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Energize employees by asking them what they like to do

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Team Building

by Patrick Adkisson

People are just not satisfied with their jobs today. The Conference Board found in January that only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Just 51% find their work interesting.

One of the study’s authors concluded that workers “have to figure out what they should be doing to be the most engaged in their jobs and the most productive.”

I say managers need to help them.

Recession breeds mediocrity. Employees are afraid to make waves, to try something new, to take a risk that might result in something great. They’re even more afraid to take the big risk that could—gulp!—fail. And of course, that kills the kind of innovation many companies need now to pull out of the economic doldrums.

Plus, managers are so focused on productivity that they’re piling work on people who don’t like doing that kind of work—even if they’re good at it.

Your organization will have more engaged employees and better results if managers figure out what their employees like to do—and then give them more of that kind of work.

If they asked, they might learn that the work an employee is good at isn’t necessarily the kind of work he or she likes to do.

Here are a few points to consider:

•    An employee can be good at a job that he or she doesn’t find interesting or engaging. But when you pile more of that kind of work on the employee, you stifle motivation and sap energy. That employee might be better suited doing something else.

•    The best way for managers to learn what kind of work excites their employees is to ask them.

Consider posing this question to an employee who does good work but seems dissatisfied or unmotivated: Which part of your job do you like doing? Then, give the employee more of that work to do.

•    Employees who don’t take risks rarely come up with great ideas. But employees won’t take risks if they’re afraid that a failure will have a dire consequence—like dismissal. They’ve seen too many of their colleagues lose their jobs to the economy. They’re not going to take chances with their own employment.

So if your organization values innovation, make the workplace a safe place to fail. In fact, celebrate failures. They often are the fruit of an employee’s effort to excel.

•    Bean counters can’t necessarily quantify the value of motivation or loyalty. In the 15 years I worked at Nordstrom, the policy was to send flowers to the customer if we made a mistake on an alteration. The spreadsheets showed how much we paid the florist, but the numbers didn’t reveal how many friends that customer told about our gesture or how loyal the customer became to the store.

•    People with vast differences constitute the best teams. Employees with different motivations, from different cultures and with different skills, each bring something to a project. Something different makes each one tick.

Team managers should gather the members before the work begins. That way, everyone can get to know each other’s values, preferences and strengths. That will help ensure that the tasks will be assigned to the right people.

Even as the economy recovers, there’s precious little money to reward employees with pay raises and perks. Take the opportunity to give employees something they really want: the chance to do something good for the company while they’re doing work they enjoy. Allow them to perform at their peak by learning what they would like to do, setting a direction for the work and then stepping out of the way.

It really works.


Author: Patrick Adkisson is principal consultant with Business Logic, a Seattle consulting firm that works with teams to develop Team Management Systems Profiles. Contact him at patrick@businesslogicteam.com.

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