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The Morale Question


After chatting with Mort, Janney and several others, I wanted to take a moment and talk about one of the slides that we’ve been using in the summary deck for the employee survey results.  Specifically, the one on why what we’re talking about isn’t a morale question.

I created it, because, quite honestly, my hackles got up.   I felt some folks were being dismissive of what we were trying to accomplish and articulate, by saying it was a “morale” problem, i.e. people simply weren’t happy with their jobs or with Sprint.  I felt “morale” was reductionist, and I wanted to make sure that the focus stayed on the concrete things you guys said we should be working on: communication, consistency, time, opportunity and acknowledgement.

However, in my zeal to make a point, I probably went too far, which is the hallmark of an unsound scholar – to paraphrase Dorothy Sayers.  Moreover, I did the one thing that I didn’t want to do ever in this initiative, which was to have my voice become paramount. I am a pushy, smarty-pants, and I expect more virtual dope slaps if I do that again.  Therefore, let me reiterate one of the most important points in the deck.  That 20 page PowerPoint isn’t the end.  It is simply the beginning of the conversation.

So, let’s talk about morale in its classic sense, not as shorthand for happiness or simple gratitude for having a job in the current economic climate.  “Morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose” (Alexander Leighton, Human Relations in a Changing World, 1949). Call it esprit de corps, if you like.

I don’t think anybody would argue that inconsistency (some I know would call it true inequity but I believe that that implies ulterior motives that I just don’t think are real), organizational flux, and lack of communication has caused trust issues among us (between teams and up/down the org chart) that has prevented a lot of collaboration and the group cohesion that comes with a spirit of collaboration.  I would also submit that this has created a climate that does not foster the unleashing of people’s intrinsic motivation to work on/improve/take ownership of those aspects of our organization/work that they’re passionate about.

“But Susan,” I hear you say, “it has been 300 words and you haven’t quoted Forrester yet.”  Well, let me rectify that immediately.  In 2010, Forrester wrote an article about having building a high performing development teams.  Though we are not a pure development shop, see if any of these resonate with you:

  • Do your teams make their own decisions about how to organize and perform work?
  • Do you offer employees the chance to learn?
  • Do you use unexpected rewards when team members perform above and beyond the call of duty?
  • Have you created a shared sense of purpose with your professionals?
  • Do your managers set the context for team performance (as opposed to directing their teams)?
  • Do individuals know the high-level goals of the development organization and how it's performing?
  • Are individuals allowed to make mistakes and take risks without penalty?
  • Do your professionals spend 75%-plus of their time "in flow"?
  • Do you use clear, consistent measures of success?

These are all factors that Forrester identifies as creating a climate that is driven by empowered, intrinsically motivated folks.  And I don’t think we have that climate…yet.  I think we should, but that is just one nerd's opinion.

However, even if classic morale is missing at the sprintdotcom writ large level, the key point out of the survey and one which I could have perhaps phrased better was that despite the dysfunctionality, you guys still care about this organization, what we’re trying to do and each other.  And you have continued to deliver.  Give yourselves a round of applause [no slow clapping from the cynics among you].

But here is what I’m especially loving.  You guys are starting to have the conversations with each other to begin the (re)building of an organizational cohesion that we have been lacking.  I’m keep hearing all these little anecdotes (that one is for you, Yerg) of  folks reaching out to each other to try and solve their problems locally.  Please keep doing this and please keep sharing those stories with me, with this community, and with each other. 

Don’t get me wrong; I have every intention of making sure that we continue to tackle the big issues (Z’s Big Six), but those conversations that you’re having are one of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal.

So, log in, and tell me I'm nuts.