What Workers Want

Mel Gibson’s character in the movie What Women Want acquired the ability to read the female mind from a rather clumsy incident with a hair dryer. As a result, he knew how to give women what they want. They responded to him with substantial enthusiasm.

Leaders might want to know how to generate similar enthusiasm in their company. I don’t suggest near electrocution with a hair dryer for this purpose. Fortunately, a real life alternative exists.

The Gallup Organization studied 80,000 leaders and the 1 million people who work for them. The goal was to identify great workplaces on the basis of four outcomes that leaders want - high employee retention, high customer satisfaction, high productivity, and, that old favorite, high profit. Gallup found that when leaders deliver nine factors that workers want, workers usually deliver on these four outcomes.

Cynical readers will think that what workers want is more money. Leaders who limit themselves to that belief are condemned to underperforming employees. Of course, pay matters to all of us. However, Gallup found that compensation schedules did not differentiate between great and not great workplaces. The message seems to be that if you just want people to show up, just offer money. If you want people to perform at their best, read on.

First, workers want leaders to provide clear expectations about desired outcomes. Then they want leaders to leave the methods of achieving those outcomes up to the workers.

Second, once you have told them what you want, give them the resources they need to succeed. Imagine your boss telling you, “I want you to clear that acre of trees. Here’s a pair of scissors to use.” How much energy would you have for the task?

Third, workers love the chance to use their best skills. Employees with strong relationship skills enjoy using them to build relationships with customers. Those without such skills would simply flounder in a sea of failure. Therefore, when you hire, take care to match employee talents with the demands of the job. If you invest time in doing this, then much of your job will be to stay out of the way.

Fourth, workers want recognition. Recognition creates energy. Without recognition, employees may get the mis-impression that “Nobody cares what I do.” Such a belief is demoralizing, which depletes the energy people bring to the job. Further, people seek contact with their leader. Even negative contact is better than no contact at all. If you only respond to workers when they need correction, they will provide you more opportunities to give correction in order to have the contact. In other words, leaders who only offer criticism are “teaching” their workers to make mistakes.

Fifth, employees want leaders to be interested in them as people. They want to matter beyond their job role. This does not mean that we should become their friend. They probably have friends. It does mean that we have an appreciation for who they are as a person and where their job fits into their lives. When I was in graduate school, the professor who had directed my studies for two years asked me one day, “Ackley, do you have any kids?” First, I hate to be called by my last name. Second, he should have known the answer to that question after two years. He only asked at that time because it affected something he was interested in, not out of interest in me. It finally dawned on me that I needed to change professors.

Sixth, employees want to learn. Wise leaders give them the chance to do so. People have an inborn drive to learn and grow, unless it has been pummeled out of them. When you give workers the chance to learn new skills, your message is that you respect them and that you have an interest in their future. In your own experience, did you not have increased energy for someone who believed in you?

Seventh, employees want the chance to be heard. This does not mean that you have to agree with employees. What does matter is that you listen to and consider their opinions on work related issues. As a leader, you need to be free to disagree, but to dismiss workers’ ideas out of hand is demoralizing. Don’t be surprised if they simply quit thinking altogether.

Eighth, workers want their jobs to have meaning. This usually means that their job is linked to a company whose mission matters. One man changes bed pans in a hospital. To some, this might be a meaningless job. For him, because he believes so strongly in what the hospital is trying to accomplish, it means a great deal. He sees himself as contributing to the quality of the patients’ experience.

Suppose your company is not involved in a noble pursuit like healthcare. If your company makes steel joists, workers can take pride in the making of America. If yours is the grocery business, workers can take pride in bringing people high quality food with an amazing range of choice.

Finally, workers want to work with co-workers who are committed to quality. Remember when your parents warned you about the impact of the company you keep? The same is true on the job. Workers want leaders to provide them with co-workers of whom they can be proud. How proud and energized would you be in your job if they let just anybody do it? How proud and energized are you in your job if leaders are intensely careful about whom they select?

Make yourself a checklist of these nine steps that leaders can take to create a great workplace, for themselves and their workers. Self assessment can be the beginning of becoming a great leader. Then make plans about how to upgrade in the areas of most need. Every reader is likely to find some.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., which helps companies perform at their peak. He can be reached at (540) 774-1927, or by e-mail at dana.ackley@eqleader.net.

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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