Leadership for Life – What Do Employees Want?

By on April 15, 2013
Leadership for Life - What Do Employees Want

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Any day now, I expect to see another survey about “What Do Employees Want?” Here’s how they go: A group of managers are asked what their employees want. They complete a questionnaire and the results are tallied. At the same time, the actual employees are asked what they want. Questionnaire, tally, results. The results are nearly always the same.

Managers mostly get it wrong. They most often say their employees want more money. The employees mostly say that they want better work/life balance, more community involvement on the part of the company, and more internal involvement, especially in decisions that directly affect them. It’s not that the employees don’t want more money – it’s just that the desire for money is not their top requirement, as most managers assume.

Now, these surveys have been going on a long time – at least one or two a year for the past 20 or so years. Over time, the top choices of employees have changed. But the employee results rarely show a top choice of “We want more money!” You’d think the managers would get it by now. Either the managers aren’t reading the survey results or something else is going on that affects managers across an entire generation.

Perhaps the answer lies in the perception managers have about their roles in organizations. Regardless of the job description, most managers function as problem solvers on a day to day basis. They spend their time putting out fires, resolving conflicts, eliminating barriers to reaching objectives, etc. Since they are held accountable for results, they don’t much trust their employees to come up with solutions to their own problems and issues. Instead of asking employees what they think might be an effective approach to an issue, the managers just wade in and swing away with their own solutions.

The result is that dutiful employees follow orders – to a greater or lesser extent – and achieve results of a sort. Mostly, ideas that might work better rarely see the light of day, since they get effectively squelched by the managers, who believe they know best. In good economic times, the best employees finally get tired of being ignored, and they leave for a more enlightened environment.

So it comes down to this: Great leaders will plan for meetings and discussions by thinking about what they will ask, not what they will say. They will realize that when they want to improve a job process, they will ask the person who actually does the job what changes s/he would make to improve the process/results. This goes against the grain of many leaders, who assume that since they are in fact leaders, they should have all the answers.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, most leaders will get more kudos for developing the problem-solving and decision-making skills of their employees than for solving the problems on their own. My colleague, George Friesen, our Lean Maven, has a great podcast that addresses this issue. You can listen on your computer, download it to your mp3 player, or read the transcript. And it’s free. What a deal!! http://www.stlcc.edu/Podcasts/business-training/beliefs-that-make-lean-succeed.html.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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