How we run a software company: Morale (part 1)


2 October 2011, by

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Employee morale is so important for a company of any size. It’s definitely a priority for Softwire, a fact borne out by our recent arrival at 16th in the Sunday Times “Best small companies to work for in the UK” list (see more information here).

Receiving our awardIncreasing morale will lead to the following Good Things:

  • Lower staff turnover
  • Greater motivation
  • Everyone pulling towards a common goal
  • Better inter-staff relations
  • Greater trust in management line
  • Fewer lawsuits(!)

Happily, all these Good Things will also boost morale themselves, creating a virtuous circle of job satisfaction.

Employee morale needs to be an all-pervading goal, and should influence policies on everything from how annual appraisals are conducted to what coding languages you use. Much of this will be covered elsewhere on the blog, but there are two specific concepts that are worth considering explicitly. I’ll discuss “Happiness” in the next post, but for now I’ll deal with “Trust”.

Trust

If there is mutual trust and respect between employees and upper management, morale will increase and the business will run much more smoothly.

Softwire’s directors run the company in a very open manner, which encourages trust, and which also requires them to trust their staff.

We have a company-wide meeting every three months, which always includes an in-depth commercial update. Discussion is encouraged, and with a large number of mathematicians (not to mention pedants) among the staff, the directors need to be certain of their figures!

There will also be an update on recruitment efforts, the sales pipeline, and any policy changes that are being considered. No policy change is introduced without the rationale behind it being explained thoroughly and, where appropriate, a vote being passed by employees.

The occasional vote or heckle is by no means the only way that employees can influence the running of the company:

  • Weekly status emails. Everyone’s status email has a “Management issues” section where they can, and do, raise anything they’re unhappy about. In my experience you will usually get a considered reply to anything raised here within a couple of hours of sending your status email.
  • Management chats. Line managers are encouraged to try and tease out any issues that might be occupying someone, by asking questions such as “Are you enjoying your work at the moment?”, or “If you could change one thing about your current working environment, what would it be?”
  • Dinner forums. Every month a group of 5 or 6 employees go out to dinner with the directors and discuss their thoughts on various topics. This informal atmosphere can help to bring great new suggestions to light.
  • Even quite junior members of staff are encouraged to take on important roles (with adequate supervision), both within development teams or in company-wide positions such as Morale Officer.

Through policies such as the above, as well as simpler gestures like leaving the petty cash tin unlocked, upper management demonstrate the trust they have in their employees, and gain their trust in return.

Once this trust has been established, the need for morale-sapping bureaucratic processes is greatly reduced – another virtuous circle for which we are extremely grateful!

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