Talent Management: Is Employee Morale Irrelevant?


A recent article by Stephanie Pane Haden titled “Is Employee Morale Irrelevant?” (National Post; 22 May, 2012; Page FP5) raises the seemingly common  (disturbing) lack of concern for employee morale on the part of some executives. This post looks at these observations from two perspectives: first these sorts of reports go back at least forty years (my work life experience) so this is an old chestnut; secondly, observing that the problem is less with the executives than it is with those who are alarmed by such news.

The article raised considerable deja vu for me. I have read such commentary ever since I began experiencing first hand, business ups and downs. The arguments for being concerned include: the longer term consequences (some studies that show correlations between engagement and business performance, turnover, poor reputation – impact on hiring; etc.) and sapping the organization’s need to move forward with necessary changes the require employee engagement to succeed. Yawn!, These arguments are as old as the hills and sometimes take on the stridency of “calling wolf”.

When I see an issue get repeatedly reported, the implications repeatedly raised, the more appropriate leadership actions promoted and seemingly ignored with modest adverse impacts. I yawn, because I see a classic case of the Messenger being the problem.

Behaviour tends to get repeated because it works well enough to try again. Also urgent immediate will almost always dominate the agenda. And there certainly seems to be enough urgent immediate going around today, yesterday, and no doubt tomorrow. By being in a perpetual “lifeboat” like circumstance immediate survivability will always dominate. So even if you are heard and understood, you will most certainly be ignored.

I have never heard of or come across any particular metric that demonstrates how lowering morale is an urgent immediate matter. I would love to hear of any such causal connection metric. I long ago stopped raising these matters to people who believe they are in a lifeboat.

My evolving approach has been to adopt a “what is necessary to succeed” line of reasoning. I ask: “Who is critical to ensure successful implementation of this plan?” Then I ask: “What level of engagement do they require to be able to sustain their commitment to success during the implementation’s “dark days”?” I challenge any response that simply states “total/110%” engagement. A series of “why” questions surely follow until it is clear how much and why is explicitly understood. The subsequent questions and line of action are probably obvious you.

I have the leadership make the connection between success and necessary engagement on a specific game plan basis. I argue that differing levels of engagement are okay depending upon the change challenge and we should invest morale building/sustaining efforts accordingly.

I have always found it more easily to get the attention, the connection, the appreciation, and the willingness to do something specific when it comes to morale/engagement concerns.

In closing, if you have made the same argument twice and been disappointed by the response, it’s your problem not the listener’s.

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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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