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Employee Morale During Change – Strategies for You and Your Team to Stay Motivated
The YES! Attitude began in 2000 when I discovered I had a tumor and-on the same night-my wife and I discovered she was pregnant with our first child. A year later, I was broke, with no income, a new baby, and no way to pay for a place to live. Left with a master’s degree, driving a delivery truck to earn money, and sleeping on the floor in my in-laws’ living room, I hit rock bottom. I had an epiphany as I sat in the delivery truck in my in-laws’ driveway: Maybe it’s my thinking that is the problem.
In the years since, I have reflected extensively on my experiences and have tried to figure out what I learned. I also talked to other people who had succeeded against challenges at work and at home. I became inspired by their stories and their lessons. The YES! Attitude is the result. It is an attempt to codify methods that help people stay motivated in the midst of change. YES! is a spirit, an attitude, and a vision. It is the personal conviction that you need to thrive when everything around you is telling you to throw in the towel. It is also an acronym summarizing the following lessons:
Y = Why Change? is the first question you need to answer
E = Expect Emotional Reactions, yours and others’
S = Surround Yourself with Other Fun Loving YES! People
YES! is a muscle that must be kept strong so you can face and win the challenges of change. Consider this article a personal trainer session. It will give you the motivation to keep you in shape to say YES! to change.
1. Find Your Answer to “Why Change?”
The number one reason change fails, at a personal level and an organizational level, is that there isn’t enough urgency to move through the problems of change. In other words, people do not have a good enough answer to the question, “Why Change?”
Chris knew his answer. He knew why he was willing to be homeless, sleep in subways and shelters, work two jobs, and care for his son. He had a dream for them. He wanted to drive a Ferrari and have the things that money can buy. He knew that America was the land of opportunity, and he wanted his piece. This dream kept him going when others would have given up. He is now the self-made multimillionaire featured in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.
The first lesson of change is to find a personal, inspiring answer to the question “Why Change?” Chris’ was monetary. Yours may not be. Mine wasn’t.
I decided to treat my tumor without surgery. I had had success using natural methods with allergies and migraines, so I thought I would try natural cancer treatment. But even the holistic doctors I spoke with advised surgery. They said, “Just cut it out and the statistics are very good.” Easy for them to say! With nowhere to turn for a natural solution, I scheduled surgery. The night before my surgery, a nurse at one of the offices of a well-known natural health author and consultant called. I hadn’t heard back from them, so I figured they were not interested. She said, “We looked over your tests and history and we think maybe we can help. We cannot guarantee anything, but if you want to give it a shot we will help you.” That was all I needed: someone with experience who had some confidence. I cancelled my surgery and started my journey back to health and happiness.
Along the way, I had many challenges: emotional, social, and financial. Whenever I got down or frustrated, I thought of my answer to “Why Change?”-my daughter. She was not born yet, but she was my reason to live. My desire to be her father and raise her kept me going when the challenges arose.
Every change, whether you initiate it or the world requires it of you, will require you to be motivated. Your answer to “Why Change?” will need to give you the energy to endure the pain and challenge of the changes you are making.
2. Make Your Answer to “Why Change?” Selfish and Emotional
My daughter asked me one day, “Daddy, why do you go running outside when it’s freezing?” This was a great question! It taught me this second lesson.
I was not always an avid exerciser. In fact, quite the opposite: I was sedentary. My answer to her question was “Because my life depended on it!” This was a very personal and emotional reason. When I found out I had a tumor and decided to treat it naturally, part of my treatment was exercise. The fear of death and desire to live got me out of bed early in the morning, even when it was cold or rainy or snowy.
I realized that to change my habits, compelling emotional reasons are necessary. For example, we all know rationally that exercise is healthy. But that doesn’t get everyone to do it. Just knowing the facts will not motivate people. People need an emotional motivator to change. For me, living was an emotional reason. Being around to raise my daughter was also a huge emotional motivator. My dad died when I was 12. I was not going to die and leave her without a father. I was committed to her having a better childhood than I had had. That was all the motivation I needed to get out of a warm bed on days when my body told me otherwise.
Upon reflection, I saw that when faced with any change, the answer to “Why Change?” also has to be selfish. I’m not saying selfish is a bad thing. Living to raise my daughter was selfish-it was what I wanted for me and for her. If you are a leader in an organization trying to implement change, keep this is mind. For example, saving the company money sounds good, but it is not selfish or emotional. It probably won’t motivate people to come up with new cost-cutting ideas. You need to get personal: tell people how saving the company money will impact them. Will it get them a bigger bonus? Will it save their job? Will they be recognized for a constructive idea and get a promotion? These are the things that motivate people because people are selfish and view things through a personal perspective. Without personal and selfish motivation, nothing will change.
Over the years, my answer to my daughter’s question has changed. As I write this, the reason I exercise (and eat right, focus on stress reduction, and find happiness) is to “feel better, enjoy the day, and have energy.” I am happier and more energetic after I exercise. This is still selfish and emotionally huge for me. If I don’t exercise, I get moody and grumpy, which in turn affects my day and that of those around me. A little selfishness for 45 minutes in the morning goes a long way for my attitude and the good of the whole family. My happiness and theirs are huge emotional motivators.
3. “Why Change?” Needs to Be Huge to Overcome All the Negativity You Will Face
Sheri had a big reason to overcome organizational challenges. She was hired to reduce budget overruns and modernize the service delivery at the health department of an international airport. When she arrived at her job, she soon saw there were many more problems: bullying and harassment; sleeping during night shifts (on mattresses purchased and hidden in shower stalls); falsification of overtime and expenses; fraudulent invoices from doctors; theft of expensive medical equipment; class A drugs left on desks along with used needles; and inappropriate medical examinations of passengers.
After beginning investigations, Sheri became a target. The disgruntled staff made it personal. They sent anonymous letters to her bosses’ wives saying she was having affairs with them. Adding insult, then they printed her personal information, phone number, and picture and posted these around the airport.
I wondered how she kept her conviction to make the changes while being harassed on the job.
She told me, “Don’t get me wrong. I definitely felt like giving up when I first heard about those posters. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could think up such a thing, let alone follow through with it. My first feeling was, “Goodness, they must really hate me.” I was initially at a loss at how to handle it. However, I hate admitting defeat. I also knew in my heart that the staff who were quieter and less able to stand up against the small number of bullies were desperate for change. I thought that if I left, I would be virtually throwing the lambs to the wolves. I also knew that if I left, not only would the bullies win, but it would also make the job doubly difficult for the next person to introduce the much-needed changes. So in a sense I felt I had to stay to see things through and finish what I had started.”
Talk about a personal and emotional motivator! It was not saving the company money that kept her motivated. It was protecting her staff and doing the right thing.
This is definitely emotional and huge, but some would say this is altruistic and not selfish. I see it differently. Even good deeds are done because we feel good when we do them. In that case, I believe this fits the model of doing something for yourself, even it if helps others at the same time. The bottom line is that it would help keep her positive during the darkest hours.
By the time she left the job nine years later, the whole unit had been turned around to the point of becoming the role model. The staff petitioned her employers in an effort to make her stay, even though she was ready to move on to other challenges.
Sheri’s desire to make it better for the employees and her determination to succeed helped her face innumerable hurdles to achieve her goals. Without the big vision and heart to help others, most people would have given up. Not Sheri. She had a huge emotional reason to change that was more powerful than any negativity thrown at her.
Why are you changing?
• To feel better
• To please someone
• To be happier
• To reach a goal
• To make more money
• To get healthier
• To increase efficiency
• To keep your job
• To help someone else
4. Turn Your Answer to “Why Change?” into Short-Term Goals
Having a vision is one thing. Getting stuff done is another. Whenever you are trying to implement a change, you need short-term, achievable goals. Achieving these goals will help you feel like you are making progress-because you are! It gives you something to focus on.
Graeme Nichol had a bad year. He was laid off and then, after his excitement about becoming a flight instructor, he crashed his plane. He suffered a shattered vertebra, severe injuries from head to toe, as well as third-degree burns. His orthopedist told him he probably would not walk again. But within eight weeks, he took his first steps. How did he do it?
He set emotional and motivating short-term goals. First, he decided that if there was any chance it could be done, he could do it. He had a three-month-old infant who needed him. Then he turned his reason to change into small goals. His first goal was that in three months, he would be strong enough to go to his good friend’s wedding. It would be a challenge just to get around in a wheelchair with all those broken bones, but he wanted to see his good friend get married. It was not easy. His physical therapist told him that he worked harder than anyone she had seen. This goal motivated him.
He started to relearn to walk. As he was meeting his first goal, he set a six-month goal: get strong enough to get out of his apartment and live on his sailboat. He couldn’t work and didn’t have any income. Instead of paying high New York City rents, he decided to take advantage of the situation and spend time doing what he loved: sailing. His wife agreed. He reached that goal, too, and ended up moving out of his apartment with his family and living for 10 months on his boat, sailing from New York to Florida and back via the Bahamas. This gave him the extra bonus of forcing him to get in shape. Sailing requires strength and balance. This was just what he needed to recuperate and get his life back.
Like Graeme, to succeed during change you need to have SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Resource Based (what resources will you need to achieve the goal), and Time Bound (a deadline).
Graeme set goals and reached them even when almost everyone thought his goals were unreachable. He had selfish, emotional, and huge reasons; set reachable steps, and worked really hard.
What can you achieve in the next week? Month? Three months? What resources will you need to do it (money, technology, books, people, etc.)?
5. Communicate a Rational Business Case
Mitch was CEO of a $100 million global consumer product company Four Seasons Sunrooms, based in the United States. The company was so successful that the owners sold it to a U.K.-based private equity firm. Things got complicated quickly.
Initially, the employees were understandably very concerned about losing their jobs. Mitch proactively explained in a calm, logical, and optimistic manner,
Let’s step back for a moment-they just spent a lot of money buying our company. They bought us to grow the business. They know they can’t do it by themselves and that they need the employees to accomplish the business objectives. If you left tomorrow, I would have to replace you to get the work done. I need good people in each position. If you continue to excel, you will keep your job, have expanded opportunities, and have control over your destiny.
As with all new owners, there were initial challenges. They understandably had very aggressive financial goals. This was their first foray into the United States, and the relevant business laws were very different there than in the United Kingdom. Mitch had to manage the needs of the new owners, too. He had very tough, pragmatic, and straightforward conversations with them about the timing of achieving key benchmarks. He remained calm, treated them with respect, and talked about the business and market environment and potential. He told me,
I couldn’t get defensive or argumentative. I showed them the real business case. I explained the real cost and time it would take to get the return on investment in this industry in the United States. I showed them how we can reach their financial goals and what it would take. I laid out the details rationally to get them on board. We worked as a team, and they moved some dates up and some back a little. This approach of open and honest two-way communication was instrumental in achieving the financial results-some even ahead of schedule. Ultimately, this was a success for all parties-the investors and the employees.
Through consistently communicating this same message, Mitch was able to successfully help the employees and owners overcome their emotions and focus
on the success of the business.
6. Be a Hero in Your Own Life
I love this idea! I wish I thought of this concept myself. But Gary Null, PhD, did. He was a key resource in helping me recover my health and happiness. He always said that you can’t wait for someone to save you. You have to find it within yourself to face the challenges and demons of change, and make your life a success.
Steve did this at work. He was an R&D Director at Synopsys, a software chip designing company. His company bought another company, and he was asked to head up the technology team to create the new product that would blend the best of both companies.
There was tremendous mistrust and politics between the two companies. On top of that, he said, “R&D guys are very emotional and like to have a lot of control.” Ten key people left the team and company. There were many heated discussions with other company executives, who were wavering because they felt a lot of pressure for the legacy projects to succeed.
When I asked him how he was able to keep moving forward and succeed in this environment he said,
First, I didn’t see failure as a problem. Everyone knew it was a tall order. My friend told me, “Integration after mergers never works.”So if I failed, no one could blame me. But I knew that if I could get it done, I would be a hero. I assumed the whole company would be helping me-execs, peers, bosses, sales channels. It soon became clear I was on my own. So I did what I needed to do and pulled it off.
I once gave a speech for 50 employees in the sales department of a leading financial services company. I did an activity where people spoke in small groups about the heroic things they did. One woman lost 100 pounds and has kept it off for five years. Another man lost 50 pounds. A third person saw a small plane crash and ran to help the people. Another woman helped raise her brother when their mother was murdered when they were children. A fifth person helped a good friend get help when she was being abused by her father. And a sixth person adopted her close friend’s children and raised them through college when her friend died.
I was blown away. I am sure if we had more time there would have been 50 stories from the 50 people. This experience reminded me how there are times when we are all heroes in our lives. We do extraordinary things to create the life we want. Being a hero doesn’t always mean pulling people from a plane crash. It means doing what you know is right, and pulling all the resources you can, from inside and outside, to succeed.
What heroics do you need to pull off to succeed at your change? What do you need to give up? How will you find the determination and willpower to be the hero in your life?
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