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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 2:17 am | Overcast 54º


Paul Burri: How to Improve Morale without Hardly Trying

The secret is all about paying attention

Here’s another story that comes from the time when I worked for Ralph D., the worst boss in my entire career. At the time, my job title was manufacturing manager at a company with about 85 people. Roughly half of those people were manufacturing people and they reported to me. Ralph was a boss who was a micro-manager, was never satisfied, never gave any praise for a job well done, and was usually critical of everything you did for him. One day during one of his criticisms of my results, he told me my department had the lowest morale of the company. He refused to tell me how he knew that but he did warn that I had better take care of the situation. Nice guy, huh?

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

I went back to my office a little stunned and in disbelief about the morale of my department. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I decided to find out for myself whether it was true. At the time, I had a large office adjacent to the assembly department and it had a large picture window that allowed me to see the entire floor. It also allowed the people on the floor to see anyone who was in my office. Some people referred to my office as “the fishbowl.”

The next day, I started calling each of my people into my office to talk to me about their job, the company, how they felt they were being treated, and whether they had anything they needed to get off their chest. I encouraged them to speak freely and not to fear any recriminations. Since I only had time to talk to about three people each day, it took about three weeks to talk to everyone in my department. Few of my people had any serious complaints about how I was running the department so I’m really not sure there was ever a major morale problem in the first place. But by the time the three weeks was up, I did notice an improvement in attitude, morale and work output.

But I hadn’t changed anything! I was still running the department as I always had been and the morale had improved. How was that possible?

Now flash back to the years 1924-1932, the early years of industrial psychology and work improvement studies. A man named Elton Mayo conducted a series of studies for Western Electric Co. at its Hawthorne Works. The Hawthorne Works had a large department of workers doing some sort of work in a large assembly area. In an effort to see if improved lighting would increase the work output, Mayo raised the level of the lighting and, sure enough, output increased. Encouraged, he increased the light level a little more and the output increased again. Then he decreased the light level and amazingly, the work output went up again! He soon discovered that any change in the light level — whether up or down — increased the work output!

So here’s what Mayo and I both discovered in our own ways. Simply paying attention to your workers encourages them to work harder or faster or better. Whether it is increasing the light level or simply talking to them on a one-to-one basis, when workers feel they are noticed and recognized, their work improves.

A lesson worth remembering?

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business but he is a small business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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