Management Articles


Morale Problem? Look in the Mirror

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

Many Canadian organizations are experiencing deep and debilitating morale crises, just as they're trying to cope with a challenging business climate.

Companies are finding that a large number of their workers, supervisors, managers and executives have quit their jobs - but they're still coming in to work every day.

Because dissatisfied employees can't produce satisfied customers, service levels suffer. And uninspired people don't make improvements to work processes.

At management seminars and workshops, I am frequently asked how to motivate, renew or revitalize employees. One senior manager complained bitterly about "the declining work ethic" and how nobody takes pride in his or her work any more.

This manager - like so many others - was searching for the "motivational magic button." He wanted to discover some program or technique that would recharge people in his organization like so many dying batteries.

His own organization had embarked on an internal "sloganeering" campaign. But despite well-managed internal communications - including videos, newsletters and snappy slogans on coffee cups and T-shirts - service quickly returned to its former mediocre level.

This search for the motivational Holy Grail is a classic case of treating symptoms rather than root causes. Managers searching for the reasons for plummeting morale and low motivation levels need to take a look in the mirror.

Quality guru W. Edwards Deming points to the common cause of the problem: "The supposition is prevalent the world over that there would be no problems in production or in service if only our production workers would do their jobs in the way they were taught. Pleasant dreams. The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system belongs to management."

Motivation is an inside job. A manager alone can't motivate or revitalize people, just as a gardener can't grow plants without the right soil or weather. But a manager can create the conditions for self-motivation.

Conditions affecting morale are varied and complex. If you are wrestling with this issue you should find guidance by answering these questions:
  • Look at your performance appraisal system. Does it hold people accountable for results that depend on a bigger process than they control?

  • Is everyone in your organization well-trained, informed, and involved?

  • Do reward systems encourage and reinforce high performance?

  • Do you aggressively measure and manage those factors with the highest impact on customers, employees, and production and service processes?

  • Are accounting and management information systems designed to make it easier for customers and those serving customers, or are they designed for the managers only?

  • Similarly, are front-line employees serving their internal and external customers - or just managers?

  • Are you hiring highly self-motivated people?

  • Are supervisors, managers, and executives acting as effective coaches and team leaders?

  • Are people skills and leadership ability key criteria in all promotions?
The most important question of all is - how do you know? Get the people whose motivation and morale you're concerned about to provide the answers to these questions. One company tackled this task through a "dumb rules and forms" committee. Led by a vice-president, the group's mission was to search out and destroy all the demeaning and useless bureaucratic busywork that complicated the organization and turned people off.

The work ethic is not dead. Studies show Canadian workers want to take pride in their work, belong to a winning team, and be part of an organization they can believe in. It is wrong to ask: why don't people want to work any more? More to the point, why don't people want to work for you?

© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group

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