advocating lofty or poofy “love thy employee” initiatives. This isn’t about an HR-driven campaign. You don’t need posters, pom-poms or anything containing the words success, initiative or move my cheese. Workers don’t need you to announce one more motivational contest that you pulled out of a New York Times bestseller.

Simply pay attention to your people.

Give your employees thoughtful attention.

What is thoughtful attention, you ask? It’s any act on your part that shows you notice the small stuff. Below you’ll find examples that have worked well for me (as both the giver and recipient).  Each action carries an implicit affirmation that your employee matters, not just to an organization but to you.

  1. Tools that enhance their performance
  2. Encouragement and reinforcement
  3. Demonstration of trust

Things to give them = TOOLS

  • Magazine subscription (their pick)
  • Levenger gift certificate (don’t underestimate the power of a nice pen or a Circa notebook)
  • Subscription to an online resource (As a marketer, my faves are Ragan.com and MarketingProfs.com)
  • The Artist’s Way
  • Any book. (Better yet – send them to the bookstore and tell them to expense it)
  • Updated equipment or software (without forcing them to labor over a cost justification, for goodness sakes)

The littlest things can really make  me feel appreciated…new stock photography or fonts, fun notepaper, even desk accessories can make me smile. ~Kim Brandt, marketing manager

Things to Communicate = Encouragement and Reinforcement

  • When you delegate a tough assignment, tell them in ADVANCE they have what it takes
  • Give them a card and in it praise them (Guys, if you do only one thing this year, do this.)
  • Scribble a short “atta boy” on a Post-it note (there’s nothing like it when an employees finds good news stuck to their monitor)
  • Leave a positive voicemail or email in the off hours (it’s a groovy feeling to know your boss is thinking positively about you in his off-time)
  • Take him or her to lunch and talk about what keeps you up at night. Be human.

A gift card to Starbucks and a thank you note for a great job. I will never forget that on my chair. Loved it! ~Travis Hall, designer

Opportunities as Things = TRUST

  • Send them to a workshop or a conference (give her an assignment to bring back one innovative idea that could spark change)
  • Give a change of scenery. Tell her to work at a coffee shop for the afternoon. Or library or anyplace that inspires her (home doesn’t count)
  • Proxy for you in a meeting (then ask for fresh feedback)
  • Ask for input before a company meeting or a speech (“What do you think your coworkers really need me to address?”)
  • Offer your full attention. Use a 1:1 and don’t put them on the spot. Set down the Blackberry. Find out what’s in their way and what they’d do to fix it if they were you.)

    (My boss) is always happy to see me. He tells that he is glad I am part of the team, and he honors how important family is to my life balance. That means a lot to me. ~Brooke Green, business coach

Last but not least, Recognition 101:

  • Restaurant gift certificate (big enough for a splurge)
  • Birthday card (a real card — not a boxed corporate set. And, no, signing the group card doesn’t count)
  • Recognition of their hire date anniversary (These are recurring dates on my calendar, and I still send a note to a few of my former employees who were stars on my team)

Does it sound like work? I hope so, because it is. Good morale requires care and feeding like any relationship.

In the successful organization, no detail is too small to escape close attention. ~Lou Holtz

Here’s the good news, size doesn’t matter when it comes to thoughtful attention. The beauty resides in the detail. So wake up and start paying attention.  Let me know if you need more suggestions.

4 thoughts on “2010 Advice: Feed Your Starving Staff

  1. Pingback: futurechat — Blog — 2010 - Predictions, Trends and Expectations

  2. There are some gems in this advice. However, if we want to truly empower someone for greater success we need to look beyond merely being supportive and into the psychology of team behavior.

    A characteristic example is the difference between a presenting a Levenger gift certificate and asking an employee to attend a meeting on your behalf.

    The first is an extrinsic motivator, and worse, one readily interpreted to fit the demeanor of the employee. It might be construed as a condescending carrot (a token gift in lieu of what you’re actually worth) or a passive-aggressive stick (you should really be more organized and professional.) These feelings are automatic and the phenomenon is well supported by research. We should avoid bonuses because they corrupt the relationship between work and reward.

    The second example—“attending a meeting in your place”—provides for a source of intrinsic motivation. If an employee is sent to brainstorm or make decisions on behalf of their supervisor, they have been endowed with responsibility and authority. This is a fantastic way to engender growth because it demonstrates trust.

    However, we should be conscious of how we characterize the request and the follow up. The word “proxy” implies that the employee acts on our behalf, but does not clearly state that they are trusted to bring their own ideas and judgment to the meeting. Likewise, the term “fresh feedback” may suggest that the employee’s entire purpose was to report on what they observed instead of the influence they exerted through their own autonomous contributions.

    A manager who provides thoughtful attention is clearly superior to one who is aloof. However, a workplace dedicated to the full delegation of responsibility and authority is one where people are intrinsically motivated to innovate.

    It’s okay to give trinkets and words of encouragement. But these aren’t the reason that people work, and such tokens can backfire. This style, unwittingly abused, is the basis of wildly popular sitcoms and comic strips.

    Instead, try to give what matters: your time and attention, and best of all, give the power to do more. The greatest recognition an employee can receive is your confidence in them.

  3. Kelli,

    This post is further evidence you need to keep blogging. Here is why I like this post:

    1. It gives practical yet impactful suggestions that are not commonly thought of or done. These are fresh ideas!

    2. I tell everyone I have yet to find a business, especially in this emerging new economy, in which employee cost (wages, taxes, benefits, etc.) are not the number one or number two largest expense in a company. The things you have mentioned are ways to help make those dollars spent more effective…but that is not all. They are genuine acts of kindness that make a professional relationship more real and help leaders to change the lives of those they lead. My CFO side might call these activies “human asset management,” but my leadership side calls this “helping people rise to beyond even their own expectations.”

    3. There is nothing in your list of suggestions that would make either party feel uncomfortable once it is done. Before-hand the manager/leader may feel a bit uncomfortable, but that is usually a just a positive sign of change. Some of these things will draw the manager/leader out of their comfort zone, which is something they should probably be doing more often.

    4. I appreciate that your list addresses how to improve morale with knowledge workers. Suggestions like magazine subscriptions and other tools, unlike a hammer or electric saw, are the things knowledge workers needs to continually stimulate their minds and grow professionally.

    5. Isn’t the real measure of success of a leader to train their replacement? I think your suggestions for extending TRUST to employees will foster this.

    I could go on with a few more, but I will stop for now. I’m taking the kids to a movie this morning so Mom can get some well-needed rest.

    Enjoy the holidays, Kelli!

    Ken K.

  4. Great advice! It is the little things that can make all the difference and a little attention can go a long way.

    I love the suggestion of offering opportunities for trust. I still remember the first time a manager of mine asked me to sit as a proxy for him at a stakeholder meeting. It may have been a small gesture but at the time, it was quite a boost of confidence for me.



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