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What Your Employees Really Want (It Might Not Be What You Think)

by Kevin Eikenberry on June 20, 2012

in Communication, Empowerment, Influence, Leadership, Learning

Forget more money and better benefits.

We think that is what people need, to which most managers and leaders say – “I can’t give them more” or “That’s out of my hands.”   The good news is those aren’t the things that will move the needle.

A recent (February and March of 2012) Career Builder survey of 5,772 full-time workers in many industries, found that 28 percent said the success benchmark would be earning $50,000 to $70,000. And 23 percent put that mark at less than $50,000.

For a tenth, success equals $150,000 or more.

And even if you think your people are different, consider this…  After you get a raise, even if it is what you really want (like a new car), pretty soon that new wage (or car) is no longer a motivator – it is the new normal.

If you want to raise commitment, productivity and increase people’s “work ethic” (that is worth a post on it’s own), think about these factors instead.

A Reason Why.   People want to do work that matters.  Help people see the big picture in their work.  Connect their work (or help them connect it) to the larger, aspirational mission of your team or organization.  This bigger picture will make a big difference.

Clear expectations.  We all want to know what is expected – what a target for success is.   If expectations change, let people know – and engage them in that conversation.  How can people meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are?  Do they know?

Relationship.  People don’t want to work for a paycheck, they want to work for and with people.   That goes for you as their boss and their co-workers.  How often do you share a kind word, give specific encouragement, or check in to see what they need? These mean more than you will ever know – unless you realize how much they matter from your boss.

Targets.   Human beings are goal oriented beings.  Give people something to shoot for.  When these targets are connected to the big “why,” magic occurs.

Freedom.  Even in the most process-oriented and procedurally-focused jobs, there is room for personal approaches.  Give people some latitude within the framework.  You will get higher levels of commitment, and likely process improvements too!

Input.  Ask questions. Shut up. And listen. People have valuable perspectives.  They want to share it.  So ask for their input and value it.

Future.   Help people see themselves in a future they desire – and help them get there.  That future may or may not be the one you see them in, so you must ask.  Then do what you can to support and encourage them to reach that future.

The best news about all of these?   You have lots of influence over these, whether you are in the C-suite or a first line supervisor.   How can you put more of these things into your employees daily experiences?  Ask yourself that question everyday – and take action on your answers.  You will be amazed at the changes in attitude, performance, and outcomes.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

chris Saeger June 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Kevin,
I think your post is spot on and to the point. It reminds me of the work by the Gallup Organization that identified the 12 questions that predict an engaged worker. You have hit all of them in six points that are easy to remember. One item that may be missing from your list relates to question 2 below. As a leader you need to see that your people have the things they need to do their work right.

Thanks for the insight and warm regards,
Chris
Gallup 2Q Survey questions:
1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

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Kevin Eikenberry June 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Thanks for the note Chris – and the Gallup questions are, of course, so insightful (and worth asking)

Kevin :)

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James June 21, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I would like to another “want”: An even “office” playing field. Too many times personal relationships that managers have with some of their staff can strain work relationships with their other staff members, and also to mention promotions and salary raises. This could create tension and animosity among the rank and file. In some cases this could change or even derail career paths within an organization.

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