Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to keep morale up in your company.

In all startups, there are times where the moral or the mood of the team is not at it’s highest. When the morale of your team is low, it is important that you take steps to raise your team’s morale quickly, so that they can handle issues in your company better.

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about what morale is, why keeping up morale in your team applies to everybody, how to measure morale in your team and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic

00:30 Why this topic was chosen.

00:40 Why keeping up morale applies to everybody in your team.

01:00 The definition of morale.

02:46 Why morale is a very interesting topic.

03:17 How to think about morale in your company.

04:03 How to measure morale in your team.

04:56 Why morale is important.

06:33 Why you need to ask people how they’re feeling about something.

3 Key Points:

  • I don’t think this only applies to managers and leaders in your team. This applies to everybody in your team.
  • Do you feel like the present is going well and the future is going to be better?
  • If people are confident, they feel really great about what they are doing.


Steli: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten: And this is Hiten Shah, and today we’re going to talk about how to keep morale up on your company. I don’t think this just applies to managers or leaders or founders. This applies to everybody on the team. I’m going to start off by saying that. Steli, what do you think?


Steli: Well, I think you couldn’t be more right. At the end of the day, first of all, I am going to do the Hiten Shah thing. I learned this from you Hiten. Let’s actually read the definition of morale.


Hiten: Let’s do it.


Steli: Let’s do it. Morale, what I found here is the definition says the confidence, enthusiasm and discipline of a person or group at a particular time. All right. Confidence, enthusiasm and discipline, those are interesting-


Hiten: Very.


Steli: … Words. I don’t think I would have picked any of these three if you had asked me to come up with word associations around morale. But I’m not sure which words I would have come up with alternatively. [inaudible] morale, if I wanted to describe it, it was like what is the outlook that people have on the future and what is their feeling about the present? Do you feel like the present is going well and the future is going to get even better? Is there an upbeat, positive, looking forward to, energized, motivated, inspired vibe, positive? Or are people having doubts, stress, struggle, misalignment, worry, thinking things aren’t going well, having doubt? A doubt and worry would probably be kind of the counter to morale in my free flow association.


Hiten: Morale. I think it’s a very, very interesting word and very interesting topic because when you think about morale, you might not be thinking about it too much. When you think about the definition, you say it’s confidence, it’s enthusiasm, it’s discipline. That’s three very different things, right? If people are confident, they feel really great about what they are doing and are confident in their ability to do it I would say in a business, right?


Steli: Right.


Hiten: Enthusiasm, that’s clear. You and I are always enthusiastic about this podcast. So everybody all right knows how that works. Then discipline, that a fascinating one. It’s this idea that you are actually getting the things you say you’re going to do and you want to do done, right? It’s the discipline to get the stuff done. You’re organized, you’re structured, you’re getting this stuff done. If you just take those three, then as somebody in a business right now you can do it and be like, “Okay. Let me look at my organization and see, do we have confidence? Are we enthusiastic, and are we disciplined?” If you just take those three things, by definition as you found out, they seem to be the way to think about morale at a company, or morale in general for yourself or as a group.


Steli: I love that you can take a word like morale, which I think even at the very beginning of this episode the two of us weren’t quite clear how to define, and when you break it down by the definition that we picked up from Google, you take those three more specific words and you ask yourself, “Well, what is the discipline currently? What is the enthusiasm currently? What is the confidence currently within me?,” if you’re trying to pick up or measure you’re own morale or within our team? That makes it more practical. These three things are easier to spot than if you ask morale. Morale is a little bit more hard to grasp, how to measure what that truly means. So I love that you instantly did what you always do so beautifully, Hiten, which is create a framework.


Hiten: Yeah, let’s just do it. Make it easy.


Steli: I love it. Let’s maybe even point out, this seems obvious, but usually the things that seem most obvious have the most potent wisdom in them because we don’t pay a lot of attention to them. Why is morale important? Why do we care that teams have high morale?


Hiten: That’s so good. You care because then they’re going to be able to deal with whatever challenges come and whatever the opportunities are in the business. If you have high morale, you’re motivated. That’s the assumption, right? What you’re trying to figure out, I think in great part, is the team motivated? Can they deal with what’s going to happen next? Are they able to execute, or are they stuck? Are they not enthusiastic? Do they lack confidence? Is there a lack in discipline on just being able to deal with the things that come? I think you can easily tell. This is the easy thing. The easy part is you can tell by the company and organization and people’s reactions in the moment when something bad is happening. Bad problem, a challenge or even as small as a customer support request coming in that is negative. You can figure out how that person is feeling, what their morale is based on their reaction. Do they react in a way that’s like, “Oh no, the world is ending?” Or something close to that. Or do they react in a way where they are like, “Okay, we got this,” or, “I got this,” or “I can figure this out?” I think about it like, when something happens and it’s critical, negative or seemingly like that, what does that feel like? What’s happening to a business, a company, the people in it? Another aspect of it would be what happens on a normal day? What’s the general sentiment of people and how are they feeling? This sounds so weird, but you just got to ask people. How are you feeling? What’s going on? Or how are you feeling about x? The number of times I ask people on my team that is probably pretty high. I would say “How are you feeling about x? How are you feeling about our marketing?” Or, “How are you feeling about where we’re going, what we’re going to ship next on our product?” Or, “How are you feeling about how sales are coming in right now?” I just ask people stuff like that. Depending on who it is, I’m going to ask a different question. I get some really good answers as to how they’re feeling. And it’s feeling, right? It’s soft. It’s not something where I expect a super crazy, tangible answer. But most of the time, people talk about the status of something or talk about how something is just not quite there, or it is there and they’re feeling great about it. That helps me understand essentially their morale.


Steli: I love it. I’ll throw out a thesis or a hypothesis, which is-


Hiten: Exciting.


Steli: … If you cannot answer the question, “How’s morale right now on the team?,” then it’s probably low. Can you really have a team that has high morale and you don’t know that, you don’t notice that and you’re not aware of that? I don’t believe that’s possible. I feel like for anybody who’s listening, who’s trying to figure out “How’s my morale right now?,” or, “How high is the morale in our team right now?” If you have a difficult time figuring that out, it’s probably not as high as it could be or should be. I feel like anytime morale on our team has been super high, it’s so obvious. It’s so awesome. There’s no second guessing. It’s the same thing with relationships. If you ask me, “Is your relationship with your co-founders good or bad?” I don’t have to think about this. This is not a difficult question to me. I’m not like, “Hmm, this is a good question. I’m not sure. Well, there’s some good things. There’s some bad.” No, it’s good- [crosstalk]


Hiten: It’s either one or the other right now.


Steli: It is good, right? I know that. The same thing is true when the team morale is high, you know it. So when you don’t know, you’re not sure, it probably means it’s not as high as it can or should be. Which leads me to I think the final question for this episode on the topic of [inaudible] morale, which is how do you make sure that there is a high morale within the troops, within the team and that you maintain that? What are the ingredients to keep morale high? Which means, again in the breakdown and the definition that self discipline, that enthusiasm and that confidence are high on the team. How do you make sure that these three things stay high and get high?


Hiten: Wow, yeah. Its awareness. It’s that question I ask. “How are you feeling about x?” I think it starts with awareness. Whoever wants to gauge morale. That’s awareness let’s say on the team when you ask people. I think what might be more important in some ways that we haven’t talked about yet is, “How do I feel?” You could answer the question about every part of your business right now just by answering the question, “How do I feel about x? How do I feel about marketing? How do I feel about sales? How do I feel about product? How do I feel about the team? How do I feel?” I found that to be really valuable for myself and to gauge my own morale about where we are at, where we are going and how I feel. I’m just going to double click, so to speak, on the thing I said already because I think that that’s one of the most powerful things to figure out awareness. You might have some thoughts on what you do with that.


Steli: Yeah, so what do you do with it? You know one funny thing? I don’t know if we have a resolution to this, but I find it funny. It says in the definition that morale can be something that relates to one person or a group, but I don’t think I’ve ever used morale as a word for myself. I maybe have talked about my mood. Maybe I’ve talked about my energy. Maybe I’ve talked about my state, I’m passionate, I’m excited, I’m depressed, I’m confused. I don’t think I ever either asked myself, “How’s my morale?” Or, I’ve never described, “My morale currently is very high.” I don’t think I’ve ever used those words. That’s interesting. To me, morale, maybe the way that we use it commonly always relates to a group of people, like a team, a group. The mood in the group basically. So you are always part of the team. Probably always part of that group that you are thinking about. So surveying yourself is a really good tool to figure out how the group feels. Because again, especially if your a founder or in a leadership position, it’s probably … maybe not. I was just about to say, if you feel really confident, really enthusiastic and really disciplined, that could mean that the team does too. But that may or may not be true. I think that, honestly, in many ways, I think if you hit on one of two things or both of these things, the sides of the medallion, typically morale is going to be high. Number one is winning. If you are, whatever word you want to call it, crushing it, winning, growing, hitting your goals, whatever it is. If the team perceives in the subtle context that you’re winning, that we are winning, we are progressing, we are growing, we are doing well, that’s going to play a huge part in the way people feel; how enthusiastic they are, how confident they are and how much discipline they want to use to keep that winning going. Positive reinforcement, what we’re doing right now is working, so I want to keep doing this thing every day. If you are not, if there’s not a sense of winning around, if everybody is working super hard and is super passionate and you never hit your goals and growth is really slow and things break and the product is buggy and retention shit, you’re not going to be confident. People are not going to be enthusiastic and they’re going to have increasingly a harder and harder time to be disciplined or to keep doing the same things or keep working really, really hard. I think that the honest truth is that morale is high in teams when teams perceive themselves as winners, and when they perceive their progress as being really, really good. The other side of the medallion is probably more a culture or an ethical thing. So I could imagine a team crushing it and quote on quote winning, but there’s a lot of lying going on internally. There’s a lot of politics. People treat others unethically. People take advantage of others. That can crush morale. That can make people feel really, really conflicted about wanting to be part of this team and want to be part of this group. If you have these two things figured out, if the team is winning and if the culture is strong, if people don’t perceive that there’s lying, deception going on and the culture is not toxic, then morale is probably going to be really, really high. If you have an amazing culture, but you’re constantly not hitting your milestones and progress is really low, morale is going to go down. I think it’s those two things that you really want to look at. The end of the day you need to figure out how to win as a start up. You need to figure out how to accomplish goals, how to progress, how to grow. It’s a number one goal. If you can empower, if you can attract the type of people and put them together in a team that allows them to win and to create great results, that’s going to make a big part of the morale in your team being high. The other think you need to take care of is that the culture is strong, that the ethics are strong, the values in the company are strong, the people are treated really well and as people, especially in difficult moments. If you do these two things, morale is a byproduct that will be high on it’s own. There’s nothing extra that needs to be done.


Hiten: Yep.


Steli: All right. This is it for us for this episode. I love these ones Hiten. When we start, the two of us don’t even fucking know where to go with this.[crosstalk] But we want to unpack these things together with the people that are listening here. Let’s unpack this and try to learn and go deeper and poke around and see what we learn and what we discover and how to approach this stuff in a way that really helps others.


Hiten: That’s the best part.


Steli: That is the most fun part. All right, so this is it for us today for starter morale. Hopefully the morale in your team is high and we’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten: See ya.