Years ago I was speaking to a group of business leaders, assuredly underscoring the importance of demonstrating to employees that you care about them, when a gentleman in the audience put up his hand.
He asked, “What if I don’t care?”
I asked if he was serious—asking on his own behalf—or playing devil’s advocate.
He claimed he was, indeed, asking on his own behalf, then added something about “I don’t agree that we need to be coddling our employees.”
His question and assertions tugged at two of my beliefs.
- “Coddling” is a mindset we need to reframe (more about that later).
- If you fundamentally do not care about employees, then you do not deserve to be in a leadership role.
It is no mystery to most of us that the leadership population is filled with human beings who are there because they were the highest performing individual contributors at the time a leadership opportunity became available. And yet the skills needed to crank out work and deliver results has almost no relationship to generating results through others.
The most effective way to get work done through employees is to both maximize accountability for results and create an environment of care and inspiration.
Maximizing accountability involves a number of things:
- Establish clear expectations for performance and conduct
- Set goals collaboratively with your employees
- Pay attention to what your people are doing
- Acknowledge the good things your people are doing
- Have conversations with your employees when things are not on track
Caring about your people involves holding them to high standards. Perhaps surprisingly, all of these things, while driving accountability for outcomes and results, also underscore your care for employees. People want to be a part of a winning team.
Why so many leaders struggle to “motivate” their employees
I am comfortable going on record to say that most underdeveloped leaders do not sufficiently execute the five things I’ve just mentioned. Instead they sit back and simply wonder why their employees are not approaching work the way they always have—independently, assertively, and in an over-achieving manner.
Most leaders are among the top 10% of performers. Since only 10% of employees can comprise that most high-performing level, 90% are destined to disappoint. Rather than sit back and wish that everyone could be like them, leaders need to take the time and make the commitment to execute on these five accountability drivers. This is the first step in demonstrating to your employees that you care.
But what about the specific care and inspiration part of the equation?
It’s common for leaders to label this as the motivation side of the relationship. Often, when we ask leaders what they struggle with in their role, they share, “I don’t know how to motivate people.”
This opens a door to the debate between self-motivation and influenced motivation. Instead of getting tangled up in this conversation, let’s shift gears and talk about the care of employees.
How to show your employees that you care
How can you demonstrate to your employees that you care about them? After all, when people feel cared about, they are happier, more engaged, more productive and more loyal.
Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, “I don’t care how much you know. I want to know how much you care.” I once had a conversation with a dissatisfied employee in which she said, “I want to go to work at a place each day where I know one person even cares about me.” A fundamental need.
Below, I’ll share five ways you can demonstrate to your employees that you care about them. Some may feel trite to you. That’s okay. Keep in mind, however, that it doesn’t make the concept wrong. Let’s just say it doesn’t resonate with you. We know from experience, however, that each one of these ideas does, in fact, have a positive effect on employee productivity, inspiration and retention.
- Ask them what matters to them? As you’re hiring new team members, when you come in to lead a team as their new leader and intermittently, ask your people what is important to them.
What do they want you to know about their workplace preferences?
How do they like to work?
What do they want from a leader?
What kind of work do they enjoy or not enjoy?
Show them that you care about what matters to them….and, most importantly, that you’ll honor it when and where you can.
- Learn some things about who they are as a person. I get it that some leaders don’t have much interest in the personal side of things. I’ve never felt that leaders need to go deep on this topic, though I do believe we all need to show interest.
You can pay attention to the degree to which each employee likes to share about their personal lives, and then follow their lead. Your conversations need to be more influenced by them than by you.
If you don’t care a lick about the personal lives of your people….well, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the degree to which a personal connection is important to them.
At Living As A Leader, we have a Monday Morning Stand-Up Meeting every week. It’s a lightning round sharing of what we did over the weekend, along with the priorities for the coming work week. In a steady-progress-over-time fashion, we’ve learned wonderful things about our team members.
- Ask them for their opinions, concerns, preferences and ideas. Get in the habit of asking questions like,
“What do you think?”
“What would you do if I weren’t here?”
“If you could choose, what would you do?”
“Can I run something past you and get your thoughts?”
“Would you prefer Option A or Option B?”
“How would you do it?”
Questions like this show your employees not only that you care about them but also that you value them. Conversations involving questions go a long way in fostering productivity, fulfillment and loyalty.
- Show regard for their opinions, concerns, preferences and ideas. I know of too many leaders who will not ask the types of questions I posed above. I hear questions like, “Well, what if I don’t agree?” or “What if I don’t like their answer?” These are fair questions and raise up a growth opportunity for many leaders.
What if everything didn’t have to be your way?
What about different approaches that arrive at similar outcomes?
What would happen if you gave up some of the control for greater outcomes from your employees?
I’ve always loved the phrase, “An idea imposed is an idea opposed.” Rather than impose your ideas, can you honor their’s?”
- Have their back. Whose side are you on? I hope it’s their side.
I get it that some employees are moderate to low performers. Regardless of high, medium or low performing, all of your employees deserve to start their conversation with you with the opportunity to share their perspective.
What are they up against?
What is getting in their way of progress?
What is making things difficult?
What you’re ultimately looking for is the outcome and for the agreement moving forward. These conversations should always include a phrase like, “Thank you for sharing that with me. It’s helpful to know.” Then you can shift gears to the accountability piece.
Patience, curiosity and understanding are not meant to trump accountability. These things are simply part of the equation. “I understand….now, let’s shift gears and talk about what you can do to advance this and prevent it from happening again.” Oh, and….”Where do you need my help?” This is asked at the end of the conversation.
There are many more ways that you can show your employees that you care about them, and this is a good start. Though, I should add a simple, no brainer one to our list….
Say good morning to your people. Yes, you heard it. Factor this into your morning.
Make time to say hello.
If you’re struggling with any of this care stuff, put yourself in the shoes of your employees and ask yourself if you’d like your boss to demonstrate these five things for you.