Several years ago the president of a 200-employee division of a high tech manufacturer of telecommunications equipment asked me to conduct an employee survey of his workers. The division had just split off from a larger group in the organization and about one-third of the employees had lost their jobs during the restructuring. He wanted to gain an objective understanding of the views of those who had survived the transition.
The results of the employee survey revealed a terrible morale problem. Employees were unhappy with every aspect of their job.
I met with the president to discuss the results and plan a strategy for improving the situation. He was overwhelmed with the many things that needed to be done to right the ship. I advised him to focus on just a few of my suggestions.
Six months later he asked me to re-survey the workforce. Lo and behold the results improved across-the board. Employees felt much better about all of the issues we surveyed. This included their relationships with their supervisors and senior management, the timeliness of their performance reviews, career development opportunities, and job security.
I asked him, "What did you do to improve the results so dramatically?" He replied, "The only thing we did was make certain that performance reviews were conducted on time. We focused on something tangible that we could control. I personally reviewed my direct reports on schedule and made sure that all managers throughout the organization followed suit."
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
Now you may be thinking, "How could more timely performance reviews have made such a difference? There must have been something else going on." Well, here's what happened.
By focusing on providing timely performance reviews:
Employees felt better about their supervisors, who were focusing more on their needs. They were paying more attention to their employees and providing them with more feedback about their job performance and recognition for good work.
Employees felt better about senior management because the president had gotten out of his isolated bunker to openly communicate the importance of conducting performance reviews on time. Also, in his own reviews of his direct reports, he provided clear instructions on what they should be doing to move the organization forward, which they then passed on throughout the organization.
Employees felt better about the communications they were receiving because the president was more visible, constantly talking about timely performance reviews. Also, stimulated by the recent performance reviews, supervisors now had more ongoing communication with their direct reports.
Employees felt better about their career opportunities because during the performance reviews their supervisors provided coaching and advice about how they could move their careers forward.
Employees felt better about their job security because during the performance reviews they were reassured that that they were meeting expectations.
Obviously, conducting timely performance reviews is not the cure-all for employee morale problems. This example, however, demonstrates that by focusing on one tangible, visible, organizational change that touches all employees, many other issues are impacted as well.
When employee morale is low, senior management often becomes paralyzed. They see so many problems; they just don't know where to start. Sometimes focusing on improving just one thing can dramatically improve the situation.