From the Chairman: Keeping morale high

Apr 09, 2015

Glassdoor comments provide opportunity for reflection on leaders’ role in fostering positive employee attitudes.

glass door One of my clients was both frustrated and concerned about citations on his firm that he found on the glassdoor website ( Glassdoor is an open collection point for employees to comment on their employers. This is a most interesting way to gain insight on the morale and attitudes in an enterprise. My client was complaining that the citations were unfair and that, if the citations stood, they could encourage unhappy people to chime in and discourage those who were quite happy from commenting. He even suggested that glassdoor is a sham and that it is pitching to “clean up” the comments – for a fee, of course. I suggested he not shoot the messenger but rather look more carefully to see if there might be some validity in what was being said. This led me to think about a leader’s role in forming the attitudes in his or her enterprise. Ideally, these attitudes would cause employees, if given the opportunity, to respond very favorably about the firm and even post a rebuttal to any negative review and encourage their colleagues to do likewise. I encourage leaders to take a look at the comments on their own firms. So, what is “morale”? Here’s what says: “emotional or mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, etc., especially in the face of opposition, hardship, etc.” Inspiring employees is the most important thing a leader can do. So, how does a leader go about shaping the morale in an organization? Here are ideas on three areas you, as a leader, can influence:
  • Positivity: Do you, even in the face of adversity, express a positive attitude? How often are you “down”? Did you just lose a project, have a large fee overrun on another, wake up in a bad mood, fight with your wife/husband/kids? People in your firm watch you closely. They will mirror your attitude when confronting a problem, whether you like it or not. It’s your job, as the leader of the enterprise, to display the attitude you want everyone in your firm to adopt. I’m not talking about being a “Pollyanna,” falsely saying that everything is just fine. Be realistic, but avoid anger or blame. Look carefully at the problem, be analytical about what happened, and take a positive attitude about learning from it, so it won’t repeat itself.
  • Optimism: Has the economy turned south? I led an office and then a firm through four recessions (so glad I was already retired before 2008) and learned how important my attitude was during those times. I had to carry the banner of optimism and, more importantly, engage the entire office and, later, the entire firm in reshaping our market strategy and work methodologies. If your folks are kept in the dark, they will speculate – and always negatively. In 1981, when our office in Los Angeles shrunk by 30 percent, I began having breakfast meetings at 7:30 on Wednesday mornings. My message was: “I can’t fix this alone, but I’m optimistic because of who we are and what can we do together to turn things around!” And we did ... together.
  • Active listening: Sure, you spend a lot of time with clients, you’re busy selling work for your firm, dealing with problems, worrying about an HR issue or your line of credit. But job No. 1 is having your finger on the pulse of the people and teams in your firm.
You must develop a sixth sense for the buzz in the office, reading what things people are concerned, upset, or just curious about. Then, get involved with them to address the issues. If you do, your next tier of leadership will model your style, just as your people mirror your attitude. If you’re constantly asking how things are going and what you can do to make them better, you’ll reap the reward of terrific morale. The benefits to you and your firm are enormous. Your people will become more closely aligned with the direction you want to take. They’ll work more collaboratively and effectively as teams as your team leaders begin modeling your approach. You’ll find them speaking positively about the firm to outsiders as a great place to work, leading to new employee and client referrals. These ideas just scratch the surface of what you, as a leader, can do in shaping the morale of your enterprise. Please let me know what other things you have found to be successful in enhancing morale in your company. Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a Zweig Group consultant and former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

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