Caution! Employee Morale Not As Good As You Think.

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Employee morale seems to be quite high.  Management teams everywhere breath a sigh of relief after seeing their satisfaction surveys results.  They’ve got it under control.  People are happy and satisfied.  Executives look at this data and believe all’s well.  But it’s not.  Not really.

Many employee satisfaction surveys test for how happy, or satisfied, the employee is with the work they do each day.  But this measure can be misleading.  While I may love building spreadsheets, I might not like the environment in which I have to perform this work.  I may really enjoy creative writing, but don’t like the team I’m on, or the boss I work for.  Measuring how happy an employee is with the work they do, just might provide a false positive reading on satisfaction.

In a recent SHRM study, they surveyed 600 employees on 43 different criteria related to job satisfaction.  The overall employee satisfaction score came in at 86%.  However, in diving deeper into the analysis there is cause for concern.

The survey found the most important criteria to employees is being treated with respect.  Across all 43 criteria, 74% of employees rated this category as #1 in determining their satisfaction.  However, only 33% of employees gave this criteria a satisfactory rating.  The second most important category at 64% was trust between employees and management. Yet again there was another major disconnect with only 24% of employees scoring this criteria as satisfactory.

The lesson here is simple.  Reading the cumulative satisfaction score is comparable to evaluating someone’s health based entirely upon their ability to read an eye chart.  What about blood pressure?  Or cholesterol levels?  Or their weight?  I could have 20/20 vision, but be 100 pounds overweight with high cholesterol…am I really healthy.  There is so much involved in truly understanding employee morale and obtaining a true measure of their satisfaction.

In 20 years of building teams, managing teams, and leading them, I have found the only true measure of employee satisfaction is by having a genuine connection to your team.  Sending out a survey to trumpet a score, or a title on the greatest places to work list, can be quite dangerous if you place 100% confidence on just the score.  Dig deeper. Ask the tough questions. Be courageous. Be brave.  And most of all be willing to recognize that no company is perfect.  Think about that for a minute.  If there was a perfect company that would mean they have perfect employees.  If they had perfect employees that would mean you’d have no need for a performance review system as all of your employees would be exceeding (perfect) your expectations.  No.  Companies can only be as perfect as the people whom they employ.  So be ready to confront reality.  Be ready to take action to address all employment related criteria and not just those that are convenient.

Can You Tell If Your Culture Is Broken?

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Sales are down, customers are complaining and the board is losing patience.  You say you have a brand problem.  People aren’t aware enough, confident enough, or convicted enough to buy what you’re offering.  Why?

Is it because your marketing budget isn’t big enough?  Maybe you’re not running enough ads?  Or perhaps you haven’t paid enough attention to SEO and key words?  It could be some of these things, or maybe all of them.  I’d be willing to bet it might be something entirely different.  It might be your culture.

What you produce is a direct reflection of who you are, how you act, and what you value.  These are the things that make up a company’s culture.  They’re the sticky things, the messy things, the complicated things.  They are the ingredients that many executives (notice I didn’t say leaders), shy away from addressing.

I’ve read literally hundreds of company websites that proudly talk about their culture using words they refer to as their “values”.  They advertise these words like awards, placing them on a shelf like a trophy.  Inside the company however is a different realty.

Years ago I had a boss tell me, “if you have to put your values on a website they have no value”.  She further explained that “saying something is so, doesn’t make it so.”  I agree.  If, as an example, you list integrity as a value then what does it mean for the companies who don’t list integrity?  Does that mean they’re bad, or operate dishonestly?  Do you really need to say you value operating in a truthful manner?

I’ve seen countless companies where there is a disconnect between the stated values and the real culture.  The employees know it.  They see it.  They’re living it.  They’re wondering if anyone else notices the disconnect.  They become numb to the words because that’s all they are …just words.  Instead they watch actions.  They look for proof.  When they can’t find proof to validate the words the culture cracks.  It becomes fractured.  It fails to deliver a delightful experience to the customer because the delivery mechanism – the employees – is fractured.

Leaders hit this challenge head on.  Leaders are not afraid to tackle the hard stuff, the sensitive stuff, the messy stuff.  They stand in front of the company leaning forward, and take complete responsibility for the disconnect.  They own it.  They believe it’s their job to fix it, no one else’s.  They’re a leader.

The leader knows that fixing something, or improving it, begins with honestly.  They know that to make a positive impact they must be able to be honest with their team.  The team is too smart to misled.  They know the deal.  They’re listening for the truth, not fluff.  Only then will the team rally.  Only then will the team consider the remarkable.  Only then is the delivery of a delightful experience possible.  Until then…the broken culture is incapable of mending the brand. But the only way forward is for the leader to walk the talk.

The question is, do you have the courage to see things as they really are and deal with the messy part of business, or will you ignore it, explain it, and excuse it?  The choice is yours.  Be a leader.