Financial advisors are exceptionally talented at reaching out to clients and asking them how they feel. Unfortunately, we often forget to do the same with our teams.

Our firm recently did a quick survey of advisory firms and found that virtually every single firm had reached out to its clients with multiple letters and phone calls during the pandemic. But almost no CEO penned a letter to employees.

Yet that is exactly what we should be doing, because how our colleagues feel and how much they care may be the decisive factor in how this situation ends—for both our firms and clients.

In the words of Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, “There is only one way to profitability and stability in times of both boom and bust—employee morale.”

As I write this, my colleagues and I have all scattered to our home offices, handling Zoom calls while fighting off crying children, barking dogs and crashing applications. We are all tired of the long hours, the difficult questions we can’t answer and the confusion about the future. We are all demoralized by isolation and the stream of bad news. Yet we all have to find the reason to keep doing what we do and perhaps do it even better.

Like most things in management, morale has many definitions, but the one that resonates with me the most is from a book called simply Employee Morale by Cary Cooper and David Bowles. It says, “Morale is the spirit of a team that makes its members want the team to succeed.”

When we face a crisis, we all need to make sacrifices. They come in the form of additional effort, of rewards and compensation forgone, of comfort abandoned and plans rewritten or forfeited. The willingness to make sacrifices is directly proportionate to our desire to see the team succeed. We have all had teams in our past that we would have done anything for. We’ve also been part of teams whose demise we may have actually contributed to or celebrated in secret. The difference was in how much we cared about the teams’ success.

Many factors influence morale, but they can be organized into four categories:

• Leadership: who leads the team and how;

• Motivation: what drives the behavior of team members;

• Team Dynamics: how we relate to one another and how much we care for one another;

• Context: the environment and factors we operate in (such as the current health crisis).

Each ingredient plays a key role in the outcome—the team’s desire to succeed.

Frederick Herzberg, a very influential psychologist, proposed his motivator-hygiene theory in the 1980s, stating that factors such as compensation, a safe environment and reasonable work policies are the foundations of employee satisfaction. Without those “hygiene” factors being addressed, any attempt at motivating employees through stories of growth and achievement will be resisted. The same is true for morale—if you have not met the basic needs of your team, inspiring it may be nearly impossible.

Therefore, before attempting any grand speeches (and I love those) a leader should remember that most of all, a team wants to hear that they are safe and secure.

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