• Bill Greider

How Do You Measure Morale?

According to Wikipedia, Morale (also known as esprit de corps) is "the capacity of a group's members to maintain belief in an institution or goal, particularly in the face of opposition or hardship. Morale is often referenced by authority figures as a generic value judgement of the willpower, obedience and self-discipline of a group tasked with performing duties assigned by a superior."

I remember clear as day a meeting I was in about 10 years ago where one of our employees stated "the morale around here is terrible." As a senior leader, my first thought was defensive. (maybe the fact you are saying that means YOUR morale is terrible). I wasn't quite sure WHAT to actually do to "fix" this. How do you measure, and then "fix" this thing called morale?

Fast forward a couple of months. The company was in the midst of transforming to LEAN, and was studying Toyota as a benchmark. That was when the answer to the morale dilemma hit me square in the face. Toyota actually measures morale using the number of employee suggestions! How nice and neat and beautiful is that? We learned that the team members at Toyota would make thousands of suggestions per year. I don't know about you, but back then, I could count our number of employee suggestions per year without taking my shoes off. 

Fast forward another 12 or 16 months. By that time, people were learning how to work together using A3 teams to improve processes, solve problems, and implement their own suggestions. To the tune of 300 per year. I still wasn't really clear about how to measure and improve morale, but all I knew that the company participated in a Best Companies blind survey, and was named one of the best companies to work in Connecticut. 

Think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs for a minute. First, there is physiological (food, water and shelter), then there is safety (us humans for some reason like to feel safe). Remember we cannot move up the pyramid until the lower need is satisfied. After satisfying these two needs, you can move to social, then esteem, then finally self-actualization.

Let's consider social needs (aka love & belonging). If you had to count, how many times are people together in the average company? I'm not talking about departments, but people from the office working and thinking with people from the plant floor. For most, the answer is the picnic and Christmas party (maybe a company update where people sleep once a quarter). Suddenly, in the course of doing A3, people were together all the time. People were being picked by their peers to be on their teams. The entire premise of A3 is to make improvements horizontally, not "top down". Suddenly "I just work here" becomes "you want to know what I think?!?" The MORE people are together, the more they trust and respect each other, they become less guarded, and start showing their creativity.

This sense of belonging leads to satisfying the need for esteem, described by Maslow as "self-esteem", confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others. One of the reasons A3 works so well is because we can leverage our diversity. We are all wired and think differently. We come from different upbringings and backgrounds, and have different belief systems. The result of the thinking of 3-5 people will always be exponentially better than the top-down thinking of an MBA boss. Plus, to do lean well, you need to demonstrate an understanding that it is disrespectful for ME to fix your work. You can't simply walk around with a big toothy grin asking "is everyone happy?"

Once the need for esteem is satisfied, we can address self-actualization. Back to Maslow. He describes this as morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice and acceptance of facts. The more A3 teams people are on, the better they get at root cause analysis, gaining agreement and problem solving. I can also tell you from first-hand experience that you cannot predict WHO GENIUS will come from. Nothing matches the sense of satisfaction people feel when they "close" their A3 in front of their peers and are applauded and THANKED. 

Today, as a lean consultant, I can measure morale by looking at the A3 boards. I work with companies that "flip" their A3 board every 2 or 3 weeks. That means that the projects on the board today will be closed and replaced with an entire new set of projects. As I walk around, people are eager to show me what improvement or problem they and their team are working on and what they recently closed. Morale is extremely high.

Which brings me back to the definition of morale at the top of the page. I would change it to a measure of people's sense of ownership in their own lives-period.

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