What makes a job more than just a list of duties?
Pay is important. Benefits are important. But pay and benefits are also expected; what makes employees go the extra mile is the feeling of belonging to a team, of pursuing a higher purpose, of working with people who care about them as people, not as employees. When that happens, employees want to come to work. Work is more fun. Work is more rewarding.
Work has meaning when we care.
Want your employees to care about your business? First care about them — and show it by:
1. Providing freedom.
Detailed internal systems are important, but unique people create unique experiences. Smart companies allow their employees to be individuals. Obvious example: Zappos, a company that sets overall guidelines and then allows employees to express their individuality within those guidelines.
Assigning authority is important, but true responsibility comes from feeling not just in charge but encouraged and empowered to do what is right — and to do what is right in the way the individual feels is best.
Give me a task to do and I’ll do it. Tell me it’s mine, and tell me to use my best judgment to get it done, and I’ll embrace it. I’ll care, because you trust me.
And I’ll trust you.
2. Setting logical expectations.
Only one thing is worse than being criticized for doing something you thought you were supposed to do: not knowing what to do.
While it might sound contradictory, freedom and latitude are important but so are basic, understandable expectations. Good companies create and post best practices. Great companies absorb best practices, almost organically, because their employees can easily understand why certain decisions and principles make sense.
When you create a guideline or process, put four times as much effort into explaining why as you do explaining what.
Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Tell me why and I’ll embrace it — and in the process care a lot more about doing it well.
3. Building a true sense of team.
Go to any swim meet or track meet and you’ll see it happen: Kids swim or run faster in relays than they do in individual events. They know other people are counting on them — and they don’t want to let them down.
Everyone loves to feel that sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that turns a group of individuals into a real team. The key is to show how each person’s effort impacts other people, both at the team level and more broadly throughout the company.
Great companies help employees understand how their efforts impact others, especially in a positive way. We all work hard for our boss, but we work harder for the people beside us — especially when we know they count on us.
4. Fostering a unique sense of purpose.
Just like we all want to feel part of a team, we all like to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Feeling a true purpose starts with knowing what to care about and, more importantly, why to care.
Your company already has a purpose. (If it doesn’t, why are you in business?) But a step farther and let your employees create a few purposes of their own, for your customers or the community.
You may find that what they care about becomes what you care about — and in the process makes your company even better.
5. Encouraging genuine input.
Every employee has ideas, and one of the differences between employees who care and employees who do not is whether they are allowed to share their ideas, and whether their ideas are taken seriously. Reject my ideas without consideration and I immediately disengage.
Great companies don’t just put out suggestion boxes. They ask leading, open-ended questions. They don’t say, “Should we do this, or this?” They say, “Do you know how we could make this better?” They probe gently. They help employees feel comfortable proposing new ways to get things done.
And when an idea isn’t feasible, they always take the time to explain why — which often leads to the employee coming up with an even better idea.
Employees who provide input clearly care about the company because they want to make it better. Make sure that input is valued and they will care even more, because now it’s not your company — it’s our company.
6. Seeing the person inside the employee.
We all hope to work with people we admire and respect.
And we all hope to be admired and respected by the people we work with. We want to be more than a title, more than a role. We want to be a person, too.
That’s why a kind word, a quick discussion about family, a brief chat about the triathlon I just finished or the trip I just took or the hobby I just started — those moments are infinitely more important than any meeting or performance evaluations.
I care about you when you care about me — and the best way to show you care is to show, by word and action, that you appreciate me as a person and not just an employee.
7. Treating each employee not just equally but fairly.
Every employee is different. Some need a nudge. Others need regular confidence boosts. Others need an occasional kick in the pants.
Some employees have earned greater freedom. Others have not.
Equal treatment is not always fair treatment. Employees care a lot more when they know a reward or discipline is, under unusual circumstances, based on what is right, not just what is written.
8. Dishing out occasional tough love.
Even the best employees make mistakes. Even the best employees lose motivation.
Even the best employees occasionally need constructive feedback. Sometimes they even need a reality check, to know they are not just letting the company down but are letting themselves down. (A boss once shook his head and said, “You’re better than that.” I was crushed, and vowed to prove he was right.)
In the moment an otherwise great employee may hate a little tough love, but in time will realize you cared enough to want her to achieve her goals and dreams.
9. Dishing out frequent public praise.
Just like every employee makes mistakes, every employee also does something well. (Yes, even your worst employee.)
That means every employee deserves some amount of praise. So do it. Find reasons to recognize average performers. Find ways to recognize relatively poor performers. Sometimes all it takes for an employee to turn a performance corner is a little public recognition. Some will want to experience that feeling again; others will want to live up to the faith you show in them.
Public praise shows you care, and that’s reason enough — but it also gives employees another reason to care.
10. Creating opportunities.
When does a job most become just a job? When there is no possibility of that job leading to greater things, inside or even outside the company. When there’s no hope, it’s just a job.
Every employee wakes up every day with the hope of a better future. Show them you care by helping create a path to that future.
Good companies assume their employees will benefit when their company grows. Great companies understand that building a better future for the company is directly dependent on building a better future for their employees.
First show you really care about your employees; only then will start to really care about your company.
That way everyone wins — and isn’t that the kind of company you really want to build?