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

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


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.