Caring for Your Employees Unlocks Great Productivity
We find inspiration in unexpected places. I rediscovered a great quote about why “caring” is a fundamental need for building good working relationships in an odd place: A discussion about how political leaders need to prepare themselves for handling the public when a disaster hits. (See the article here.)
“They need to know you care, before they care what you know.”
Put another way:
“Are you really here to help us, or are you just going through the motions and don’t really care what happens to us?”
It reminds me that this does not just apply to a public official in front of a microphone during a disaster. It is what each of us needs to do every day when building productive professional relationships with your fellow employees, be they bosses, peers or subordinates.
All people need to know we value them and their contributions before they can maximize their productivity. Few of us run entirely on internal measures of satisfaction. We need regular feedback and confirmation that what we do each day is contributing to shared goals, and is appreciated.
Human Development Consultants (including us) tell clients constantly: Recognition is not expensive. A heartfelt “thank you” that is truly meant and energetically delivered is all many people need to keep their own energy and contribution level up.
To use an analogy that isn’t perfect, but makes the point: Parents care deeply about their children’s well-being, and work hard to raise good citizens able to navigate society successfully as adults. How do they show this deep caring? Good parents set standards and demand performance, while simultaneously providing advice and encouragement. Parents also provide a safe place to make mistakes and learn tough lessons without fear that failure carries dire consequences. Unconstructive behavior has bad consequences, but constructive effort that fails does not. Innovation is prized and encouraged, too.
So it is with the workplace. The adults you pay to work for you are people, and they all have a need to be valued and encouraged. They also need standards that guide their behavior and define their success. It is your job as a leader to provide that environment in a constructive, collaborative way. That starts with truly caring about the development and success of each member of your team (and anyone else with whom you work!)
- Focus on uncovering the passions of your employees.
- Spend time asking what system of rewards strikes them as reasonable.
- Validate to them that these passions and recognition needs are reasonable.
- If what you uncover is tangential to the needs of the team, explore how to redirect the employee’s energy more productively.
- Let the employee lead that discussion, with your active participation to keep it headed in the right direction.
- Make sure ‘the right direction’ really is the direction that builds organizational productivity. Work with your own bosses on that.
- Make this the foundational part of your job, not just a check-off box on your to-do list. If you say you care, you must really care. (If you don’t care, get a job where you can care!)
Bosses in the past have said to subordinates (I have heard this myself): Your job is to make me look good. That sounds self-centered, but has a foundation of truth. If we work to make each other highly productive, we will all look good to senior executives. That leads to organizational rewards, whatever those may be!