I park at an offsite lot when I drive to the airport. This particular lot is run by a company which owns other parking facilities across the country. On my last visit, I asked why they’d moved the customer service area (where you pay and they take your keys). The young woman behind the counter huffed, “I don’t know, they never tell us anything around here. We’re just the peon workers.” She said this loudly, with a great deal of hostility. I was pretty shocked. She then added, “They don’t care about us. I have to work a double shift today, because some idiot called in sick, and I’m gonna miss my son’s birthday party.” Her eyes filled with tears.

 
I’ve been to this lot hundreds of times in the last three years. On a scale of 1 to 10, the morale at this company is somewhere between zero and dead. The employees are sullen and lack energy—no one seems happy. As a trainer, consultant, and author specializing in leadership development, I always ask myself the same question: why are the employees like this?
 
It might be helpful to consider the company’s background. The location has been there for 20 years. In the past two years, it’s been bought and sold four times. Each of those times, the company’s name, logo, uniforms and shuttle vans have been changed. Does that sound like a lot of MSOs around the country? The question is this: What are our people saying to our customers?
 
How does a cable leader build a business or a team that has high morale? Once it is established, how do you maintain it? Here are 5 approaches that you may want to consider, whether you are taking over a new team or organization, or you already have one.
 
1. Assess
It seems obvious, but you need to get a handle on the current mindset of the team. What do employees say to the customers about you and the company? What do they say about you? There are several ways to find out. Take a survey of all employees using many available online tools. Also, talk to them. Wait. I want you, the boss, to sit down and have discussions with their subordinates? Yes, I know, it’s a crazy idea. But it really works. Open, honest and constructive dialogue builds trust and signals to the frontline employees that you actually care.
 
As a warning, however, there are two points to keep in mind. First of all, don’t do these things if you don’t care about the answers. People can see right through this—and they can tell if you’re being fake. Secondly, if you ask for input, be prepared to make some changes. It’s reprehensible to ask all of those questions (such as in an employee survey) and then do nothing.
 
2. Eliminate Old Hierarchical Language
Companies want to build team spirit and morale, yet they use words that are almost designed to say, “I count, you don’t.” Think about eliminating the following words and replacing them with more preferable terms:
 
Boss = Manager
Superior = Manager
Subordinate = Employee or Team Member
Mr. or Mrs. = First Name for Everyone
Temp = Team Member
Secretary = Assistant
Frontline Employee = Team Member
 
In many organizations, I still see these terms as part of their daily lexicon. Stop! They are disrespectful and divisive—not inclusive.
 
3. Communicate Openly and Honestly
I once reported to a manager who said to me, “Sorry, that’s on a need-to-know basis.” After a long discussion as to all the reasons I needed to know, he still wouldn’t tell me. The implication was, “I’m important, you aren’t.” This was, in my mind, the highest form of arrogance. Aside from legal- and HR-related issues, there’s not much that employees can’t know about. As part of any communication, explain why something is being done. Team members may not agree, but at least they will know. We all want to feel like we’re in the loop. Lastly, communicate using as many methods as possible, not just email. I have leaders who say to me, “of course they know, I sent an email.”
 
4. Involve Them
Meet with employees and tell them about the larger issues and challenges that the company or organization is facing. Ask them how to solve it. Let them be part of it. Brainstorm. Ideate when team members are present, and they will start to feel acknowledged and appreciate it. Team involvement also gets more buy-in and agreement once decisions are made.
 
5. Find out What They Want
Many managers never bother to ask team members what they want. Here’s a simple concept: Ask them! Find out what each team member’s long-term career goals are.
 
One last point: You may have noticed that I didn’t mention compensation. As you know, compensation is not a long-term motivator, and it doesn’t build morale. The raise is often long forgotten after 1-2 paychecks. It all boils down to one simple concept. Aretha Franklin said it best: “Just a little bit” of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
           
(Shawn Doyle is the President of New Light Learning and Development (www.newlightlearning.com) a company specializing in Leadership Development. He has also authored five books on leadership sales and motivation. His latest book The 10 Foundations of Motivation is being published this month in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia.)
 
 
           
 

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