Years ago a group of brilliant young men at the University of Wisconsin seemed to have amazing creative literary talent.
They were would-be poets, novelists and essayists.
Their skills were extraordinary.
These promising young men met regularly to read and critique each other's work. And critique it they did!
These men dissected the most minute literary expression into a hundred pieces.
They were heartless, tough, and even mean in their criticism.
The sessions became so merciless that the members of this exclusive club called themselves the "Stranglers."
Not to be outdone, the women of literary talent in the university started a club of their own, calling themselves the "Wranglers." They, too, read their works to each other. But there was one great difference. The criticism was much softer, more positive, more encouraging. Sometimes, there was almost no criticism at all. Every effort was encouraged.
Twenty years later, an alumnus of the university was doing an exhaustive study of his classmates' careers when he noticed a vast difference in the literary accomplishments of the Stranglers as opposed to the Wranglers.
Of all the bright young men in the Stranglers, not one had made a significant literary accomplishment of any kind. From the Wranglers had come six or more successful writers, some of national renown such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote "The Yearling."
Comparative talent between the two? Probably the same. Level of education? Not much difference. But the Stranglers strangled, while the Wranglers were determined to give each other a lift. The Stranglers promoted an atmosphere of contention and self doubt. The Wranglers highlighted the best, not the worst.
These are good examples of how to kill morale, as well as how to improve it.
This lesson applies to keeping your business alive and healthy. Plain and simple, if employees are disgruntled, unhappy or feel like they aren't important to the operation, business will suffer. Perhaps in challenging times, workers will put up with more dissatisfaction for fear of not finding another job, but they won't be doing your company any favors.
There are plenty of ways in which managers strangle morale, like lying to employees, playing favorites, arrogance, disrespect, not admitting to mistakes, failing to recognize a job well-done. Managers also hurt morale by:
* Ignoring what's important to workers. We make it our business to know our employees at MackayMitchell Envelope Company, which is why I created the Mackay 33 for Managers. It's all about making our managers aware of the attitudes and concerns of our employees. The complete Mackay 33 is available free on my website, www.harveymackay.com.
* Overloading workers. Some people don't know when to say no, or are afraid to say no lest they be considered uncooperative. Give realistic responsibilities. Avoid meaningless tasks.
* Stifling initiative. Let your people solve their own problems, if they are willing and able. Nothing builds morale as fast as experiencing success.
* Wasting employees' time by imposing phony deadlines for projects, scheduling long and meaningless meetings, and failing to solicit their input on the best ways to accomplish goals.
* Intimidation, such as looking over their shoulder, distrusting workers without cause, practicing petty office politics, publicly humiliating employees for making mistakes, promoting gossip and bullying.
* Not supplying a good physical environment, including adequate lighting, workspace, storage, computer and office supplies.
Ouch! These are all signs of a company in trouble. If you noticed, most of these issues can be resolved without cost. If you are serious about improving employee morale, try these simple things:
1. Smile. Be positive. Your attitude should set the example.
2. Celebrate even small achievements. Try an impromptu root beer float party, potluck or an employee-of-the-week recognition. Make it fun.
3. Encourage continuing education or learning new skills.
4. Promote teamwork, including after work activities.
5. Listen to your employees with both ears. Tune in to their ideas, concerns and suggestions.
None of these require a big capital outlay or even a lot of work. But the payoff is significant.
Thomas J. Watson, former IBM chairman, hit the nail on the head: "I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can very often be traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people."
Mackay's Moral: Strangle morale and you'll strangle your business.