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Massacre of Morale: How to Diagnose and Repair a Rapid Decline in Morale and Attitude

It caught me by surprise to see a dramatic change in morale and attitude with a client I have worked with on a number of occasions. When I last met with them in early 2008, everything was very positive and productive. Then, just recently I came back in to do a refresher session and was surprised that the morale and attitude of the leadership group had plummeted.
 
It could be blamed on the recession, however something else was at play here. Read more below…
 

 
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Massacre of Morale
 
How can a few changes in management behavior have such a big impact on the morale and attitude of a company? I saw this recently with a client where I have done leadership training over many years. The company is very proactive towards developing its leaders and has invested in supervisor and team leader training each year.
 
Recently I was invited back to do a refresher session. When the session began it was surprising to see that the leaders were in a foul mood. After allowing for some venting I challenged them to regain their positiveness and that I would investigate the source of the change and see what I could do.
 
The decline in morale and attitude could be traced to three specific triggers:

  1. Senior management had become much more hands on because business had declined during the recession and there was more attention being paid to what was happening on the shop floor. This extra involvement by management was interpreted as micro-managing by the supervisors and team leaders. In addition, the front line leaders were told to focus on their individual areas and spend less time collaborating with colleagues.
  2. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) were seen as overly restrictive and the front line employees were refusing to deviate even when the supervisor required a small change in order to get the work done. Management had reinforced this by directing employees not to do anything unless it was signed off by an appropriate individual. Supervisors and team leaders felt that their leadership had been usurped and they were now reduced to only policing the procedures.
  3. The open door policy was being abused by some employees. They would approach management directly without going through the supervisor first. This isn’t bad in itself, however management would respond directly and not always inform the supervisor. The front line leader then felt that he or she was not trusted.
    Immediately following the workshop there was an improvement in attitude. The leaders themselves had regained some of their positiveness.

In a follow up meeting with management, there was agreement to make a few changes in approach:

  1. The general negativity was a direct reaction to management being overly hands-on. Management decided to back off a little bit, clarify expectations of the supervisors and team leaders and give them the freedom to carry out their duties.
  2. With a desire to increase accountability, the management approach had become more direct and accusational. The recommended change was to ask for input, encourage curiosity and be more positive.
  3. Clarification was needed so that employees knew that their supervisor had the discretion and authority to require a deviation from Standard Operating Procedures. Then if a permanent change of documented procedures were required, it could be done after the work was completed.
  4. Management respected the chain of command and requested that employees go to their supervisor first to address a concern and only come to management if the situation could not be resolved.

Turning Around Morale and Attitude

  • If a rapid decline in morale and attitude occurs ask yourself, “What has changed?”
  • Identify the two or three more aggravating factors and change the approach.
  • Observe to see if the changes are having the desired impact.

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