‘Troops fight for their friends not for Queen and country’

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A university expert in company morale says people work for their friends and colleagues but not for organisations.

Dr Ben Hardy, a lecturer in management at the Open University Business School (OUBS), became fascinated by organisational behaviour when, as a vet, he studied for an MBA.

“Research shows that soldiers fight for their friends, not for Queen and country,” Dr Hardy told a meeting of the OUBS breakfast briefing yesterday (Thursday) in Milton Keynes.

His point was that managers need to understand that to get the best out of people, they need to understand what motivates them.

He gave an example of a manager in a company who insisted his employees were motivated by their “pay cheques”. But the same manager went on to say that he was frustrated nobody gave feedback or praise.

Dr Hardy said because “negative information has three times the impact of positive information” there has to be a “consistent postive pressure” to ensure good morale.

Good morale in a business could ensure employees went over and above what was required, or make “discretionary effort” as he put it. But low morale meant they were more likely not to insist on top quality.

Dr Hardy said work used to be believed to be about “hiring the body, not the mind” and providing incentives and setting goals.

But his research – his PhD was gained in looking into morale – is pointing to the importance of emotions and social behaviour and how people engage their minds.

He told his audience morale could be affected by many factors, including “seagull management”. That is the boss flies in, makes a mess, and flies out.

He added poor morale didn’t have to mean firms did badly. Sometimes products were so profitable that management could get away with being awful, and often was. Indeed, Dr Hardy added: “If you have a company with thick margins, worry about the management.”

He reserved stinging criticism for situations where employees had to re-apply for jobs when organisations were shaken up. “It tells people, you’re all the same to me,” he said.

He also blasted the use of intranet systems for sending out company information to employees.

“They move it to the intranet, where everyone can ignore it,” he said. He believes every chief executive should spend an hour each week writing an email. “It encourages upward communication and gets the chief executive finding out what is going on,” he said.

He said praise and proof of worth to an organisation were great morale boosters. This could be something as easy as the chief executive knowing everyone’s name.

“People want to know where they are heading and what progress they are making,” he said.

Just saying thanks and giving praise, he added, was one way of boosting morale, but it has to be genuine.

“Morale wasn’t built in a day and certainly not the day before the employee appraisal,” he said.

> The Open University Business School (OUBS) holds free breakfast briefings every two or three months. The next one is on Thursday, June 27, when Professor Brian Smith will be speaking on the subject “How to adapt to changing markets – lessons from evolutionary science.”

Visit www.open.ac.uk/breakfast-briefings