Whether your organization is composed of employees or volunteers, their motivation is your responsibility. An Air Force General once told me that whenever he found a base where there was a lack of morale, his first action was to replace the base commander. An old German saying is, “the fish smells from the head” and this must be true in the military. Lolly Daskal recently suggested 8 Deadly Ways to kill Employee Morale. These provide a good starting point from which to consider this subject.
Every so often a group become infiltrated by someone with a toxic personality. Their negativity interferes with progress and team building. A skillful leader will quickly determine whether the personality can be managed or if it is worth the effort. If not, get the individual to share their talents somewhere else.
No Professional Development
The best people in a volunteer organization are looking for paths to greater involvement and service. Employees are looking for increased responsibility through promotion and increased compensation. Volunteers can be selected to work on special committees or sent to represent the group at association meetings. Employees can be promoted when vacant positions are available. Even in small companies, where there are few possibilities for traditional promotion, the delegation of responsibility can provide a similar reward. Consider that an employee’s value in a small organization is increased by the breath of their responsibilities.
Lack of Vision
People are motivated by a clear vision and shared values. They want to know where the organization is going and if it is worth their effort to help it on its way. Leaders who have, communicate, and live a vision motive followers. Those who do not, leave the organization adrift and followers unmotivated.
Meetings which seem to lack purpose and emails with circulation beyond those directly involved are symptomatic of time wasters. Its sends a message that individual productivity is not a priority. I once worked in an organization where coming in on Saturday morning to catch-up was the accepted norm. After several months, it became obvious that a more effective use of time during the business day would have been more productive and the practice was more for “show”.
Show me an organization with a lack of motivation and you will see an active rumor mill. Rumors not only effect productivity, since time is spent on speculation, but they also contribute to a decrease in motivation. It is difficult to perceive of a rumor, either true or false, having a positive effect on motivation. It’s easier to remember those, we have heard, which are demoralizing. Providing open, regular and credible communication to all those within a group is a necessity. It should not be something to do when you think of it. It should be something you do every day.
Only in a crisis should the manager be giving orders which are expected to be followed without question. Vertical management means that the leader is in charge, believes that his word is the gospel, and is to be followed. After a time, followers tire of this and hope to be involved in some independent decision making. If that does not occur, they quickly become complacent, refusing to take responsibility for even their own actions. They become dis-empowered and return for intimate instruction in even the simplest case.
Lack of Recognition
It is easy to observe how leaders in volunteer organizations never fail to recognize individual performance. I worked with one leader who rarely ended a conversation without thanking me for what I do. It sometimes seems like over-kill, but it is always appreciated.
Leaders and managers often do not recognize the power of recognition. An award schedule such as “employee of the month” often formalizes that recognition, but day-to-day recognition of achievement is a much more powerful tool. Quint Studer is a specialist in developing some of the best managed hospitals in the country. In his book, Hardwiring Excellence, he advocates this principle of recognition. Managers are encourage to tour the hospital, looking for personal behaviors to recognize. Maybe it’s as simple as the use of hand sanitizer when entering or leaving a patient’s room. That recognition reinforces a more productive environment and does much to build morale.
Leaders in the non-profit and volunteer environment understand that recognition is key to building a high performance team. In fact, since that have very limited financial incentives, it is their most important tool. But what about the for-profit environment, where financial incentives are available? Studies have shown that, on a daily basis, recognition can also be a motivational tool. Financial rewards may only come monthly, quarterly, or annually, but personal recognition can continuously be used for motivation.
The development of the skills in an organization’s leadership can be the greatest contribution to increased morale and productivity. Employees and volunteers cannot excel without great leadership. Time and time again we have seen, like the example of the Air Force base Commander, mentioned above, that a change in leadership can make a difference in morale and productivity. Unfortunately in many organizations it is difficult to bring in a new commander, but it is possible to sharpen the skills of the current leadership.