The Three Things That Employees Really Care About

In this excerpt from his new book, Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders author Rajeev Pershawaria describes how managers can motivate people by appealing to the three things that really matter to them.

Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders Being a leader means energizing and motivating your team of direct reports to perform at a higher level. Again, there is no shortage of literature and advice on this issue, yet more managers get it wrong than right. There is no doubt that a motivated and energized workforce translates directly into a better bottom line. Furthermore, most managers want to keep their people motivated. The problem is that in the clamor of all the advice on how best to motivate their people, managers don't even know where to begin. Sometimes I think we are so poor at motivating people because there is so much information on how to do it. Most of it is too complex. Another factor is that today's managers generally tend to be player-coaches, meaning that they have individual production responsibilities in addition to their managerial roles. Who has the time for all the "people issues"? If only there were a simple way of thinking about it. If only there were some tangible things managers could do without investing a ton of time. There are. Here's a one-minute course on energizing and motivating others:

  1. However hard you try, you cannot motivate another human being. Humans are premotivated by their individual purpose and values.
  2. Don't ask yourself what you can do to motivate them; try to find out how they are already motivated.
  3. Once you know their personal motivation triggers, try as best you can to match their expectations with the work at hand. For example, if someone enjoys creative work, give them more assignments involving creative work. If someone likes customer interface more than processing, try to give them opportunities to interact with customers. The point is, now that you know what they like, to the extent possible, design their job in a way that gives them an opportunity to do what they like best.
  4. If, however, there is a complete mismatch between personal motivators and the work at hand, rather than fixing the problem with carrots or sticks, the best course is to find a better fit. In other words, if the demands of the job are diametrically opposite of what the individual is energized by, then it is best to help this individual find another job or role.

So the key is: You have to figure out what your people expect from their jobs, and do your best to link people's expectations with the work you want them to do. Your immediate reaction upon reading this probably is: "This is easier said than done. How do I even begin to find out what each of my direct reports wants?" Fortunately, it is far less daunting than most people think, because most employees care about the same three things in their professional life. When I tell people that everyone cares about the same three things, most initially disagree with me. After all, we're all different. But take a few minutes to try the following exercise before you continue reading the rest of this chapter.

Imagine you are about to change jobs and have two competing offers. Both jobs pay roughly the same amount of money and are in the same industry. Both are at reputable companies. How will you choose between the two jobs? What factors will you consider while making your decision?

What factors did you consider? Did you think about the exact nature of your role, and how your work will fit in with the larger picture of the organization? Did you consider your own strengths and limitations and think about which of the two will be better suited for you? Did you think about the work culture of the two organizations? Did you consider the quality of your coworkers, and the way they interact with each other? Did you consider the reputation of the companies? Did you think about future career prospects? Most people go through a list like that when making career decisions.

I have facilitated this exercise in my seminars with hundreds of executives around the world. I pose the same imaginary dilemma, and ask them to tell me what they are likely to consider while making a decision. As they begin to talk, I write down their responses on one of three blank flip charts in front of the room. Each flip chart represents one of the three things people care about, but while I facilitate this discussion and capture their responses, there are no titles on the flip charts. After capturing participants' responses on the three charts, I reveal the hidden titles, which are:

  • ROLE
  • ENVIRONMENT
  • DEVELOPMENT

I then explain that most employees care about the same three things--the nature of their Role, their work Environment, and their professional Development (RED). I ask them if they agree with me that all of their responses fit in with one or more of the three RED buckets. I have yet to hear a response that does not belong in one of these three categories. Slowly it begins to dawn upon people that while each employee's preferences are unique, everyone cares about those three overarching things.

As managers, you need to talk regularly with employees about the three buckets, and as you keep the dialogue going, listen for information about their preferences and aspirations. Armed with this information, you can label and link day-to-day work with their expectations. For example, if you know that one of your employees wants to get more experience in dealing with cross-border transactions, you might staff her on a team that is working on an important transaction. However, before giving her that assignment, you must talk to her and tell her (label) that you are doing so because it will give her the experience she needs, and explain (link) that it will help her in her career progression if she gains cross-border expertise.

In my experience with managing people all over the world, I have found that most ineffective managers are considered ineffective not because they don't know how to motivate people, but because they don't know what motivates their people. This is an important distinction, and perhaps the biggest key to motivating others. Most managers think they know what motivates their direct reports, but when you ask them, they actually list things that motivate them. They falsely assume that what motivates them also motivates others. I have quizzed countless managers about their knowledge of their direct reports' motivation, and most fall short.

Granted that one person's preferences and expectations are different from the next, once you know what they are, it is relatively easy to meet the expectations. Most managers are able to meet employees' expectations in the normal course of day-to-day work without making any major concessions. If, however, there is a massive disconnect between an employee's expectations and the role, environment, and development features of the job, then in the long run it is best both for the employee and the organization to separate. Unfortunately, many employees are dissatisfied even when it is possible to match the RED features with their preferences, and this is so because managers don't even try to find out what the employees' preferences are. The key really is in keeping the dialogue going with your people.

You will find that it does not take a lot of time to energize people if you organize your interaction and communication with employees around the simple RED framework. All it takes is a bit of proactive action on the part of managers during the normal course of day-to-day functioning.

From TOO MANY BOSSES, TWO FEW LEADERS by Rajeev Pershawaria. Copyright © 2011 by Rajeev Peshawaria. Excerpted with permission by Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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5 Comments

  • Dr. Joseph Harder

    I agree about the book title, and even the article title.  Before reading the article I tried to figure out what three I thought would be on the list.

    I figured something about being challenged would be there (self-actualizing or what have you).  That would be under Development, and there's also the issue of match between skills and capabilities and job demands, so that might be Role.

    Next I thought being valued, appreciated, and rewarded fairly for their efforts would be on the list.  That might be Environment, but I think it's a pretty deep feeling people strive for in the workplace.

    Finally, I thought Alignment with values or having a sense of Meaning would be pretty high.  I'm not sure that fits into RED, but it does to TEMP. 

    So I guess my model would be DREAM :-).

    Seriously, I enjoyed the article and what it prompted me to think about.

    ~ Joe
     

  • David Lyman

     Wonderful book title. But I must say that I was completely underwhelmed by this excerpt. It reads like one out-of-touch boss talking to many other out-of-touch bosses. The workplace is filled with empty acronyms - RED, TEMP and others. How about some substance, written in plain English? 

  • David Lapin

     So on the mark, refreshing! Managers like to talk about whether their teams are motivated or not. When a team is "unmotivated" it is their responsibility, when people are uninspired it is the fault of an uninspiring leader. 

    David Lapin
    Author: LeadByGreatness.com

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    It's all about alignment. When an employee's work is aligned with their interests, their values, their passions, their goals, they are going to excel. Otherwise, you are left brandishing the carrot and the stick and hoping for the best, probably with mediocre results.

    In my work as a volunteer career coach, I use four buckets instead of the three mentioned above as RED. Mine is TEMP: Tasks, Environment, Meaning, People.

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Time Management Coach to Authentic Leaders
    www.DarkMatterConsulting.com