How do we keep motivation up when morale is low? How can we harness the insights of human behaviour to drive positive change and how can we combat the negative impacts of uncertainty?
In an “ask me anything” style session, lead behavioural scientist Lindsay Kohler answers questions on motivation, morale, change, wellbeing and navigating uncertainty.
I’m going to partially answer this question with a personal reflection. I’m learning to box at the moment, real in-the-ring style combat. The more I get hit, the quicker I recover. Not only because it hurts less but also because I have practiced how to prep for the next attack. It’s the physical manifestation of resilience.
The formal definition of resilience is the ability to recognise adversity and then access existing protective factors to negotiate this new threat. So, while I’m not advocating throwing a bunch of curve balls at your people – 2020’s done that enough – I do think it's worth asking your people to actively think of a time they had a set back and remember how they came out of it.
For most people, it will be a positive recollection because of how highly adaptable we are. When we know we navigated a challenge successfully, it makes us much more confident about tackling future ones.
This is an easy activity to add into resilience training, wellbeing or manager conversation guides. Formal resilience training programmes tend to focus on social environment regulation or emotional regulation. It ensures you have both those protective factors in place and are better equipped to recognise likely triggers in the external environment. I think emotional regulation is where employers are best suited to help, and this usually involves coaching people on how to change the narrative, focus on the positive and practice self-compassion and self-meditation.
It’s a classic change management issue – you have to sell people on the mission itself. So, even if your mission changes, there is inevitability going to be something compelling going forward that speaks to people. The trick is to tease that thread out and amplify it clearly in your messaging. Often, company mission statements fall flat because they’re just too vague.
One of the most accessible books about change is Switch by the Heath Brothers. In it, they tell the story of a schoolteacher whose mission was to make sure her 1st graders had improved math and reading scores by the end of the year. Not the most compelling story for a 1st grader. So, she teased out a portion of the mission statement that would grab their attention. She told them; ‘at the end of this year, you’re going to be 3rd graders.’ It was much more motivating to picture themselves in the shoes of the older, bigger cooler kids. Finding that ‘so what’ angle in your mission will help people come along on the journey.
Now is a good time to focus on the little things, but there’s an illusion of transparency that gets in the way. What that means is we tend to over-estimate how visible our actions are to others. Managers might assume their employees know how they feel about them and their work, but it doesn’t always come across. You can compensate for that by saying ‘thank you’ more often. Acknowledgement doesn’t have to be in the form of a formal rewards programme, either. . Simply unlocking the praise feature in your ESN platform or encouraging sharing of colleague and customer application appreciation can go a long way. We’ve seen this be really effective on Workplace and Yammer as well as dedicated microsites built specifically to bring people together.
Disagreements are more likely to occur when you can’t see each other face to face. We have a lack of visual cues and nonverbal communication is a key regulator for relationships. We have less in-person history to fall back on and it’s that background data of interactions that helps us determine whether the messages we share are being received as intended.
It’s generally best not to assume and to keep clear lines of communication open. But, by nature, we often do assume the worst. The fundamental attribution error – a tendency to explain other people’s behaviours arising as a result of a character flaw rather than a situational event – is often the root of frustrations and disconnect. Most ‘bad behaviours’ are the result of a situation rather than someone going out of their way to annoy you. As we continue to work remotely, keep baking in the good practice of picking up the phone or sending a quick chat message if you can’t walk over to clarify a question.
A big challenge in the coming months will be watching for a divide between those working from home and those who go back into the office.
A good place to start is by making sure you have a strong handle on your culture. One way to do that is with an audit to help you understand your specific culture and what you want to preserve about it.
This time last year we completed a culture audit for a large insurance company, and we were really surprised to find that remote employees had a very different perspective of the company to those based on site. For example, remote workers talked in terms of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ or ‘us’.
As we consider the return to the office, there will be a balance between things we’ve been missing and what we don’t want to lose from lockdown. But right now, keeping people focused on the idea of an end goal, when we just done know the time scales involved, risks disengagement. With ever changing guidance its best not to put all your eggs in the back-to-work basket.
I think this comes back to making sure you have a strong Employer Value Proposition to lead the way. An EVP’s job is to explain the internal promise that defines what people get in exchange for working for you. It also acknowledges that hard work contributes to the company success, which in turn allows the company to keep delivering on its promise to you – it’s a symbiotic relationship. There’s so much information available about what makes a great EVP but for me, the most important element is purpose. Does your EVP clearly answer the question ‘why should I work for your company instead of somewhere else?’
I think we’ll be looking closely at what perks and benefits will be real differentiators. Is what you offer people now a vitamin – something that boosts and enhances - or a painkiller, which merely serves to compensate? Gym memberships might be less useful right now, but how about reimbursement for home workout equipment? I’ve even seen companies offering ‘Pawternity leave’ for new pets. And importantly, mental health and loneliness have been thrust into the spotlight. Companies will start really looking at what they offer this space, and perhaps invest in solutions like bespoke on-site counsellors or the creation of community spaces around previously taboo topics.
What people need from their employers has changed hugely during Covid and the companies that are fluid and creative will be better at both attracting and retaining talent in the future.
Whatever you do, don’t just take the event as you normally run it and put it on zoom. Really think about the lead-up experience and how you can generate excitement. Consider the collateral you send out beforehand, the MC you get to lead the event, breakout spaces for collaboration, and time built in for reflection.
In person, events aren’t stacked from 9 – 5. There are coffee breaks, lunches and networking. How are you including that space to breathe online? Can you incorporate live feedback or blogging from the event?
The No.1 thing to do is figure out the emotions people feel at the physical event, be it team building, away days or awards ceremonies, and look to recreate those moments. Think about events you enjoy like the Grammys or Baftas. We watch them because they master humour, mystery and glamour. Can you bring some of that into the events you’re creating?
It’s easy to tune out or get fatigued but we have to treat it like any comms challenge. Look for what captures and magnetises attention.
Novelty is a fantastic way to create cut through so consider how you can shake up your formats.
And once you have that attention, an effective magnetiser is the self-relevant. When we look at a group photo, we tend to hone in on ourselves, assess the damage and then look at the rest of the image. We are hard wired to care about what affects, impacts or includes us personally. So, think about ways to target your audiences more specifically through personalisation, like location, team or even down to the individual name, to make that message more tailored.
This is a tough one, no getting around it. A sense of camaraderie is strengthened with examples (not just messages) of how people across the organisation have banded together to stay strong and support each other. In terms of boosting morale, we hope to see you at #CommsHero week, where I’ll be running a session on boosting motivation and morale in tough times.