Improve morale: go to the gemba.

A McKinsey survey last year revealed that non-cash motivators -- praise from immediate managers, attention from leaders, and a chance to direct projects -- are at least as effective as the three most highly rated monetary ones. My first reaction was to add this research into the Gobsmackingly Obvious Business "Insight" Hall of Fame. I mean, really? McKinsey needed a survey of 1000 businesspeople to learn that praise and attention from the CEO is motivational?

But then I realized that McKinsey is only mirroring the pervasive cluelessness of most corporations. The study goes on to explain:

Why haven’t many organizations made more use of cost-effective non-financial motivators at a time when cash is hard to find? One reason may be that many executives hesitate to challenge the traditional managerial wisdom: money is what really counts. While executives themselves may be equally influenced by other things, they still think that bonuses are the dominant incentive for most people. “Managers see motivation in terms of the size of the compensation,” explained an HR director from the financial-services industry.

Another reason is probably that nonfinancial ways to motivate people do, on the whole, require more time and commitment from senior managers. One HR director we interviewed spoke of their tendency to “hide” in their offices—primarily reflecting uncertainty about the current situation and outlook. This lack of interaction between managers and their people creates a highly damaging void that saps employee engagement.

Interestingly, lean management provides the opportunity to institutionalize all of these things: praise; attention from leaders; the chance to direct projects; plus autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

There's a lesson here: go to the actual place where your people are working. Talk to them. Say thank you. And find out what's important.