#71 The Next Fad Is Here

by Steven Cerri on September 10, 2008

“It’s not about morale.”

Hello everyone!

Are you ready for the next management fad?

One of my clients, for many years, has been a high technology company. One of the members of the training department (now retired) used to tell me that he was always on the look out for the latest management fad. His goal was to avoid them. He said he liked my work because it got results and it didn’t change with the wind like the latest fads did. I considered it a compliment but didn’t pay much attention to fads or to what anyone else was doing. My work got results and that was that. I didn’t follow the fads much and therefore, I didn’t think they were very common.

Well, I’ve now changed my mind. I’ve just run into the latest management fad. And it is truly a fad. Here it is.

I was reading BusinessWeek’s SmallBiz magazine dated August/September 2008 when I came upon an article titled “That’s the Spirit! How to energize your team and why it matters”, by Eileen Gunn. (It’s not a very useful or enlightening magazine actually except it gives me ideas for my blog!)

In the article, Eileen writes about John Eldred, the co-founder of the Wharton School Family Business Program. John doesn’t think managers should worry about “employee morale”. He doesn’t even like the word, apparently. John says that “It’s arrogant to think that you can influence someone else’s morale.” He says that sort of mindset reflects misguided paternalism by employers, and outdated dependence on the part of employees.

Well, I’ve got news for John. He’s using semantics to market a new fad. Because anyone who has worked with and communicated with other people, or lead or been lead by other people, knows that, in a very real way, the people we interact with and work with have some level of impact on us. Call it influence, management, leadership, or heaven forbid, “morale” it’s what it is. To say that managers should not worry about employee morale is to say that managers should not believe they have any influence over their direct reports.

But John doesn’t want to make that statement. Instead he just wants to “package” employee morale under a new name so he can sell it as some new type of management approach.

So what does he suggest. Here is what he says; “Employers should be thinking about spirit, engagement, and energy. It’s appropriate and necessary for a company to want its employees to be inspired, engaged, and energized by their work. And it’s reasonable for employees to expect their work, their bosses, and their colleagues to help them reach that goal.”

“The question I like to ask,” says Eldred, “is: ‘How can you have a high-energy environment, so that when employees are down they can pull themselves up, instead of waiting for their employer to do it?”

Good question. But here are a few examples of John’s suggested processes actually applied to companies. The following examples are supposed to indicate an approach that is not about morale but rather about energy, engagement, and spirit.

Case One:

Sonoma Partners: A 35-person, $4 million consulting company in Chicago.

The challenge: Helping employees adapt to a lean, fast-paced, small-company culture.

John’s solution: A mentoring program.

My conclusion: Sounds like a morale booster to me.

Case Two:

Right90: A 30-person, $10 million software company in Foster City, CA

The challenge: Integrating new staff at a fast-growing company.

John’s solution: Small, routine social events suggested by employees and supported by Right90

My conclusion: Sounds like a morale booster to me.

Case Three:

Sprout Group: A ten-person, $2.5 million marketing company in Salt Lake City, UT

The challenge: Keeping employees motivated

John’s solution: Movie day

My conclusion: Sounds like a morale booster to me.

There are several other examples in the article but they all sound like morale boosters to me.

The point is that John’s approach is just semantics. Trainers and consultants are constantly trying to “re-package” their offerings because they are concerned they won’t look “cutting edge”.

If you are managing software or managing nano-technology or managing IT you must know something about software, or nano-technology, or IT. AND when you are managing people you must know something about people. While software, nano-technology, and IT change very rapidly, people don’t. Generation to generation they learn to cope with different environments, (think baby boomers versus gen-X). And yet generation to generation they still want to achieve, they still want to be unique, they still want to have an impact. There is no use substituting energy, engagement, and inspired for morale. It’s just a new gimmick.

Instead, let’s understand human motivational forces. Lets understand the people we lead and then they will be successful.

All you have to do to understand what I’m saying is look at the current presidential election process in the United States. If anyone is going to be at the cutting edge of understanding human motivation it’s the political organizations. What has changed in the political election processes of each party in the last 50 years? Nothing but the technology and the granularity of the information they gather regarding the electorate and the sophistication of the analysis of that data. The electorate is still motivated by their financial well-being; by their security, both at home an abroad; by a sense of independence; and by a sense of community. That’s it. Those four forces have been ruling the US political process for the last 50, maybe 100 years. All that’s changed is our ability to get information about those motivational forces.

So you managers or want to be managers, there’s no need to climb on to the latest management fad. Learn and keep learning the fundamentals of human interaction, the interpersonal people skills, and you’ll do just fine. In fact, you will excel.

John Wooden took the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA championships in 12 years. He focused on the fundamentals of basketball, over and over and over. You can focus on the fundamentals of human motivation over and over and over.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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