The People Puzzle: Staff Morale Running Low? – Plains Perspective

Date PublishedSeptember 28, 2014
CompanyPlains Fabrication
Article AuthorTom McCaffery
Article TypeSeptember 2014 Issue
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HUB SEARCHPlainsFabrication
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The People Puzzle: Staff Morale Running Low? – Plains Perspective

OH_Backlink_LOGO_250x66_black_transparentOne of our managers asked me how to change morale within his department the other day. I have witnessed the ebb and flow of energy within the companies and departments I have led. There is nothing more debilitating to a business than low morale. The manager asking for help felt the deterioration began with new personnel during a busy period. He felt his people were running on empty and he was concerned he would lose his best people just when he needed them most.

The first thing I did was congratulate him for even noticing. The number one mistake a manager can make is not paying attention to the state of mind of their employees. We had to start working on the details of how he thought it had happened. We wrote out some possible root causes and set a plan to move forward.

moraleIn my opinion, morale is fixable if you have the wherewithal to not accept it when it is negative. The biggest challenge for people who are too linear or task oriented is that morale cannot be fixed with a tool or a set of instructions. It takes guts and it takes grit.

Let’s use an analogy here and say that “every company is a puzzle”. The thing about puzzles as we all know is that they end up making a picture. Each puzzle makes a different picture and can be built or broken down into its own set of pieces. If we use the puzzle as an analogy for business, you may assume that every company is like a snowflake and that no two are alike. If there is anything that my experience has taught me, it’s that it doesn’t matter what makes a company unique. What matters from a management perspective is that you are building and coordinating the functions that allow your puzzle picture to be built. The reason the puzzle analogy works so well is the breaking down of core competencies and functions within an organization.

The act of putting a puzzle together or taking it apart is not dependent on what the picture looks like and it is not really a factor that the puzzle pieces are different either. Yes, there are things that make it unique, but you can use the same set of mind tools to build any puzzle, and the variables are going to have similar outputs even though those variables can be very different. A puzzle can be built because one piece fits into another and you need to use your past and present experience to make it all fit together. You need to use your senses, you need to pay attention to patterns, and you need to know what makes each piece unique.

Businesses and more importantly the people within your business are exactly the same. The setting changes, the type of work changes, what you build, create, or provide as a service changes, but the function of running any business is static just like putting together a puzzle. The culture, personalities, prevailing attitudes, personal back stories, and motivations are all just puzzle pieces, and you can use mind tools and basic skills to make them fit together and make a picture.

hub advo logo 2Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 19.16.34The culture, personalities, prevailing attitudes,personal

back stories, and motivations are all just puzzle pieces,  and you can use

mind tools and basic skills to make them fit together and make a picture.


When you build a puzzle, many will follow a set format. You empty the box; put all the pieces facing up, look for your corner pieces and end pieces, then you step back and look for colour consistencies, and then the construction begins. Your people puzzle is similar. I always follow the 10-80-10 rule. You have 10% that are your top performers, the people you can’t live without. The 80% in the middle are the people you need to get the job done. The last 10% are people who are under performers or people you don’t want or haven’t committed to your team. If you have the power to remove that 10% you should, but often circumstances prevail that may make that impossible or difficult to do.

moraleRemember a team should never be static. If you are putting a puzzle together, you are trying things. Sometimes a piece looks like it fits and it doesn’t, so you stop, look for a new piece, and try again. When you build a puzzle, you aren’t afraid to fail, and as a manager you have to be willing to try things that may not work when it comes to morale. You have to be willing to try and fail, and keep trying until the pieces go together. It is the single most important job you have and companies don’t recognize it. Make sure when you fail to admit it. Tell everyone who will listen, especially those that work for you. When people see that you are trying to fix a problem, they may naturally start to root for you, and in turn their morale will rise, even if only a little, because they see you care.

If you have morale problems or people problems, they can be fixed. It takes time and you may need to relate it back to something you know. If you’re an engineer or a carpenter then equate it to building something. You have to know that everything you build doesn’t happen miraculously and that it takes time. Spending time working on morale will net results far greater than you can imagine; I guarantee it. If you want to sell more, want to build more, want to make customers happier, on and on. I know you may have been looking for a silver bullet here and I didn’t give it to you, but swing by the shop one day and we will talk. Every situation has a resolution, but you have to know where to start, and I love spending time solving people puzzles…

Tom McCaffery General Manger Plans Fabrication

Tom McCaffery
General Manger
Plans Fabrication






 This article originally appeared in the  

September 2014 Issue of Oilfield PULSE