Every organization has those few employees that people call “reliable”, “detail-oriented”, and even “workaholics”. These individuals place few demands on others, require minimal supervision to accomplish tasks on time, and consistently exhibit high-levels of performance. They are dream employees. Leaders within the organization know who these individuals are and seek them out because they can count on them to deliver. Such individuals work hard and produce quality work with little expectation for public acknowledgement or accolades because they feel valued. Most individuals who say they love their job do not attribute that feeling to their salary, benefits, or vacation time, but to the level of value they feel as a part of the organization.
One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is turning appreciation into expectation by taking an organization’s talented individuals for granted. It is rare that leaders make this jump intentionally. Generally, daily operations, short time frames, and strategic challenges require leaders to adjust their focus from people to production. This is when talented individuals shine and positively impact deadlines, but at the same time, it is easy to take advantage of their consistent performance. In the 21st century workforce, people are less committed to an organization than they are to making an impact. People no longer solely seek out an organization that offers a good salary and benefits, they seek a place where sacrifices made between leaders and employees are mutual. Employees seek an environment focused on serving people and not just measuring profits.
While day-to-day operations can get in the way, leaders must foster habits that identify and protect their greatest assets: people. An organization’s talent will not always voice their concerns or share their disappointment in being taken for granted. It is up to the leaders to develop these three habits that will prevent them from losing focus on their most valuable assets.
- The Expectation: That’s good. Do more. Leaders get excited when they identify individuals who are self-motivated and produce quality work. It is a little like finding a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk. Our reaction is one of combined appreciation and luck at our good fortune. We go out of our way to tell others about how we are now five dollars closer to retirement and easy street. Then, the appreciation begins to fade. As we continue to wander the streets, we are constantly looking for another five dollars to appear. We expect it to happen because we were so appreciative the first time. However, that’s not how appreciation works. Appreciation is new every day. People need to know that their contributions are valued. Leaders need to make a habit of expressing genuine appreciation to the talent they serve.
- The Communication: I said it once. Nothing has changed. Organizations invest a considerable amount of time during the hiring process to make sure there is a good fit, or at least they should. It is important to invest the time necessary to hire individuals who will positively impact the organizational culture. Talented individuals generally need little direction. They can be assigned tasks and leaders can count on them to get the job done well. Sometimes this leads to a lack of communication. Leaders spend more time on problem areas knowing that they have hardworking individuals to get the other tasks accomplished. Under this approach, talented employees tend to feel disconnected from the organization’s vision and soon lose the drive to produce quality work that is perceived as no longer valued. Communication is vital. Leaders need to assure everyone feels their contributions are important to the organization’s mission. Leaders need to make a habit of consistently communicating with the talent they serve.
- The Realization: Where’s the loyalty? A two-way street. Leaders spend a lot of time in shock when they look up and wonder why all their talent keeps leaving. Some even take it personally by making a mental list of all the benefits that were offered and ending with the mistaken conclusion that the talent was just not grateful. The truth is that talented employees often stay with an organization long after their gut told them to leave because of guilt. They choose to continue producing high quality work because they believe there will come a time when the leaders will acknowledge the effort. Unfortunately, more often than not, this belief is misplaced. The talent begins to look for another organization where their contributions can again make an impact and their work is valued. Loyalty is earned. Leaders cannot expect loyalty in exchange for a paycheck. Leaders need to make a habit of making sacrifices for the talent they serve.
Appreciation, communication, and loyalty are three habits that leaders need to demonstrate towards the talent they serve everyday. We are all flawed human beings prone to selfishness, pride, and arrogance. However, as leaders we make a choice to acknowledge all of these flaws and make a conscious effort to put others ahead of ourselves. That is what makes a leader, a leader. A choice. A choice to show appreciation. A choice to communicate. And a choice to be loyal. Leaders have the opportunity to create an environment that nurtures talent, supports greatness, and grows future leaders.
“Leadership is the choice to serve others with or without any formal rank.” ~ Simon Sinek
How do you value people?