Finding – and Feeding – What People Want

Do you know what people want at work? If you’re not completely jaded, what do you fundamentally want at work?

I was struck that in the space of a week, I read essentially the same statement from two very different sources. From Talent Management magazine, in an article written by Madeleine Horman Blanchard, a business coach:
“Employees want to be successful at work. It makes people feel good to perform well. But to perform well, employees need to understand what a job well done looks like.”
And from a New York Times interview with Kevin O’Connor, chief executive of
“People want to be good. They want to be successful. They need help believing in themselves. Sometimes they just need help to get going.”
Do you believe in the innate desire of employees to do well at work? I do. But I also think we, as leaders, play a critical role in feeding that desire – helping them to do well by helping them understand what it means to do well in their daily work.

As I’ve written frequently, the best way to do this is with strategic recognition that frequently and in a timely way recognizes an employee every time he or she demonstrates a company value or contributes to a strategic objective in their work. This kind of positive reinforcement clearly lets an employee know what you need from them – what success look like – in their own jobs and daily tasks. This is not at all abstract. Rather, it is concrete. It is personal. It is real.

Wally Bock, in his excellent Three Star Leadership blog, addressed this very well:
That's good, but it's not enough. Most bosses put all their attention on "bad attitude." What about good attitude? Define the observable or measureable things by asking the same question. "What does he or she do that makes me think they have a good attitude?" The answer to that question might be behavior or performance. It's also something that deserves some positive feedback. Recognize it, praise it, thank your team member.
What’s the benefit to you of feeding the people what they want? Garry Ridge, president and CEO of the WD-40 Co. explained it quite well in the Talent Management article referenced above:

“One positive benefit of defining what success looks like is that you can acknowledge and applaud success when it occurs. At WD-40, our engagement number is 93 percent, which I believe is three times the average. It means that people come to work doing things that mean something to them, that they feel is making a difference in the world today, and that is developing them internally as well. … WD-40 enjoyed the best year in the history of the company in spite of the down economy.”
Acknowledge and applaud success while helping your employees understand how they make a difference in the world today. Who doesn’t need that?

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