When I was nine years old, I remember grabbing my baseball glove for a neighborhood baseball game in an empty lot near the Methodist church. It was your typical pickup ball game in a dust lot: I brought my glove, my friend Andy brought a bat, Tom brought his ball, a half dozen other kids showed up with their mitts to play with us. We used makeshift bases, picked teams, and started playing.
Some time into the game, Tom got mad because he was called out even though he believed he was safe. He grabbed his baseball, said “this is my ball so I’m just going to go home – game over.” I looked over our little field and half the guys’ heads were down, disappointed that the game was over because our only baseball was gone.
I’m sure you’ve had a situation like this occur. In kids, it’s an easy moment to see as it’s usually pretty evident when someone gets upset. Even as adults – don’t we sometimes choose to act like this?
It’s About Power and Control
As a kid, if you had the power and control over the game like Tom did and you got upset – wasn’t it easy to grab the ball and say “game over” and go
home? As an adult – do you ever find yourself withholding affection from your husband because you’re upset with something he did – or didn’t do? Don’t you choose to not talk with your wife because she didn’t do something you needed done? Do you ever find yourself ignoring emails or ph
one calls or putting off working on a project because you’re upset at something your management team did?
In the business environment, Tom could choose to “take his ball” and call the game by reducing productivity. Tom may not consciously realize he is affecting productivity, but the productivity killers within organizations can have a major impact on the company’s performance.
Productivity killers come in many forms. Some are related to the particular employee and some are due to actions or inactions of coworkers, team mates, managers, and “the company.” Many companies suffer from productivity killers that are:
- Due to decisions made which have not been thoroughly thought through
- Avoidable with the right communication
- Decisions made in a vacuum
- “Under the radar” with no immediate bottom line indication
Thinking Through Your Decisions
An unnamed company is going through some tough economic times and recently made a decision to cancel the annual Thanksgiving Turkey or Ham given to all employees. This decision is one of many to cut costs in a time of economic insecurity, but the decision has had a tremendous ripple effect through the organization. This small financial impact to the company has reduced long suffering employee morale tremendously.
Management teams need to think through decisions which are made and the potential impact the decision will have on the organization.
Communicate the Issues
The company which canceled the Thanksgiving Turkey or Ham chose to not communicate the decision to cancel the program and has allowed the decision to be communicated through rumor and among the staff with no official communication from the management team.
Many of the problems this cancellation has caused in employee morale could have been reduced if the company chose to communicate with the employees about the financial issues the organization is going through.
When you make a decision which you believe will affect employee morale, create a communications plan to reduce the misunderstandings and misgivings about the decision:
- Why have you made this decision?
- Decide who is going to communicate the decision (supervisors, managers, vice-presidents, CEO).
- Decide how you are going to communicate (in order of more personal to less personal: in-person at the team level, in-person at the department level, in-person at the division or company level, via video, through voicemail, interoffice memo, email, Intranet post).
- Decide when you’re going to communicate the decision – preferably before it makes it through the rumor mill.
- Decide what you’re going to say.
- Create a plan to deal with questions & concerns and communicate that plan to your employees. Many companies forget that what seems like a simple sacrifice by the employees (e.g. a $30 turkey) can cause questions and concerns that need to be addressed.
- Execute your communications plan.
Decisions Made in a Vacuum
The same unnamed firm which canceled the turkey and ham gift program also made a decision in September to close for a week at the end of December for the holidays – with employees required to use vacation time or take the time unpaid. Many companies make this decision so we do not fault the company for closing to save money, but the problem was that it was communicated poorly and by September, a majority of the employees did not have enough vacation time left for this time off. This would force many employees (some who make in the $20s) to take a week of unpaid time off right during the Christmas season. Had the company decided to close earlier in the year, employees could have planned their time off or saved enough money to make it without a week’s pay during the holiday season.
The decision was made without much input from employees or a concern for the many employees the company has who make a living wage. When you make a decision that you believe could affect employee morale, include employees in the process to understand their concerns.
After much grief from the employees, the company decided to cancel the plan and leave the holiday work schedule in tact. The week off during the holidays will be enforced in 2010, allowing employees to plan their time off or save money for that week if they decide to take it unpaid.
Watch Out for Silent Productivity Killers
Many firms do not realize the productivity killers they are creating which live silently throughout the organization. Management may not understand the effects of an action and the compounding affect of lost productivity.
One organization we worked with promoted two people to manage a single customer support department of about 15 people. The two managers constantly fought with each other and would undermine each other at any opportunity. The company asked us in to consult as their customer service performance had dropped dramatically.
The management team did not realize the vitriol between these two people had left many employees paralyzed with fear that they would be brought into the arguments. After we identified the issue and made a change with the managers, you could see a noticeable impact on employee morale and performance.
Tom taught me a lesson back in 1985: little incidents can cause people with power – even limited power – to exercise it and force the game to stop. Your employees have tremendous power with their productivity. Learn how to make a good decision and communicate it effectively to ensure that productivity is kept at its peak – even during times of economic strife.