The Self Employed: 4 Tips for Improving Morale

Originally published in The Self Employed by Paul Mandell | May 15, 2012

BOOSTING MORALE IN YOUR SMALL BUSINESS

There is no more important function at any service company than the management of morale. Great morale among the team can yield higher productivity, decrease attrition, improve the experience of customers, and generally deliver better quality. Indeed, the benefits of high morale are invaluable.

By the same token, neglecting morale can be the kiss of death. Unhappy employees yield a lower return—that is, if they stick around. And once morale begins to suffer, it can be very hard to reverse that trend.

“Neglecting morale can be the kiss of death.”

Paying close attention to morale, and constantly working to improve it, is an important investment that every business leader must make. However, if you are like me, you may find it all too easy to become preoccupied with other day-to-day items and let morale inadvertently slip down the list of priorities.

Here are some steps that I have found useful in building and improving morale:

1. Find the company’s biggest cheerleader, other than yourself, and empower him or her to be head of morale. Here at Consero Group, the senior executive events business that I co-founded in 2010, I had some unexpected help with morale when our graphic designer, Julia, came forward on her own with ideas to make the company more fun. And thank goodness that she did, as her efforts have dramatically improved our business. We certainly have a ways to go before our offices feel like Google’s, but having the right person focused on social outings and the acknowledgment of corporate triumphs has had a big impact.

If no one comes forward asking to play this role at your business, find someone thoughtful and friendly who would be a good fit. (If no one at the company fits the bill, you may want to take a step back and focus on recruiting.) Provide him or her with a budget and the empowerment to decide how to spend it. Julia put her funds to work on recreational team events, as well as office decorations and happy hours. And we have noticeably higher morale because of it.

2. Be sure to commemorate personal milestones. While this suggestion is intuitive, it is very easy for a growing business to forget to recognize individuals on the days that matter to them—for example, birthdays and anniversaries. Nothing is quite as discouraging as when you cross the three-year mark at a business and no one notices, or when you need to let others know that they should go easy on giving you new assignments because you just turned 30. Remembering these days will go a long way.

3. Spend time with the team. If you’re the boss at a growth company, you probably have plenty of daily tasks on your plate, all of which could keep you totally occupied during office hours. But it is critical that you make time each day for the team—to share your vision, provide feedback, and most often to listen. Unfortunately, this may mean arriving early and working late to complete paperwork, review financial data, edit marketing material, etc. But until you have more operational support than you need (good luck getting to that point), you must sacrifice some of your personal time in the interest of morale.

4. Acknowledge success with public praise. When someone does something noteworthy to help the business, you shouldn’t hesitate to point it out. Recognizing those who have gone above and beyond what is expected is a nice way to express your gratitude, as well as motivate the rest of the team.

As a small-business CEO, I can think of no area more important to the success of our business than the morale of the team. With continued focus on this critical area, I am hopeful that our team will look forward to coming to work and contributing to our mission, which is often more of a challenge than it seems.

Paul Mandell is a Founder and the Chief Executive Officer of Consero. In this role, Mr. Mandell provides strategic leadership for the company with a rigid focus on excellence at every level of the business. Prior to founding Consero, Mr. Mandell founded and was the President of a national legal support company that was acquired in 2007. The successor entity was recognized as one of the world’s top legal process outsourcing companies during his continued tenure as President the following year. Prior to entering the business world, Mr. Mandell practiced law at Arnold & Porter LLP and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in Washington, DC, and New York, New York, respectively, where he focused primarily on antitrust and pharmaceutical litigation. Prior to his law firm experience, Mr. Mandell clerked for the Honorable K. Michael Moore of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Mr. Mandell has a Bachelor of Arts in Government, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Maryland and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law & Policy Review. Mr. Mandell serves on the Board of the Yale Law School Fund, as well as the Board of Trustees of the University of Maryland Foundation. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Government & Politics at the University of Maryland. Mr. Mandell was recently featured in articles by Bloomberg Business Week and The Washington Post.