Taking the “Mystery” Out of What Employees Really Want




What are “Simple Truths”? They are this writer’s attempt to capture the essence of what is most important based upon some 39 years of evidence across more than 30 countries and 150 organisations. You may violently disagree with what I have written or you may applaud it.  In either case, my fondest hope is that you will NOT be indifferent about what I write AND that it will, in fact, stimulate those brain cells of yours in some new, possibly erotic or exotic way.


Thoughts on “what employees really want”


It was probably 20+ years ago when I was in a room on the North side of Chicago with an insurance company called Allstate – very well known in the U.S. I was engaged in a number of “change” activities and one day found myself in a room filled with senior managers – including a number from Human Resources. During our in-depth discussions regarding staff, I made the statement that for me it was simple – and applied as well to me as to staff.  What is it employees really, really want? Two things most of all:


  • Be engaged in meaningful work – doing something that they firmly believe is “making a difference” for something, for someone (the customer maybe?), for the organisation; and


  • Keeping the learning curve going up – continually learning, growing, understanding more – the bigger picture, becoming more marketable, gaining education and experience (lateral and well as upward movement?) about how things really work in the business/organisation and its operating environment


So there I was watching a You Tube presentation based on work by Bob Proctor just a week ago that simply reinforced what I had said more than 20 years before.  And no, the story has not changed despite a lot of other things changing.  We are talking about “foundations” here – the cake so to speak and not the frosting on the cake - a future “Simple Truths” Blog will get into more “frosting” issues.



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You can explore the two items above in a little more detail to be sure. When you do, there is a realisation that the following MUST also occur to even come close to declaring “success”.  What are they? They would all I suppose fit under the banner of “support” as follows:


  • Management engaging, listening and learning from employees regularly – then taking action to eliminate barriers that keep employees from contributing to the fullest extent possible or reaching their full potential! In a sense this ties to William Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership – a concept which senior managers most often ignore, despise or see as a “fairy tale”. What does Servant Leadership say?  In a “nut shell”, it says that senior management exists for one thing and one thing only, namely, to ensure the success of their employees and if they aren’t doing that they should be fired! Part of the story also is making sure that senior management is a good mentor and role model – making sure that guidance is given, that exemplary behaviours exhibited which clearly show all employees what the right things are to be done for the business, for the customer – NOT just a focus on doing things right and then beating people up for making mistakes!


  • Show appreciation – the proverbial “pat on the back” – sure, formal recognition will also be a plus if done right – if developed by employees, not management and the focus is predominantly on “non-monetary” recognition.


  • Trust employees – empower them.  Empowerment WILL NOT WORK in an environment where there is no trust between management and employees, full stop. If done right, empowerment will act as a “turbo thruster” for your organisation – letting you literally “break the sound barrier”.


  • Understanding what motivates people – by asking them (engaging them?) and then doing it! You want people to look forward to coming in each morning – “chomping at the bit” to be with their co-workers and make a meaningful contribution. You see, doing what you like to do and doing it with people you like doing it with is one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs. This goes hand-in-hand with being ‘all one team”  – stomp out tribalism, fiefdoms, splinter groups – get everyone moving forward together and being supportive of one another because they know that by doing so their success and the organisation’s success will be better ensured.


  • Ensure the right performance feedback – timely and oriented toward employee development.  Always allow the employee to rate themselves – assuming you have made their key job elements clear and you have not given any mixed signals – saying one thing, but grading them on something else entirely.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of organisations I have gone into where I have asked the following question and had employees NOT be able to answer me: “If your boss came along one day and patted you on the back and said you had done a great job, would you know what you had done and would you be able to do it again?” Also make sure that the performance evaluation links to the organisational values and the behaviours related to them.  For example, if “teamwork” is a value in your organisation, what behaviours would you have seen employees (and management) engage in regularly to be able to call them role models?


OK, that’s me done and dusted for this time.  I hope you will let me know your thoughts – good, bad, but hopefully NOT indifferent.  Is there more? Sure, but let’s get the basics right first shall we? You should know by now that THERE ARE NO SECRETS. The secrets of effective employee management and development have been known for a “donkey’s age” to anyone who could be bothered to learn.  The issue ISN”T NOT KNOWING, IT’S NOT DOING! Get your act together now and as the nice people at Nike are fond of saying, “just do it!”


If you want to learn more, join my new online program:  Becoming a Strategic Leader in 6 weeks by Cultivating Your Creative Thinking


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