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Improving Employee Morale to Weather Economic Turbulence

| Blog | February 10, 2012

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To think that capital is the only casualty of businesses during tough economic times is to make a big miscalculation. Though financial losses may be the most obvious result, money is only the paper-thin surface that obscures other and deeper consequences that often arise during an economic downturn. At the forefront of these issues is employee morale, which has been proven to fluctuate parallel with economic trends. And while low employee morale can become an issue even within companies that aren’t experiencing turmoil, this problem particularly becomes amplified for companies that are undergoing restructuring or downsizing efforts. This will have long-lasting ramifications on a business’ bottom line.

Stephen Balzac

Stephen Balzac

However, the good news for many business managers is that improving employee morale can be simple and cost-effective with enough well-meaning effort, says Stephen Balzac, who works as a professional speaker on leadership and business management, as well as the author of The 36 Hour Course in Organizational Development (McGraw-Hill). According to Stephen, employee morale is amongst the most important and underappreciated aspects of running a business – in part because it can’t be easily measured in charts and graphs. But as any good business leader will attest, having a high employee morale will inevitably lead to higher profits.

So to give some practical advice on the subject, Stephen Balzac shares some of his experiences improving employee morale:

What is the key to building employee morale?

SB: The first and most important way of building employee morale is your own enthusiasm: the manager who can remain upbeat and positive about the future serves as a bell-weather for employees. Conversely, the manager who is in the dumps will drag them down. Praise from a manager who is positive, upbeat, and confident goes a long way; sadly, most businesses do not invest in the manager training to make this work even though it’s cheaper than the cost of low morale!

[Then], focus on successes. Take the time to sit with each employee and go over the year’s successes. Build them up; when you build people up, morale and motivation both increase.

What are some practical ideas can one use to improve morale?

SB: Take a break from the daily routine to do something fun: a movie, department lunch, etc. Don’t make the event contingent upon anything; rather, make it a random “thank you for your efforts” event.

[One way I like] to increase morale in people is to get them tickets to a movie, play, or musical performance — of course, you have to know your employees well enough to know what they’d like. If you don’t, well, maybe that’s why you’re worried about morale in the first place! Dinner at a nice restaurant for an employee and spouse/significant other is yet another powerful way of increasing morale and motivation; make sure you cover babysitting for employees with kids.

How can an office deal with cutbacks while simultaneously improving employee morale?

SB: If you are looking at cutbacks, the good news is that you can apply many of the techniques I described without any real changes. Most of the techniques don’t involve any cost at all (enthusiasm, focusing on success). While it can cost some money to take the department out to lunch or a movie or treat someone to dinner, at that point you’re looking at priorities: where is the money being spent? You have to decide if it’s a priority to take care of your employees or use the money for some other purpose. If nothing else, consider it part of your advertising budget: after all, if you have unhappy, disengaged employees, your advertising dollars will be wasted anyway. Put another way, if you want engaged, loyal customers you need engaged, loyal employees.

What is the best way to approach employee layoffs while not damaging morale?

SB: If you’re looking at layoffs, the most important thing is to be totally upfront. Be as transparent as possible: lay out the problems the company is facing and invite employees to contribute ideas for the solutions. For example, perhaps layoffs can be avoided by having everyone agree to a temporary salary reduction. Demonstrate that you have skin in the game: as CEO, reduce your salary and/or perks first (HP did the shared reduction approach as a way to avoid layoffs and it was very successful at maintaining loyalty and morale). Shared sacrifice gets people pulling together. Putting the sacrifice on others only gets people pulling apart.

It is very common to tell employees that layoffs will be targeted at the poorest performers or something similar. The problem with this approach is that you are immediately telling your employees to compete with one another. If I’m worried about my performance, maybe my best strategy is to make sure you fail dramatically.

Once layoffs have occurred, it’s even more important to be clear about what standards were used and how employees can avoid future layoffs. You must be specific: vague comments like, “work hard,” don’t cut it. You need clear standards and you must encourage employee participation in avoiding future layoffs. Again, the goal here is to encourage employees to pull together as a team, not get into an “every man for himself” attitude. If you can get them pulling together, morale and engagement become infectious. If it’s “every man for himself,” nothing you do will really matter: cynicism is also infectious, especially if it appears to be coming from the top.

Though all companies will inevitably experience turbulent times, the moral of the story is that a little effort can go a long way towards improving employee morale, which will ultimately help a company stay afloat during economic storms.

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Business Communication Skills & Leadership Training from Exec-Comm

| Blog | January 25, 2012

Exec-Comm: Leadership & Public Speaking Training

From communication and planning to consulting and creativity, success in the business world is predicated on the mastering of essential business communication skills. Acquiring these skills can be time consuming, but with the right training you can guarantee success will be seen in the near future. Finding the most resourceful training could be half the battle. Luckily, companies such as, Exec-Comm exist. Those who choose to train with Exec-Comm will benefit from the instruction of dedicated professionals who have a proven track record of improving the work performance of individuals or an organization collectively.

Time is very valuable as a working professional, but investing in training now can save you time later as you help your business move forward with more efficiency and greater success. Exec-Comm provides various professional services designed to improve the effectiveness of executives and entry-level professionals alike. Classes and seminars are available throughout the year online or in person, from one-on-one sessions to public seminars for your employees.

Some of the services offered at Exec-Comm include a Consultative Selling Seminar. At this seminar, an emphasis is placed on listening, a skill often overlooked in the business world. Regardless of the product or service you offer, when establishing a relationship with a potential client or organization, you should look to build a lasting partnership and not just execute a transactional exchange.

The Consultative Selling Seminar is a 2-day course with 19 exercises and 5 meetings and digital recordings to better evaluate performances and track improvement. Clients who sign up for this seminar will learn, among other things, how to field difficult questions from prospective clients of their own; build credibility over initial telephone exchanges while also establishing a rapport with clients; and how to close calls effectively. Overall clients will walk away with a better understanding of the steps involved with a “consultative sales process” and detailed instructions on how to improve their performance.

A successful presentation or pitch can make or break a potential deal. Articulation and projecting confidence to organizations and effective use of visual aids are skills that can be addressed by attending the Executive Sales Presentation Skills seminar. Learning the essentials of an effective presentation can help you focus on the needs of your audience. When you focus on the audience’s needs, you will present with greater confidence, poise, conviction, and impact.

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Cut Down On Corporate Jargon

| Blog | December 16, 2011

Do you have a moving target in your line of sight on your dashboard, that could be a game changer if you can think outside the box and throw a curve when you touch base with your contacts?

Do you have a moving target in your line of sight on your dashboard, that could be a game changer if you can think outside the box and throw a curve when you touch base with your contacts?    Do you need to have a paradigm shift in order to maintain positive momentum in your disruptive market intervention with your client who’s trying to have a breakthrough?  And their business is manufacturing and distributing toilet-seat covers?

If the above statements seem completely opaque to you, that’s okay–because they were written with the intention of sounding like strings of gibberish.  If the meaning of the above statements seems completely straightforward and impactful to you, then you may be on the verge of a corporate jargon overdose.

There is a time and a place for corporate jargon.  Phrases like “low-hanging fruit” and “core values” are in many contexts the most adequate terms to describe abstract concepts.  “Low hanging fruit” is a more elegant and tactful way of describing “things that are easy to do” or “deals that are easy to secure.”  “Core values” is a nicer way of referring to “ethical standards which we will not violate” or “goals for behavior that we will not fail to meet” since the latter–more transparent–ways of describing these abstract boundaries and ambitions make it sound like you are willing to violate other ethical standards, or that there are goals that its okay to not meet.  But there comes a time when you should draw a line.

When you get your first inspired idea to start your own business, you are likely filled with the spirit of entrepreneurship.  Visions of starting a company that will be at once cool and eclectic, while attracting hip, young talent and dominating the business world is your naïve ambition, and maybe for a while, this is exactly what happens.  However, it is inevitable that your workplace will eventually become like so many other workplaces that were also started with similar ideations, and morph into a typical office setting.  This is where corporate jargon comes in.

For those who haven’t worked in the corporate workplace (or who haven’t watched an episode of The Office), office jargon contains those snappy little phrases that are intended to motivate employees.  Some of the most (and eventually least) popular phrases are “outside the box”, “low-hanging fruit”, “synergy”, “loop me in”, “best of breed”, “incentivize”, “mission-critical”, “bring to the table”, “value-add”, and “elevator pitch”.

Not only do these phrases not make any inherent sense, but they are also a sure-fire way to stifle creativity in the workplace, which for most employers is the single most important contribution an employee can make.  By instilling a specific lingo into your office, you are essentially teaching your employees a corporate version of Newspeak, and we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

How can this be avoided?

The best way to avoid falling into the corporate trap is by intentionally instilling a culture in your company that is offbeat and encouraging to all of those wonderfully weird free thinkers that make you stand apart from your competition.  This can be done by studying companies which are known for their culture, such as Google, Hulu, and Groupon.

Take Groupon, for example.  This company is located in the Windy City.  While many residents choose Chicago for its diverse culture and great nightlife, not to mention its relatively low price tag and reasonable standard of living, this company has given its employees another reason to love coming to work everyday.

In addition to regular office events, such as interoffice competitions, this company prides itself on its family atmosphere, and encourages employees to be themselves at all times.  An example of Groupon ingenuity can be found in their tendency to conduct company interviews and then posting these interviews on their blog.  In addition, Groupon treats its employees with respect: “We assume that people are fundamentally good and people are responsible adults,” said Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, “The policies we have reflect those beliefs.”

What are some practical tips?

Below are ten tips for implementing and fostering a vibrant culture that avoids typical corporate pitfalls:

  1. Take your employees seriously, and listen to what they have to say.
  2. Try not to take yourself too seriously!  No one wants to work for a blowhard.
  3. Treat your employees the way you would like to be treated.  This is trite, but true.
  4. Always remember the way that you were prior to starting your company, and try to maintain that sense of fearlessness and creativity.
  5. If you have a dress code in your office, banish it immediately.  This leads to groupthink, which is what you are trying to avoid.
  6. Take the time to learn about your employees—their likes and dislikes, suggestions that they may have for their workplace, etc.—and take that information into account when you make executive decisions.
  7. Keep things as stress-free as you can.  If this means having silly events here and there to lighten the mood, then do it!
  8. Study businesses that have a good culture in place, and don’t be afraid to take some of their ideas and make them your own.
  9. If you see that your company is starting to become humdrum, take immediate action to liven things up.
  10. Set a standard by avoiding corporate jargon, maintaining a positive, encouraging attitude, and being proactive at all times.

 

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