October 17, 2012
8 Things Your Employees Need Most — From You

Pay is important but it only goes so far. Higher wages won’t cause employees to automatically perform at a higher level. Getting a raise is like moving into a bigger house; soon, more becomes the new normal.

Commitment, work ethic and motivation are not based on pay.

If you want your employees to truly care about your business, they need these eight things… things that can only be provided by you:

1. Targets.

Goals are fun. Everyone is at least a little competitive, even if only with themselves. Targets create a sense of purpose and add meaning to even the most repetitive tasks.

Without a meaningful goal to shoot for, work is just work.

Work sucks.

2. Freedom.

Best practices can maintain excellence, but every task doesn’t deserve a best practice or a micro-managed approach. (Yes, even you, fast food industry.)

Autonomy and latitude breed engagement and satisfaction. Latitude also breeds innovation. Even manufacturing and other heavily process-oriented positions have room for different approaches.

Whenever possible, give your employees the freedom to work they way they work best.

Then they will.

3. Mission.

We all like to feel we’re part of something bigger. Working hard to be worthy of words like “best” or “largest” or “fastest” or “highest quality” provides a sense of purpose.

Let employees know what you want to achieve: For your business, your customers, and even – maybe especially – your community.

And if you can, let them create a few missions of their own.

You can’t care unless you know what you should care about… and why.

4. Input.

Everyone wants to offer suggestions and ideas. Deny employees the opportunity to make suggestions or shoot their ideas down without consideration and you create robots.

Robots don’t care.

Make it easy for employees to offer suggestions. When an idea doesn’t have merit take the time to explain why.

You can’t implement every idea but you can always make employees feel valued for their ideas.

5. Expectations.

Every job should include some degree of latitude but every job needs basic expectations regarding the way specific situations should be handled. Criticize an employee for expediting shipping today, even though last week that was the standard procedure if on-time delivery was in jeopardy, and you lose that employee.

Few things are more stressful than not knowing what your boss expects from one minute to the next.

When standards change, make sure you communicate those changes first. When you can’t, explain why this particular situation is different and why you made the decision you made.

“Why?” is almost always the most important business question.

You have the answer.

6. Consistency.

Most people can deal with a boss who is demanding and quick to criticize… as long as he or she treats every employee the same. While you should treat each employee differently, you must treat each employee fairly.

There’s a big difference.

7. Connection.

Employees don’t want to just work for a paycheck. They want to work with and for people.

A kind word, a short discussion about family, a brief check-in to see if they need anything… those individual moments are much more important than meetings or formal evaluations.

8. Future.

Work hard to make sure every job has the potential to lead to something more, either within or outside your company.

Example: I worked at a small manufacturing plant while I was in college. Everyone understood I would only be there until I graduated.

One day my boss said, “Let me show you how we set up our production board.”

I raised an eyebrow; why show me? He said, “Even though it won’t be here… some day, somewhere, you will be in charge of production.

You might as well start learning now.”

Take the time to develop employees for jobs they someday hope to fill—even if those positions are outside your company.

How will you know what they hope to do? Ask.

Employees care about your business… but only when you prove you care about them first.

  • Andy Johnson

    Sad that this needs to be written. Always being praised, applauded and promoted is a nice path for many. Unfortunately, it results in those who never worked alongside others for any lengthy period. One needs to see and understand the world as the employee sees it… Too many see only a top-down view. A 90-day or 1-year posting does not allow the interchange of views that an open commitment and possibility that no promotions will be coming for years.
    If one doesn’t understand the why or people at work they are ill-equiped to manage them or avoid unionization. Yes, the major cause of successful union organizing attempts is poor supervisors and managers.

    A leader above all -must be fair- and consistency is not possible, explain why. People appreciate being spoken to as equals. An “I speak. You listen.” approach kills the desire to be present any longer than it takes to find a new position. Talented people are hard to manage for the autocrat. They are easy to manage for the collaborative leader.

    When I hear anoyone say “I can fire you” I know they will not be around long. Everybody in the company knows hourly and daily who has the power to reward or remove them… They need no reminding.

    Glad this article exists… Sad it was necessary… We -all- can do better to prepare our next generations of management and retain talented people.

    • Sabbir

      “I can fire you” in my view is the worst one. I hated being constantly under pressure. Rand over at moz blog did similar post.

      Right people should be rewarded before he/she threatens to leave.

      • Ananth venkat

        Cannot agree more! Unfortunately a few pursue that even today !

  • Michael Charalambous

    This is an excellent post. It was nice to read down the list and find that i actively take “most” of these into account already. But not to my surprise, i need to step up and improve in some areas :) never stop learning!