Let me set up the scenario: You run a busy company. You have lots of responsibilities and duties that keep you hopping from sunup to sundown. You’ve assembled a great staff that helps drive your business. You’re growing and business is good.
But you start to notice that the atmosphere has changed in the office. An employee that you used to chit-chat with suddenly vanishes when you walk in the room. Your best customer service rep doesn’t make eye contact anymore when you stop to ask how his vacation was. In short, you realize that something’s wrong in your office. Your staff is displeased … with you, specifically.
What do you do?
In short, you must handle it head-on. Ignoring problems of morale will never work in the long run. You need to figure out what’s wrong, and you need to solve it—fast! My method is the most direct: I call a meeting and make it clear what the meeting is about. If you can, do a little homework before so you know what you’re walking into and can start to formulate a plan. But even if you can’t get the lowdown before your meeting, you still need to walk in ready to be open about the change you’ve noticed in the office and your staff's suggestions on how to fix it. If left unchecked, you could end up with staff actively working against the interests of your company, and that could cause problems you’ll never be able to correct.
It's Your Fault, Sometimes
The problem might even be your fault. If it is, you need to listen, acknowledge your staff’s complaints, and apologize if it’s appropriate. And then you need to work on solving the problem. Some problems don’t have easy or obvious solutions, and you may need to adjourn your large meeting in favor of a small-group meeting where you can develop a strategy that everyone on staff can get behind. It’s also really important that you keep the lines of communication open. You want to encourage two-way discussions, and you want to eliminate gossip, which serves only to rile your staff.
Sometimes, the problem isn’t your fault. Even though we try to carefully screen our staff and select the best folks who will devote themselves to furthering our vision, the fact of the matter is that sometimes we hire people who end up being bad for our companies. If you find that you have an employee who’s fanning the flames of your staff’s displeasure, you need to address that problem directly. If you’ve attempted to deal with the employee, only to find that the problem persists, it may be time to let that employee go. Negativity, like enthusiasm, can be contagious. You want to weed out the troublemakers and nurture the staff that uplift the office.
Be Open and Move On
Despite your best efforts, nearly every entrepreneur I know has interoffice troubles from time to time. While you may never get to the bottom of what caused a problem, the most important thing is that you deal with the situation and cultivate an atmosphere of openness and full disclosure moving forward. You want your staff to feel comfortable discussing challenges (as well as successes) with you, and you want them to know that you take their input seriously. Regular meetings that encourage the two-way flow of information can help head off morale problems.
Finally, figuring out all the circumstances that created a problem isn’t what’s important. Moving on should be your goal, and your efforts are best spent on addressing what you can do to ensure that your staff is on your side heading into the future. You may be the business owner, but you hired a staff because you can’t do it all alone. You need the support of a team behind you, and addressing problems, solving them and moving on is the right kind of example to set.
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