Ask your CFO and the mailroom guy about staff morale and you're likely to get two very different answers. All too often, the perspectives of upper management aren't aligned with those of lower-level employees. That can be the result of different roles and responsibilities. But it can also be a symptom of bad communications within a workplace enviromnent that doesn't foster shared values and goals.
Michael Abrashoff, a former Navy commander turned corporate consultant, says that's bad for business. A few years ago, Abrashoff, a speaker at this year's Inc. 500 conference in D.C., turned around a poorly managed ship and its unhappy crew by giving them more say and a greater stake in achieving broad goals — an approach he calls grassroots leadership. That lead to a range of bottom-up innovation. Within a few months, both captain and crew were spending one night a week on deck listening to jazz, smoking cigars, and watching the sunset -- a staff led idea to boost morale. They were also using stainless steel bolts to secure top-side equipment, a simple notion from an enlisted man that cut down the need to constantly repaint the ship and saved the Navy and U.S. taxpayers a fortune.
A reversal of the Navy's rigid top-down chain of command, the move helped earn the ship a reputation as one of the finest in the Pacific Fleet in terms of combat readiness.
The approach was inspired in part by one of Abrashoff's own sailors, he says, who described the under performing ship and its crew as a tree full of monkeys. Those at the top of the tree, he told Abrashoff, only saw smiling faces looking up to them. Yet when those on the bottom looked up, "all they saw was '¶ well, a very different view," says Abrashoff.