Some companies have a kind of pep talk on a daily basis followed by a cheer before employees are allowed to work. There are two ways of looking at this practice. In most groups, these pep rallies have only a short-term positive impact on morale. In fact, many groups eventually stop the practice altogether because of the incredible negative impact on morale.
The boss is uncomfortable because she knows people hate the “morning meeting,” and the discipline of the company cheer before going to work has become a joke. People feel the activity is a waste of time, because their morale comes from sources other than pep talks. It does not matter what the boss says at the start of each shift. What matters are the signals sent a thousand times all day outside of the rallies. The ritual of a morning meeting only serves to underscore the hypocrisy, and therefore, has the reverse impact of what was intended.
In some groups, the pep rally concept actually does produce higher morale and is a sustainable positive force in the company. What factors allow this to happen?
- The Meeting Itself – There is some actual benefit if the meeting contains useful information or some kind of social support that people find helpful. Often the meetings are a time to remind employees of new policies or drill on the location of recently moved articles. By enhancing basic communication, these meetings help managers perform a basic function that would be hard to achieve in an e-mail or other form of announcement. It also gives employees a chance to question the information for sanity or just to verify understanding. So if WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) has enough positive power, then a morning meeting might actually work.
- The centering thoughts – rather like an exercise in yoga, some meetings help people compartmentalize their lives so they can display the right persona for customers. They can filter out the chaos or distractions going on elsewhere in their lives and focus on the tasks at hand. This would be the equivalent of a team “suiting up” before a public sporting event.
- A pre-existing environment of trust – if the leader has achieved a culture of trust where people see congruence of words and actions, the leader will have more credibility. This is the equivalent of a coach in sports. In this case, a rallying cry for team spirit may actually inspire some people to put forth more effort. At least the company cheer has the potential to generate some fraternal feelings that are directionally helpful. Without the element of trust, these cheers have little chance to produce a positive impact.
- Employee ownership – if the meeting is sponsored and designed by the employees for their own benefit, then they have a much better chance than if it is a management-driven event. This shows the link between empowerment and morale. When the workers are respected for being mature enough to design and conduct a meeting, with perhaps some guest appearances from management, the dynamic can be a liberating influence. The flip side of this is if certain cliques within the worker ranks own the process to the exclusion of others, the chosen ones will alienate the rest of the group and eclipse the benefits.
In a trusting environment, daily meetings can be helpful for the above reasons. Communication is enhanced, which helps transparency, and it gives managers the opportunity to model reinforcing candor.
In general, the early shift meetings should be avoided if there are trust issues among people in the organization. Some people would argue that is precisely the reason to invoke the technique in an attempt to remedy a low trust situation. I think where low trust is a pre-existing condition, the dangers outweigh the benefits. Since most organizations have extremely low trust, it is a good idea to proceed with great caution when considering trying to enforce morale through daily meetings. The old adage feels all too real for many employees, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
Most organizations obtain only a tiny fraction of the effort that is possible from the people they employ. A key measure is what percentage of discretionary does your culture elicit (and there is no known way to measure this variable accurately). No organization can get a sustained 100% of the potential effort of people. That’s because it would require a continual flow of adrenalin that would be fatal. But if my estimate is accurate, most organizations can double the effort of most people by using the Leadergrow Trust Model and still have them operating at a comfortable 50% level from their peak. The key enabler to this leap in productivity is the existence of real trust within the organization.