Employee Morale: What Leaders Learn From Putin, Fitbit and Game of Thrones

ee moraleIs great morale simply a symptom of success or can leaders and line managers actually do something to improve their team’s mood and motivation? We’ve uncovered three rules of employee morale, as explained by President Putin, Fitbit and Game of Thrones.

Check out the piece I wrote with Brand Strategist Josh Levine on CEO.com…

Jon Stewart on Out-boarding

Many companies have an established on-boarding program, a process in place when people are welcomed “on-board” the team. What many are missing is a formalized “out-boarding” process when employees leave. Jon Stewart is one person who knows how to treat an outgoing staff member.

Jon Stewart of the satirical juggernaut The Daily Show has lost his share of employees over the years. Through no one’s fault, his correspondents leave to further their acting careers. Such stars as Steve Carell, Ed Helms, and Rob Riggle got their big break reporting for The Daily Show. And somehow, when asked, each raves about their time working with Jon. They don’t have to, but they do.

An employee’s final days are one of your most underutilized engagement devices. Consider Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Peak-End rule. His research found that people judge their overall experience by its peak (most intense point) and by its end.

How someone leaves a job can taint their entire experience. But these bad experiences also taint the rest of the workplace. Employees see the way you treat people who are departing the company. They internalize the indignities and feel gratified when someone is treated with respect. So how does Jon wish people a bon voyage? Let’s examine three implementation tips from a recent Fast Company article.

Don’t Resist The “Grass Is Greener Over There” Syndrome

By nature, people tend to believe that unattained future events will make them happier than what they currently have. So they quit for (what they see as) a better opportunity…like The Late Show.

Stephen Colbert was a correspondent on The Daily Show for eight years before he got his own show. This fame and exposure has since earned Stephen the role as David Letterman’s successor. It’s too soon to know if the grass is greener on a network late night show, but Jon Stewart is supportive regardless.

Leaders know the value of a star performer. They also know that these individuals may be bound for bigger opportunities; not better, mind you, but bigger. So once someone has decided to leave, why waste energy trying to convince them to stay or slighting the new company. Support them in their new endeavor.

Kindle Meaningful Memories

The final days should be a celebration of what the employee has accomplished. At The Daily Show, Jon will typically thank the departing staff member during the show and exchange some amusing parting words. Most recently, John Oliver left to host his own show on HBO. Jon gave a touching monologue, showed a montage of clips, and sat back at Oliver was unable to hold back the tears.

Jon was not throwing a party because Oliver was leaving; it was recognition for what Oliver had done. Leaders need to grasp this concept and employ is generously. If you don’t want to do it for the person leaving, do it for everyone else who is watching how you are reacting to that person leaving. It will make you look like the bigger person, even if you aren’t feeling like it.

Measure How Many Employees Return

Engagement is usually measured by the retention of staff. I’ll argue that an even better factor is how many want to come back. It is not unusual for Jon to have past correspondents on as guests. These interviews tend to be entertaining because you can see the camaraderie. To do this, Jon maintains a relationship with them after they’ve left.

If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, its meant to be. — Jess Lair

If there are people who you wish hadn’t left, keep a line of communication open. Send birthday and holiday cards. Comment on their Linkedin/Facebook/Twitter posts. Make sure they know that they are welcome back whenever they’d like.

Of course we treat people well who have just been started, but the real sign of respect is in how we treat them on the way out. This simple sign of appreciation will generate an army of ex-employees who continue to feel a sense of loyalty and engagement for your company. That’s an army of people who are selling you and your product to the world.

Liv & Maddie on Storytelling

During breakfast this morning, my daughters were reciting plot twists from last night’s Liv & Maddie. If you have young girls, then you’re familiar with this Disney show about twin sisters and their wacky adventures. Even if you haven’t seen it, there’s a lesson to be learned in the power of storytelling.

This particular episode of Liv & Maddie intrigued my kids because it revealed backstory into the characters. The flashbacks showed what they were like when they were younger. How did Maddie come up with her catch phrase, “Bam! What!?!” How did Liv get cast on her television show?

It is fascinating to learn the backstory of how people become who they are. It is not just endearing for the sake of adoration; learning about someone’s past exposes their motivation and drive. It explains why they behave the way they do and provides context that we can use to help guide and develop them.

As leaders, we get so caught up in our day-to-day grind that we overlook the importance of sharing our backstory with those we lead. If your staff knew how many jobs you sustained to work your way through college, do you think they would find you more relatable? What if you described a blunder from early in your management career?

When presenting your backstory, you don’t need to write a report or give a cumbersome presentation. It happens in bite-sized nuggets and is revealed when it will help illustrate your point.

In a recent interview, Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, provided several elements to improve your storytelling:

Start with the context. Explain why you are telling this story and how it fits into the conversation.

Appeal to emotion. People make decisions largely based on emotional reasons. Whether you invoke laughter, sadness, or wincing, the goal is to make them feel something.

Include a surprise. When I tell stories from my past, I build it up to the big reveal, which is usually a mistake that I’ve made. It gets a laugh, keeps their attention, and is a good time to give the lesson.

Use a narrative style appropriate for business. Be concise. Your story should not last more than three minutes. Avoid extraneous details and get to the point.

Marvel on Synergy

If you have even an inkling of knowledge into current pop culture, then you are aware of Marvel’s success. How does a comic book company come to dominate movies and television? The answer: a disciplined strategy founded in synergy.

There was a time (approximately 50 years worth) when Marvel “just” published comic books – Spiderman, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, etc. There would also be an occasional TV show, but these were blips on the societal landscape. Then, they decided to make an Iron Man movie.

Iron Man wasn’t one of the more popular characters, but he had an intriguing backstory and Marvel had a plan. If Iron Man caught on, this would be the gateway to a whole line of superhero movies. And it worked. Besides two sequels, Iron Man has spawned two Thor movies, two Captain America movies, and an Avengers movie.

All of these have been blockbuster successes and there are copious sequels to follow. In addition, a TV spinoff (Marvel: Agents of SHIELD) just wrapped up its first season, there’s another show (Marvel: Agent Carter) starting next year from the Captain America movies, and an upcoming line of Netflix shows. If this sounds overwhelming, can you imagine what Marvel plans to do in the future?

There are many leadership takeaways from Marvel’s story. With a three step plan that we can all utilize, let’s focus on Marvel’s ability to coordinate strategies.

Plan ahead.  Marvel has planned at least ten years down the road with multiple storylines in multiple mediums. Characters, many of whom have not yet been introduced, will intermingle and plots will be interwoven. A narrative from one movie will impact the television shows, comic books, cartoons, upcoming movies, and video games.

As Marvel shows, the first step to synergy is having a plan. So what do you have coming up? Make a list of every project, task, priority, and strategic initiative. Don’t worry about the details. Right now it’s about getting it all on paper.

Find connections.  Once you have your list, start looking for the trends. Group items into topics or departmental specialties. What do items have in common? Also, how is each item affected by the other items? Any shared resources?

Make a timeline.  There is a natural order for which things need to happen. As commonalities and relations are determined, you’ll be able to plot out how and when items should be developed and rolled out. With this frame of reference, you’ll also be able to pinpoint who should be working on particular projects plus identify the evaluations that you can take throughout this initiative to ensure that it has the ongoing support needed.

Synergy is not easy. We all have a number of moving parts – there are numerous people that need to communicate, resources are limited, and decisions that once seemed clear will change. It’s an immense undertaking, but isn’t that why we have leaders?

Louis C.K. on Positive Discomfort

It’s easy to start feeling content. Just ask any leader who has stopped being innovative. I prefer to take the Louis C.K. approach.

“You’ve got to embrace discomfort,” acclaimed comedian Louis C.K. recently said. “It’s the only way you can put yourself in situations where you can learn, and the only way you can keep your senses fresh once you’re there.”

Once a leader has reached a particular goal, there’s a natural tendency to relax. Initially, the break is intended to last a day or two so you can recharge your mental batteries.  A few days becomes a week, which becomes a month. Next thing you know, the quarter is over and you have nothing to show for it.

The only easy day was yesterday. – SEAL training motto

Louis C.K. tells a great story about when his all-white junior high underwent integration as a result of the civil rights movement. He wanted to get to know this group of people for whom he had no previous familiarity. So he began sitting with them at lunch. “It was awkward and scary, but I made a lot of black friends, and that was the only way to do it. It had to be uncomfortable…Sometimes discomfort is the only way through.”

Leaders need to test themselves daily. You need to push harder that you did yesterday. Test another limit. Do something out of your comfort zone that will stretch your mind and result in another opportunity to learn something new.