Give Employees What They Want. And No…It’s Not (just) Money

Give Employees What They Want - And No, It's Not (just) MoneyEvery day I hear business owners lament the fact that their employees “just don’t get it”. Whether it’s statements like:

“They don’t use common sense.”

“I have to tell them over and over again.”

“Why can’t they think for themselves?”

“I’ve told them a million times…”

To which I nod, with a weary smile on my face and ask: “Why do you think that is?”

Discovering the nut of the problem is like peeling the layers of an onion. Get through one layer and there’s more to unpeel…and sometimes it makes you want to cry.

In most cases, however, the nut of the problem is the same, or similar: employees do not feel valued, respected and honoured for the work they do. And in many cases, it’s because the owner/manager/leader is like a helicopter parent who won’t let his/her employees flop and fly, succeed and fail, experiment and initiate.

They are control freaks, micro-managing every small detail.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the ‘here’s-the-policy-and-procedure-manual-have-a-nice-day’ approach. Orientation entails showing the employee where the washroom is, then throwing them to the wolves with the cold comfort of the policy manual clutched to their chest.

There’s really nothing new about “motivating” employees. In fact, as I often say, you can’t motivate someone else. You can inspire, support, inform, nurture and catalyze them to action, but motivation is an inside-out job and we, as employers, need to fan the flame that already exists within each person.

Which also underscores the need to hire for the “right stuff”…we can teach all the rest.

Jim Collins said: “It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”

And we need only to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from the 1950’s to realize that, in fact, a person’s need to realize their own potential remains paramount. In fact, as others have built upon this hierarchy, another level has been added: “Transcendence needs – helping others achieve self-actualization“.

And good leaders – those who inspire others to greatness – have transcendence needs.

So what do employees want?

Here’s my own A to Z list. Check it out and see if you provide the following in your business to your employees:

Appreciation that’s individualized – what looks like appreciation to one might not to another

Belief in them, that they can do a good job

Challenge – who wants to be bored?

Direction – point them in the right direction, but let them get there on their own. Provide signposts and guidelines, not micromanagement.

Enjoyment, which goes along with…

Fun – yes fun. When was the last time you saw genuine smiles and laughter in your place of business?

Gratitude – for the person, not just their acts

Healthy work environment, both physically and emotionally

Independence – tell people what you need done (results), not how to do it (unless of course a specific process is integral and essential to the end result, as in a factory)

Justice – moral, ethical treatment of all

Knowledge – empower people with knowledge but coach them to wisdom

Learning – provide opportunity for people to learn each and every day, not just that once-a-year-conference or event

Mentoring – Be a role model and mentor by example, in words and deed

Not just a number – realize that each person is unique: treat them as such

Opportunity – provide opportunities…many of them, for people to learn and grow and advance. Let them make mistakes, but make a particular mistake only ONCE. Repeated mistakes means that Learning has not occurred.

Paycheck – ’nuff said

Quality – in product and service

RESPECT – in my mind,  the ultimate requirement of leadership. Without respect, for oneself and for others, little can be beneficially accomplished for the long haul.

Support – provide it where it’s needed, stay out of it when support becomes hovering, micromanaging or solving someone’s problem for them. Let them get dirty and messy, have ups and downs to learn on their own. But be there to catch them if they stumble hard.

Time – time with you to engage in a meaningful way; time to accomplish tasks; time to learn; time to take a break

Understanding – empathy and understanding – seeing the situation through the employee’s eyes, not just your own

VISION – without a clear picture of what you’re expecting and desiring them to achieve for the benefit of the company, there cannot be buy-in

Work that inspires that is Work worth doing – If someone doesn’t understand “why” they’re doing something…if they can’t see how it fits with the big picture vision of the company, there is little motivation to excel

Xtras – those little extra perks, niceties, thoughtful gestures that you sprinkle like spices – unexpectedly – to add to someone’s life

Your time, support, attention and love…yes love. When we love the people we work with, and show genuine care, interest and belief in them, the rewards are…

Zowie! Create a culture that is whiz-pop-zing-zang-zowie to work within, and employee retention, performance and productivity will soar.

What can you add to the list?

  • Alli Polin

    Kaarina – Love this list! Each one I read I though ooohhhhh that one’s my favorite. Al the way to Z for Zowie! (which is my favorite) because when you have that, you have all of the others too.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      Thanks so much @twitter-35823189:disqus : Zowie! Cheers! Kaarina

  • MrTonyDowling

    This is truly excellent! It really taps into my ambitions for the people I am responsible for and the way I want the culture of my organisation to work :)
    I know you are a Dan Pink fan, have you read Drive? The Surprising Science of Motivation? Its a fantastic treatise along exactly there sort of lines
    I think my favourite idea, and one that will be the most challenging to bring into sales organisations especially is the idea of getting the money off the table…
    Pay a fair wage / salary for a fair days work, and see motivation soar!
    Anyone every tried it?

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      Thanks @MrTonyDowling:disqus :) I have indeed read Drive, as well as Pink’s most recent book, and find that, in business as in athletics, personal growth, achievement and sense of success are the driving elements of excellence. External rewards can work…for a while. But intrinsic motivation and satisfaction are what work for the long haul. Cheers! Kaarina

      • MrTonyDowling

        Just finished to sell is human, on your recommendation, enjoyed it thoroughly :)

        • Kaarina Dillabough

          Glad you enjoyed it @MrTonyDowling:disqus :)

    • Michelle Quillin

      Tony, you just reminded me of the Dan Pink TEDTalk I watched a couple of years ago. Have you seen it? (Thanks for the reminder!)

      Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation

      • MrTonyDowling

        Ive seen him talk about part of the ‘Drive’ book at a Ted conference, will check that out, thanks Michelle

  • Brian Smith

    Enjoyed reading your article – well written – well done. I loved your use of the alphabet. I delivered a speech recently about staff disengagement – trends and remedies which echoed the points you’ve raised. Money is rarely a motivator. Recognition and inclusion is. – Cheers

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      Hello @facebook-100002401011661:disqus : so nice to meet you here :) Please drop by often – the welcome mat is always out. And please provide a link to that speech, if there is one: would love to read/see it. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Ralph Dopping

    Great posy Kaarina.

    I feel like I have missed a few of your posts recently. Hmmmm…..

    It must have been fun writing the A-Z list. It really makes you think this though, huh? I can’t really pick one thing from your list but if I had to say what is most important to me as a team leader then I would say opportunity. Nothing beats the opportunity to grow and try new things to build the feeling of value.

    Coincidentally, I have been preparing a presentation on collaborative project delivery for a course I am participating in. The basis of the content is so well aligned to your thinking here. I would love your opinion on the material if you are interested.

    Have a great day!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      I’d be happy to provide an opinion @twitter-229922134:disqus : feel free to send it along. And I agree…if only we gave people the opportunity to fly or flop, succeed or fail and learn and grow from those experiences, we’d enhance both initiative-taking and innovation…and fun and sense of purpose. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Bill Dorman

    I think I’m honoured for the work I do….sales is fickle, just like social. Not only do you get beat up out in the field, sometimes if the production is not there you aren’t exactly feeling the love. It takes a good manager to get someone through the down times, but make sure they still have the ‘right’ behaviors to be successful.

    Quite the list, and I certainly concur.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      Sales is fickle, that’s for sure. I deal with many retail business owners who struggle with employee issues, but sometimes fail to realize what their employees really want and need. On the other side of the coin are the employers who encourage, promote and support their employees’ growth, and the latter show no interest or initiative. And commission sales? My hat’s off to you @twitter-34985693:disqus , because it takes a special talent to excel in a commission sales position for the long haul. My son is actually considering a sales position, weighing the pros and cons, the company “culture” and the fit.

      You’re also obviously highly intrinsically motivated, so I don’t see you needing much external reinforcement…although I’m sure all of us like to be appreciated, and more importantly respected. Hats off to you. And BTW…how’s your son enjoying the job? Cheers! Snowshoes

      • Bill Dorman

        He still has the drinking from a fire hose feeling, but he’s liking it so far. It’s fun having him around the office…I had to pick up my game because of it…:).

        • Kaarina Dillabough


  • 02809 Photography

    I’ve worked in that environment and have seen employees go from motivated workers to so stressed they rub the arms off their chairs, have health problems and not know where to turn in fear of the employer. I’ve worked with a president of a company that mirco managed every aspect of their employees job but yet I was the one who would write birthday emails to his kids before I trained him on the usage of email, a helpless leader whose only knowledge to lead was to dictate and waste several hours a day of his own productivity to sit along side the employees because they would never do it the way he would. Thanks for sharing, this brought memories of why I do what I do.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      I think the only silver lining to work with an employer like that is that we know what we would NOT do as employers ourselves. It puzzles me that, even today, tyrannical approaches, carrots and sticks and ill treatment of employees/co-workers exists. Surely as a society we’ve moved beyond that. But sadly…no:( Keep doing what you do @twitter-258865957:disqus : we need to be the ones to demonstrate, in word and deed, true leadership. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Barbara Klein

    Excellent, Kaarina!

    When I started reading the employers’ lamenting comments about their employees one word popped up RESPECT.

    Fortunately you provide the recipe from A – Z and there is hope yet! And space to breathe!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      As I mentioned to Ed below, it constantly amazes me that many employers continue to live in a carrots and sticks, micro-managing, mistrustful way toward their biggest asset…their employees. Respect is paramount, in all relationships, in business and in life. And yes @BarbaraKlein:disqus , space to breathe :) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Stan Faryna

    Zowie! That’s a good list. It is the rare employer or manager that can check off most of the items on that list. And, unfortunately, the inability to check off most of the items contributes to confusion about the value and contribution of an individual employee.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      If only more employers/managers realized that people simply want to be valued and appreciated, it would result in results @faryna:disqus . Thanks for stopping by and commenting: I appreciate it:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Adam

    Quite the impressive alphabetical list Kaarina! A lot of great tips and concepts, but I think what is important for managers is to find the few concepts that really move the needle for engagement and productivity in their organizations. In application, we need to choose from your list where to focus our energies.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      Indeed @196e63000c50f5697208930d08b9c297:disqus .To me, leadership is a teeter-totter of proactivity and reactivity: knowing what concepts will move that needle, and responding quickly, effectively and wisely to “when things go wrong”…as they will. Focus is a perfect word to describe where our energies and actions are best applied. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Pioneer Outfitters

    WOW!! THIS is awesome, Kaarina!

    I knew I would make it over here… I am sorry I was late to the party!

    This really is worth reading over and over… Litstly-thingy it is! Thank you!!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

      Hi @google-77483dcbec87e3da71e33bf7cdd89eee:disqus , and you know the “rule” here: everyone’s welcome whenever they can show up, the welcome mat’s always out, so you’re never late to the party here. Going to pop you a quick email today: hope all’s well. Cheers! Kaarina