Boosting morale by empowering staff

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So many people have amazing job descriptions, get paid a generous salary and have such flexible working hours but are still miserable in their job roles and can’t wait to get out. Everybody has their tough days – where all you want to do, is shut that day away in a filing cabinet and never have to revisit it again. But in reality, we all know we have to face those issues and just toughen up and get it sorted.

But what happens when those issues are roadblocks instilled by the very company that you work for?

Bad morale within staff can be toxic and decrease productivity and generate high turnover of staff; so how and what should leaders and managers of a company do to minimise low morale within staff? No – it does not mean you chuck a huge party with unlimited beverages and fancy ribbon sandwiches – instead, it’s understanding what very factors increase morale for the long term.

I want to touch on one particular way to boost employee morale and that is to empower staff members in their roles. Empowering staff is a whole subject on its own, so I wanted to outline the concept of empowerment and how this very concept actually boosts employee morale.

The first and foremost important aspect that we need to understand about empowering staff members is that it does not mean that you delegate more duties, responsibilities and authority to the employee without providing the required skills and knowledge to succeed. For a staff member, being delegated more responsibility and authority without the correct knowledge or avenues to obtain those skills to perform those tasks can end up creating more stress and frustrations and in turn, create a dissatisfaction with their new responsibilities.

The true meaning of employee empowerment is when the employee has the fabrics of success to complete those tasks – feeling competent in those tasks, have justified meaning in those tasks and most importantly, have the self-determination that they are capable in their new duties in their role.

So what are these fabrics of success to complete those tasks you may ask?

Empowering Staff

1. Involve Employees in the decision making process:

Employees that are actively invited to be involved in the key decisions that affect themselves, the company and the forward progression of strategies to improve business all seem to have great morale within their job role. The most distinctive factor of empowering staff by involving them in the decision making process is the strengthening of the relationship between the company and the employee. It instills confidence and trust that a company and its leaders has in their own employees. When an employee understands that their inputs toward decisions that affects the company beneficially, the employee learns to appreciate and value their position within the company.

Employees that are asked to provide input towards decision making are excellent at providing a different perspective or an aspect of a solution that may not have been thought of before. Managers and leaders may have certain agendas that affect their decision making process due to being overly narrow and focused; this can be challenged with the involvement of ‘fresh eyes’.

2. Involve Employees in the planning process:

When there are plans and goals that need to be attained that affects an employee’s job function, a way to increase their morale within the company is to entrust them by involving them in the planning process.  Involving them in strategic planning not only allows them to feel that they are contributing towards a process that affects their role greatly, but provides employees with a true understanding at how complex functions are in a job role. It allows employees to appreciate the labourious task of planning and to provide their valuable input to what they know currently works but also to share their ‘out of the box’ contribution towards planning.

The planning process is largely responsible of the appointed decisions eventually made – by including staff members in this process, it provides the employee the true empowerment of the OVERALL process to the end result – a strategic decision.  Below is a snapshot on the basic elements of strategic planning:

Strategic Planning

3. Provide Positive Feedback:

No one disapproves being positively reinforced for the actions they take. Surprise, surprise – employees are no different. Leaders providing positive feedback steer their focus from the negative or wrong things that employees are doing; instead, they are more focused on the positive actions. Employees understand that if there is some sort of incentive (for example – job satisfaction, recognition and feeling empowered) for performing in a positive manner – supported by the positive reinforcement given by their leader, usually leads in continuation of that positive manner.

Positive feedback needs to be given when it’s deserved. It also needs to be specific and not a general “You’re such a loyal worker”.  An example of valuable positive feedback is responding to an extraordinary task completed by an employee, for example:  “Employee X, well done on growing 12% from last year with Customer Y; a great reflection on your relationship”.  Addressing an issue can also include positive reinforcement, and can result in faster resolutions, if used correctly. An example of this is  “Employee X, I really appreciate the extra hours you had put into the proposal for Company Y’s tender, but next time, can you please ensure that also put away time to complete and submit your weekly call report in a more timely manner”.

 

4. Provide Continual Support and Training:

There is nothing more frustrating for an employee than when a leader or manager just does not follow through with training or support to an identified issue.  It isn’t enough for managers to just give an employee a pat on the back and tell them ‘how valuable’ they are and that is it. Empowering staff involves giving them all the support they require from their managers.  Usually supporting a subordinate comes int eh form of training. the type of training that should be offered and shared with employees are valuable skills to arms them with the very tools to conduct their job functions successfully. Providing training to an employee that seeks new skills, or wish to refine their current skills, allows them to feel valuable to the company their work for.

Every manager should take into consideration on what training should be provided; if their team is a sales team that require to do presentations, then perhaps a refresher on presentation skills should be offered to employees to keep them up to date with new ways in presenting to their clients.

Or if a young employee wishes to start an eventual progress in their career into a more management position, it might be ideal for their manager to organise a business mentor, that will provide objectives and goals for that employee to strive for- increasing their skills into that desired management position.

Above are very basic four empowerment points in how managers and leaders can boost the moral of their staff. Employees are the bloodlines of companies, the cogs that drive the ‘machine’, usually the ones responsible in just making the whole thing work.  But a machine cannot run on cogs alone, they require ignition, drive and power – much like how managers in companies are required to ignite, drive and designate the power to make a company work successfully.

When is it time to grow a backbone with your customer?

No more

I’ve attended some Sales 101 training sessions in my time, and every time I leave them I’m left with theoretical driving factors of creating a good relationship with a customer is to provide your customers with unlimited service, the ability to provide solutions and answers to them efficiently and basically – always provide a YES.

I understand that providing customer service is a priority and the concept to provide the right answers and solutions for them is also imperative. But what happens when you can’t give that customer everything that they want? When is it OK to say NO to a customer?

To me, there are a few main reasons why I would need to say NO to a customer and that is –

1. When the request from a customer bastardizes my profitability

2. When the request from the custmer bastardizes my brand (company and/or personal brand)

3. When it’s illegal – against General Business Practices (for eg – price fixing, intelligent information, etc.)

So I can only reflect on what actions I would take when I need to grow a backbone with my customer and when I need tell them what they otherwise wanted to hear.

Process of rebuttal

 

  •  Empathise with the customer – there’s no point getting your knickers in a knot and try to argue with a customer – business is business – there is an expectation from a customer to try to negotiate to their favour and why wouldn’t they? If you’ve recognised that their particular request is not something that you could possibly do – it’s probably best to actually empathise with the customer and really, and I mean really, try to understand where they are coming from. It’s the very act of allowing them to feel that it is within their right to question you in the first place. This would most likely involve good listening skills and acknowledgement of the situation they are painting for you.
  • Remind and Reassure that you’re there to help – there’s nothing more satisfying and you can all vouch for this – and that’s to be able to ‘air frustrations’ when something’s not going your way. Guess what? Customers are the same – they want to be able to vent or air their frustrations and they want some sort of reassurance that you’re intention is to help. So best let them know that you DO have their best interest at heart and that you do WANT to help them – as best as you can, even if it means you can’t give them exactly what they want.
  • Emphasise the importance of their relationship to you – There’s nothing worse than saying NO to a customer with them left interpreting it as a sign that you just don’t care. If you relay the message to the customer that their business relationship is important to you and that even though you may not be able to fulfil their requests at that particulator point and time, the relationship is still vital and not a lost cause. Personally, I like to know that my relationship with a customer actually means something – which usually is confirmed by good communication, respect for each other’s boundaries and ofcourse loyalty. This would be the same on the other foot. I’m pretty sure that my customer would love the confirmation of the importance of their business relationship to me.
  • Offer an alternative….NOW – This sounds crazy, but there have been many situations where I could not provide the service that my customer needed. But I tell you what keeps them coming back for my advice, service and products? It’s the fact that I could provide the next best thing. That may come in the form of advice of a competitor’s product/service, an alternative product/service that we have or even a different solution for the interim. What this action proves to a customer, is that you have their best intentions and you’ve recongised the situation that they’re in and you WANT to help them as much as you can. In the end of the day – the customer wants a solution to their situation or issue – and if you can provide them with ‘something’ – it’s a sure win to extra brownie points.
  • Ask Questions and Ask for Feedback – Even though you’ve had to say NO to the customer and it’s not what they’ve wanted to hear, the best avenue to take positive steps with that customer is to ask them questions. Why? Because perhaps vital information that could determine how your response would be might’ve been missed. For eg: a customer has requested for a price match against what they have already received from a competitor. The price point is below the margins you’re allowed to work within – so naturally, you tell the customer NO. But by further asking questions such as  “Why do we need to beat this particular price point? Is it to win over a large contract that has potential for continual work? Is it to help gain market share?”. This is just a small example of how, sometimes, superficially it seems so black and white, but usually, there is a lot more underlying factors contributing to that inital request. Asking for the customer’s feedback on how they would handle the situation if they were in your shoes allows them to contemplate the sort of business choice(s) they are asking you to do. Funnily, asking a customer to provide that sort of feedback creates a real ‘penny-dropping’ moment, when finally, they realise, that there was never going to be an easy way to say YES because the answer just needs to be NO.

Having to say NO to a customer is not the end of the world- it’s what a lot of amazing and successful sales reps and account managers do; and they do it with precision and with tact that justifies and earns the continued business from that customer they’ve had to say NO to before.

Flexible working hours or driven to overwork?

Stress VS Calm

There certainly is a trend towards the idea of Flexible Working hours – obviously there are job functions where this just would not be possible – but many, desk bound gigs – with the help of remote access to company resources online, email and that magical tool we all can’t live without – the mobile, can easily adapt work functions to flexible working hours. There has been a lot written about flexible working hours and the benefits that it provides to both the employer and employees –

Pros of FWH

As you can see, it’s pretty obvious that both sides of the coin could benefit from flexible working hours, happy employees means productive work – which in turn makes happy employers.

Not having a manager literally piggy-backing you all day in an office is certainly an advantage of flexible working hours and many people find that working from home allows them to perform creatively and a lot more diligently than with the distractions of gossip at the office water cooler. I reckon, if you are one of those lucky people that have flexible working hours adapted to your job function, you’re probably agreeing with me with a hand in the air waving like the Queen of England with a silent ‘Amen’ escaping from your mouth. Yes, there certainly does seem to be a lot of positives in working from home – or being able to do that yoga class at 2pm mid-way through your working day. I mean as long as you meet the deadlines required of you and deliver on your projects – surely there could not be a rebuttal to this working trend?

I think there’s one key downfall to having flexible working hours and that’s the concept of overworking.

You might be thinking, ‘Huh? Flexible working hours are supposed to create efficiencies, not the opposite’ and yes, I agree, the aim of flexible working hours is to help contribute towards working more efficiently. But are we really getting a good deal out of gaining the luxury of working flexible hours? Has perhaps flexible working hours morphed into  ‘working at all times whenever humanly possible?’

Let me ask you a few questions:

How many times do you check, reply or compose emails after hours? After the kids and the rest of the family has been fed, pyjama’d and tucked into bed? Right up to midnight? Or till two in the morning? Personally I am a victim of this, especially as a key account manager – where business hours is when I do my client visits, attend meetings and consult with internal personnel (product managers, supply chain and customer service desk). When the ‘normal’ business day is done (for me it’s 5pm), it’s then on with my ‘mother & wife’ hat and it’s time to prepare dinner, spend what little time I have with the lil fella before he doses off, bath-time and tucking him into bed. This is usually done by 9:00pm and sadly, I find myself chasing up on emails after all this – taking me quite regularly up to midnight.  Let me tell you, this is obviously not expected of me and isn’t written into my contract, but geez, without doing the extra work in the evenings, my to-do-list would quickly accumulate into a years worth of catch up.

So I honestly wonder whether a job function like mine, which is flexible in reference to working hours, is actually beneficial or whether it is the very contributing factor to an overload of work. Because the workload, expectations and responsibilities are high, how could anyone with these factors expect to only fulfil their tasks in a designated 7.5 hours of the day? It seems that people that tend to have flexible working hours attached to their job functions are people that have high responsibilities, and regardless on whether you have flexible working hours or not, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day.

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Clare Kelliher and Dierdre Anderson had written a research paper on how flexibile working hours actually intensified work loads. They had proposed that employees responded to the ability to work flexibly by exerting additional effort, in order to return benefit to their employer. Does this ring true with you? It definitely reflects my insane desire to overwork.

Let me leave you with a scenario and please feel free to share your thoughts – if you started your working day two hours later than usual because you had to take your child to the doctors or had a boot-camp session you just couldn’t miss, is it your obligation to then commit to an extra 4 hours of work in the evening due to this flexibility?