Return On Morale

I spend a lot of time observing the effect that morale – high, low, or indifferent – has on a business’s success. Why the near-obsession? When people love their organization, they go to extraordinary lengths to ensure its continued success. When things are already going well, they push that success to new heights; when the org they love is in trouble, they stick by it and protect it as loyal teammates should. How employees feel about a company will, over the long haul, make all the difference. This is why culture is so vitally important, and why the leadership that sets that culture is so crucial.

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It’s hard to find a leader who will not tell you his organization already has high morale – this lack of perspective is something I’ve posted on before (including one of my all-time top posts here). So I don’t spend a lot of time asking leaders how their people feel about their company. I observe their people in action. Do they love their company? If so, they’ll brag about it, just as a matter of course when they think no one’s judging. They’ll think up ways of helping their company when they’re at home, at lunch, or on vacation. They’ll recommend it to their friends, and try to get their most talented friends to join the firm when employment opportunities arise.

Find me a new hire a few months out of college who won’t wear a company t-shirt with pride, and I’ll show you a company that has serious problems. Big deal! Show me someone who brags about his favorite employer years afterleaving, I’ll show you a firm whose stock you should invest in for the long haul.

One of many extraordinary things Harley Davidson did to revive their brand and turn it into the icon it is today is, they tapped their alumni base for customer relations help. Who better to help customers than old Harley employees, the folks who dedicated years of their lives to the company, built and sold the machines, saved up to buy one of their own, and ride them still? Surely that’s a better choice for customer support than a new-hire who can barely remember the name of half the products, wouldn’t you say?

“Their alumni?” Did I lose you way back there? Yes, their alumni. Schools aren’t the only organizations who can claim to have alumni.

If your company has been around even a few years, you have alumni, too: people who used to work there, and who no longer do. What are your alumni saying about your firm?

This is the Social Era of business. It is an era in which you must assume that any recruit you talk to is going to reach out to your past employees on LinkedIn, Twitter, FaceBook, Google+, and a whole host of other media to get the inside scoop on

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your firm.  You can’t stop them; you can’t even slow them down. It is so easy for your recruits to find the right people and converse with them, you’d be foolish to assume they aren’t all doing it! (Hell, do you even want to employ someone lame enough not to check up on you in this way?)

The age of top-down organizational spin control is over. The members of your community control your message now. What are they saying about working for you?

Here’s a dose of apostasy that is likely to make me unpopular among some circles where I’m already counted a leader: Social media itself is no big deal. It’s our era’s email or telephone. Everyone’s already using it at some level of proficiency, and in just a few more years, the idea of a social media “expert” will be as silly as an email expert (can you imagine?) The medium isn’t the story. What people are able to do with that medium…! That is what remains newsworthy, and will for at least five more years, I’ll wager.

Be good to your future alumni. Not just because it’s the right thing to do – it is, but so what? Be good to your people because the’re talking about you right now, and they’re going to keep talking about you for years to come. Morale pays. I can’t stress that passionately enough. Morale is the heart and soul of your company’s success, or failure. Learn this, and live it.

Your brand depends on it.



Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • These comments are excellent. I do a lot of training and consulting for non-profit, human service organizations. Interestingly enough, even in these organizations, where skills relating to developing people are usually at a very high level, the impact of all that knowledge seems focused on the clients. They show very little ability to develop or even motivate staff. Consequently they have very high turnover, especially at entry level. I realize I am painting with a very broad brush here but the situation is seen often enough to be alarming.

    • Thanks for your endorsement of this essential idea, Joe.

      You know, “fun” can take so many different forms. It doesn’t have to mean a party – not at all! When you’re working toward an important goal, striving to succeed, the look on your face may be intent, even grim – but when you’re on your way toward something important to you, when your work puts you in the zone and keeps you there 24/7, that is one hell of a lot of “fun!”

      A backyard barbecue with your closest friends can be a whole lot of fun; so can pushing yourself toward your best time ever in a marathon. If work is more like the latter, good for you! That’s fun, and it builds morale, and we need a lot more of it in business.

      Drudgery? As leaders, let’s save that for the other guys, shall we?

  • Fantastic, Ted. Not sure how some leaders, simply don’t get this. How important morale is. Love the way you put this, man. A happy workplace is a more productive workplace. For sure. Wish more leaders and CEO’s would recognize it and start working on it. We are here to help.

    Take CARE.


  • Joe

    Excellent take on morale. A happy workplace, a place where you go and have fun, does so much more to your company’s success than most people would believe. (in my book “Rise to the top” I put a chapter on “Having fun” at work because still so many Managers don’t get it). Great article – thanks, Joe

  • Ted,
    Another aspect of happy, motivated employees is increased production. There’s a wide gap between the minimum amount of work necessary for an employee to remain in good standing and the production that a motivated employee accomplishes. Employers that are satisfied with having unhappy workers miss out on the benefits of the extra production.

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