Sun Tzu refers to using troops (for our purpose, employees) as “setting a ball in motion” and “the force applied is minute but the results are enormous.” These metaphors are certainly applicable when considering all that is currently known about the potential forces that contribute to morale. With that aim in mind, use the following list as a guide to creating a morale advantage for your group:

Manage through availability and visibility. Show genuine interest by listening to employees’ problems, complaints, and other issues. Fundamental to building morale is demonstrating to your people that you are genuinely interested in them and their growth. That means being visible, sincere, and treating them as valued employees who have insight, experience, and special knowledge. One executive described his visibility technique thus: “Manage by walking around.” Manage with integrity and transparency. Within the range of what is permissible or confidential, explain management’s actions to your employees. Provide information and guidance on matters that affect their security. (Review Herzberg’s concepts cited above.) Keep your people up to date on all business matters affecting them and tackle unfounded rumors before they do damage.

Develop plans and prioritize actions. With input from others, prioritize those opportunities worth exploiting and rank problems needing solutions. Not only do you maximize resources, time, and energy, but you also involve the team in viewing the big picture and understanding the reasons behind the prioritizing.

Support a collaborative work environment. Create an environment of expectation and excitement, such as the physical surroundings described in the Johnson & Johnson case. It should also be your intention to set up a positive psychological environment that encourages and, as important, anticipates success.

Communicate often and openly. A foundation requirement for activating morale and “setting a ball in motion” is communicating up, down, and across levels. Doing so puts problems and opportunities out in the open and spurs the free flow of ideas to overcome difficulties and seize opportunities. Open communication encourages others to think creatively and bring to the surface any detrimental issues that would hamper a team’s progress. There are numerous possibilities through internal networks, seminars, and informal meetings to foster effective communications. The issue, then, is a firm commitment to making interactions an ongoing and viable activity.

Encourage feedback. Welcome questions and comments through an ongoing interactive feedback system among various groups. If you avoid such interchanges, you create a damaging vacuum by preventing new possibilities from surfacing from those who would be inspired to act. The object is to develop dialogues that trigger the creative process and open minds to think in areas not otherwise considered, as illustrated in the 3M example.

Delegate responsibility. Morale will rise if you challenge teams and give individuals responsibility. Often they will surprise you with solutions to problems that may have eluded you. Delegating also sends a strong message of confidence that you can let go and permit the team’s creativity and initiative to take over.

Benchmark activities. Set high standards by benchmarking your activities and goals against the best. Look beyond your company. Look to other industries for ideas and inspiration, and show the team what can be accomplished. Try to draw meaningful parallels and let the competitive spirit flourish.

Accept diversity. Respect differences by accepting the viewpoint that others may not see things as you do. Therefore, recognize differences of opinion, especially where there are diverse backgrounds. This is particularly important as more and more interactions take place with individuals in offshore locations.

Observe performance. The object here is to stifle problems and correct situations before they fester. This process is also the basis for further training and an agenda for group meetings.

Maintain optimism. Stay positive and avoid displaying anxiety or worry. During times of intense pressure, sidestep disclosing your concerns or fears to your personnel. Instead, present a problem as a challenge that can be turned into an opportunity through a unified team effort. As for optimism, one old sage declared: “The most important thing is to be optimistic. If we fall, let us strengthen ourselves. Heroism is in the heart.”

Now the supreme requirements of generalship are a clear perception, the harmony of his host, a profound strategy coupled with far-reaching plans, an understanding of the seasons and an ability to examine the human factors.

Sun Tzu

To summarize, if you want to manage outstanding individuals, “examine the human factors” and excite their ambition. Get them to feel the stimulation of accomplishment, and feel the dynamics of “a profound strategy coupled with far-reaching plans.” Make them see a future with which they can identify. And even where there may be some unpleasant assignments, they will elect to do the job. It is within those jobs that you will find high-performing employees.

In the final analysis, success is a matter of morale—and your ability to engage heart, mind, and spirit.

Unfortunately, moral factors will not yield to academic wisdom. They cannot be classified or counted. They have to be seen or felt.



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