Finally: After years of speculation about what motivates people at work, we now have some hard facts - a million of them, to be exact.
That's the number of employees who were surveyed over a 25-year period by the Gallup Poll about what they really want from the companies they work for. Pollsters also interviewed another 80,000 people identified as high-performing managers about what makes them such great leaders. What's it all add up to? A great boss.
Let's be clear here. Perks, parties, and bonuses alone won't do it, nor is it enough to have a strong leader at the top of the company, or even a team of hot-shot executives. What really makes the difference to people is an immediate boss who interacts well with them on a daily basis.
Here are three ways to become that great boss and inspire employees who report to you.
Build on Their Strengths
Too many managers spend too much time ignoring what their people do. No wonder - they're trying to keep five balls in the air themselves. When they do pay attention, it's usually because someone has messed up: After all, nothing demands the boss' consideration when a worker quietly and efficiently does what he's supposed to do. But let the company's best customer complain about the rudeness of an employee, and the boss will be on him in no time.
To motivate your employees, then, try to focus on their particular strengths. Maybe they're strategic thinkers, or exceptionally good with people, or great with technology. Whatever that core talent is, great managers cultivate it over and over again. No wonder their people are so motivated - they're given opportunities to do what they do best, and that means they want to do even better. As the authors put it, "Don't waste your time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in!"
Give Them Direction and Tools
According to the survey, the happiest employees in business cite clear expectations and sufficient tools - both provided by their immediate boss - as two key determinants of their on-the-job happiness. In consulting with many small to mid-size companies, I've found that on average, managers spend too little time or energy showing employees what to do and how best to get it done. They don't mentor, coach, or tutor their people well. The result: Among new hires, upwards of 50 percent leave for just one reason...within the first six months of employment. Those who survive always do better, as the survey reports, if they know what's expected of them.
So when you delegate a piece of work to employees, make sure that they know exactly what it is you want (yes, actually ask them to repeat it to you in their own words), and have all the tools they need to accomplish the task.
Catch Them Doing the Right Thing
Another simple way to keep people motivated is to give them recognition for a job well done. This makes excellent business sense as well. In the survey, employees were asked whether they had received recognition or praise for good work in the previous week. Those who answered "yes" were not only happier, but also the department or division they belonged to was ahead of the curve in productivity, sales, or other performance criteria. When employees know their work is valued, they're more motivated.
The simplest and most efficient way to let your people know you appreciate them is to literally pay attention to what they're doing on a daily basis. When you see something positive, comment on it, then move on.
Over the years, we've been trying to build great companies for people to work in when we really should be building great managers and leaders for people to work for. It's better to work for a great manager in an old-fashioned company than for a terrible manager in a company offering an enlightened, employee-focused culture. Now we know.