March 27, 2003

Going to a happy place — work!

  • High employee loyalty and morale fattens the bottom line
    Corporate Strategies and Development


    There is an adage that comes to mind as I survey the events surrounding organizations and their employees. That adage, although not indelibly etched in the minds of many, should be part of all of our lives. It is simple but impactful and something that we all avoid: “Do what works!”

    This adage challenges all of us to look at business a bit differently and ask ourselves “what works?” in our circumstance.

    Do what works!

    In these times of tough markets we all ought to be trying to determine what works in our own business environment. Does it work to have high and unnecessary turnover? Does it work to have employees who are so unhappy that productivity, quality and relationships suffer? Does it work to keep employees at bay and do little to include them in the success/accountability equation of business?

    Most of us know that these things don’t work. We talk about them incessantly, we read all the latest and greatest management and leadership gurus, yet somehow we infrequently do what works in terms of holding our employees accountable, challenging them out of mediocrity, building their morale and presenting them with circumstances designed to increase loyalty. Why not?

    The pat answer is that it costs too much in terms of dollars, schedule and quality — this is what we say, but we also know it is bunk — the real reason is that it takes a great deal of effort. Those companies that experience high employee morale and loyalty understand that they must do what works to avoid costs beyond their control.

    American business generally wants to do something quickly and move on, or as one employer told me — “We just want to go build sh—!” The heck with morale and loyalty.

    This very same employer became a major convert to doing what works after he discovered that if he used certain employee alignment techniques before going off and building stuff, he had better costs, higher productivity and greater quality. He did what works and it lead directly to higher revenue and profit dollars. His focus was simply to do what works when it came to increasing morale and loyalty among his employees.

    It’s the people

    How many times have you said, “If it weren’t for the people this would be a great job!”?

    Employers are most often heard echoing this plea, but more and more employees are echoing it too. So what’s the problem? We all know what’s required but we avoid changing our personal behavior like we avoid the plague.

    So here are my suggestions, and all of us have to make the change, both employers and employees. It is like Jerry Garcia said over 30 years ago — “Somebody has to do something, it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”

    Teach and learn

    Employers must trust others to get it right, but don’t let them sink or swim on their own. It’s much better to give guidance and hold yourself and others accountable.

    There is a broad line between micromanagement and abandonment. Avoid both. It is amazing how people respond. And they respond without the need for rewards, bonuses or bribes.

    Experience has shown us that if we are each allowed to do our jobs, be held accountable and are encouraged to feel as part of the whole, our commitment increases.

    We contribute by being allowed to learn and grow, but being on “learning overload” debilitates. If we remember to teach and learn, we really drive interaction and bring interest and meaning to the workplace.

    One thing that struck me recently is we don’t get to experience success much, particularly if we are in a dog-eat-dog world. Morale skyrockets when successful work is completed.

    The three myths

    So it begs the questions — What can I do to help you be successful, and what can you do to help me be successful? As a wise member of the Seattle business community once told me — all of us must do what we can to extinguish unsuccessful behaviors.

    The myths that surround are just that — myths. One such myth holds that “I can’t do it.” Yes, you can, and you must. The major challenge is changing unsuccessful behavior and focusing on what works.

    Myth number No. 2 is “I can start tomorrow.” Maybe, but why not now?

    The third myth is that “It may not be right for me.” Don’t let the great drown out the good. Fifty percent improvement now is better than waiting for 100 percent in the future. The 100 percent rarely arrives, and the 50 percent opportunity is lost.

    Simple things

    As Jim Collins — author of the book “Good to Great” — has repeated, the key ingredient for all of us, employer and employee alike, is to use your will to move things forward, and to do so with humility as you begin the process. So start by:

    • Using the right words when you communicate

    • Striving for optimism

    • Knowing when you need to change

    • Listening to what others say

    • Learning what makes us tick

    • Thinking twice before we act once

    • Starting in the right direction

    • Holding yourself and others accountable

    If only we had pixie dust to make everything better. The truth is that change only occurs through us.

    If we want higher employee morale and a greater sense of loyalty, then now is the time to act. Extinguish unsuccessful behaviors, dump the Pollyanna front, move to bring authenticity to your life and work, and teach and learn what’s necessary to move your organization forward in the long term.

    Jim Sweeney is the managing partner of Corporate Strategies and Development. The company provides strategic planning, process improvement, organizational assessment, leadership development, executive assimilation and executive search services. Sweeney can be reached at (425) 274-7834 or by e-mail at

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