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Closing the Satisfaction Gap

Q: I just received yet another mandate from my senior leaders. In addition to producing more with less, I’m now supposed to be a coach to my employees. I’m expected to develop, engage, and retain them. How do I do that when I have so much to do already? You’ve been armed with lists of mission-critical competencies and accompanying developmental remedies. Your stars have been 360-degree-feedbacked to death. You know what to focus on with them now. Or do you?

Q: I just received yet another mandate from my senior leaders. In addition to producing more with less, I’m now supposed to be a coach to my employees. I’m expected to develop, engage, and retain them. How do I do that when I have so much to do already?

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You’ve been armed with lists of mission-critical competencies and accompanying developmental remedies. Your stars have been 360-degree-feedbacked to death. You know what to focus on with them now. Or do you?

While you’re busy trying to close competency gaps (e.g. he should be a better listener, she needs to learn to negotiate), some of your best people are thinking about jumping ship, throwing in the towel, opening a yogurt stand. They know there must be greener grass — out there — somewhere.

What is wrong?

Is It a Competency Gap or a Satisfaction Gap?

When we ask talented employees (in focus groups, surveys, or coaching sessions), “How thrilled are you with your work? What’s great about it? What’s missing?” The answers include, “I love my work except for:

  • the pressure — to produce, conform, innovate
  • the jerk I work with (or report to)
  • the lack of time for family, health, fun
  • the boredom, repetition, lack of opportunity

The answers are as diverse as the people. But there’s a commonality too. In every case there is either something wrong or something missing. If you hope to engage and retain your key people, it’s not enough to search for and close competency gaps. You’ll need to dive in, diagnose and work to close the satisfaction gaps as well.

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Here are five steps for doing just that with your employees.

Define Satisfaction

One employee wants autonomy, and another craves recognition. Others want a promotion or work-life balance. What thrills us at work is as unique to each of us as our fingerprints. Spend time with your employees to clearly define what rings their chimes. Ask them to list their IJPs (Ideal Job Parameters). Those are the components of the ideal job or career. These questions might help them create that list:

  • What would make you jump out of bed in the morning, eager to go to work?
  • If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about work?
  • If you could go back to a job or organization in your past and stay for an extended period of time, which one would it be and why?
  • Which of your job tasks would you like to do more of?

The answers to these questions will help your employees identify those aspects of work that matter most to them. And their answers will also help you match their needs to the opportunities in your workplace. Drill down to the detail and push for a lengthy list of IJPs.

Tom, a star at work, listed these IJPs, among others:

  • Autonomy
  • Work/life balance
  • Learning something new

Weight the IJPs

Now have your employees weight each IJPs on importance (1-5) to them. A weight of five is crucial to job satisfaction and a weight of one suggests that this IJP hardly matters. Note that most of your employees’ IJPs will have weights of 3-5, or they wouldn’t have made the list in the first place.

Here are some of Tom’s IJPs, newly weighted for importance:

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  • Autonomy — weight = 5
  • Work-life balance — weight = 4
  • Learning something new — weight = 5

Rate the Current Work

Once the IJPs are identified and given an importance weighting, ask your employees to rate the current work (1-3) against each of those parameters. To what degree does this work meet the desired parameter? How does it fall short? A rating of three means that this IJP is satisfied to a very high degree in the current work, while a rating of one means the opposite; the current work simply does not deliver on this IJP.

Tom’s rating of the current workplace on three IJPs looks like this:

  • Autonomy (weight = 5) — rating is a 3
  • Work/life balance (weight = 4) — rating is a 1
  • Learning something new (weight = 5) — rating is a 2

Analyze the Gaps

If your talented employee wants a new challenge and has been stuck in a redundant, repetitive job (or one that seems that way to your star) for months, the gap is apparent. It’s not always that obvious, though. You’ll need to engage in real conversation to help your employees get very clear about the gaps.

In coaching Tom, for example, you’ll notice that his desire for autonomy seems to be well-satisfied, while there is room for improvement in the other two IJPs. In addition to discovering satisfaction gaps, many employees are reassured to find their jobs deliver just what they want in many areas.

Tom decided the biggest satisfaction gap for him is, just as it looks, in the work-life balance arena. In fact, he admitted that the lack of balance has had him wondering about his fit with this job. He said he’d love to brainstorm with his boss about ways to close the gap.

Close the Gaps

Once you’ve identified the satisfaction gaps with your employees, you’re ready to take the next and most important step. Team with them to create possible solutions to their dilemmas. Test drive a few. See what works and what doesn’t. Then try another.

Tom and his boss decided on two strategies to try immediately. The first was for Tom to delegate more of his administrative work to his assistant so that he could leave work earlier at night. The second was to declare “Blackberry-free” weekends for one month. They scheduled a meeting in four weeks to assess these gap-closing methods and brainstorm others. Tom felt valued by his boss and supported in his efforts to move the needle on his own job satisfaction.

Coaching to close satisfaction gaps depends on a trusting relationship between you and your employees. If you have that, great! If you don’t, build it — now! Asking the questions in step one can get you off to a great start.

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It sounds so simple, and of course it’s not. Humans are complex, and successful managing is part art and part science. Sometimes your most talented people must move on to be satisfied and successful. Often, though, moving out is not the answer. Talking it out is. Most employees can get exactly what they want, right where they are. You can help them do that.

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