Great leaders go out of their way to make sure employees feel valued for the skills they bring to an organization. Research shows that when employees feel valued, an organization has more productivity, increased loyalty, lower turnover, decreased absenteeism, and greater communication. An environment where they don’t? It isn’t a place they want to work for long. Without them, our organization (and us) would be worse off.
Fortunately, making our employees feel valued isn’t difficult. How can we make our employees feel valued, especially if we don’t have the resources of a top executive? Here are a few simple things that go a long way.
Understand what drives them
As leaders, we often select people to work for us because they seem a lot like us. Their skills may be different, but they seem to have our same interests. Just because something motivates us, however, does not mean it motivates them. According to Richard Scherberger, CEO of Executive Leadership Skills, Inc., an executive consulting firm, “When you believe that others see the world as you do, you’ll be frustrated. You have to start from where they are. You have to speak their language.”
It is well worth our time to understand what makes our employees feel their most productive. For example, let’s say Janice is one of my employees. One of Janice’s values is freedom–that’s the thing she prizes above all others. She has been doing her job a long time, and she’s very good at it. How valued will she feel if I tell her exactly what to do, and how to do it? It’s our job as leaders to spend some time getting insight into what makes our employees feel appreciated and valued.
Ideas to try:
- Ask them. The biggest stumbling block to knowing what employees are thinking and feeling is not the generation gap, but the communications gap. What do they like about their job? How do they like interacting with their customers? Where do they see their career going? How do they want to contribute? You will not only understand what motivates them–which helps you lead them better–but they will feel valued because you care.
- Get to know your team members on a personal level. Often, after-work activities of your employees will completely surprise you, shedding new light on their habits at work. By getting to know your team members on a personal level, you’ll be better equipped to set them up for success.
Employees want to be challenged, use their skills to stretch, and learn new ones. Harvard University professor Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, a researcher and writer, surveyed 669 managers around the world. The study asked managers to rank the importance of five employee motivators. The multiyear research project by Harvard found that “of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
Every job comes with repetitive and less-than-glamorous tasks. It’s important to balance these out with assignments that challenge an employee’s skill level. Good leaders push people into trying new things they have the potential for, but may be uncomfortable trying. When employees make mistakes, which they inevitably will, it’s important to frame the situation as a learning process, and get them going again as soon as possible. Employees feel valued when their leader has their back.
Ideas to try:
- Assign a challenging task or new responsibility. Give your employee clear expectations, and ensure they know they can come back to you for clarification. It’s important to put your trust in him or her to see it through, rather than micromanaging it yourself. It’s a great way to say, “I know you are capable of doing this, and I trust you to do a good job.”
- Give them responsibilities with more visibility. Have them train new employees; send them on business trips with a more seasoned employee; have them participate in a conference and report back what they learned to their team; send them to training for a new skill.
If you want to keep your employees growing, tell them you want them to take on more responsibility and then provide them the means to succeed.
Leaders know that innovative and creative ideas are the lifeblood of a business. Every person has good ideas, and they want to be heard. A powerful way of making employees feel valued is by exhibiting trust in their ideas. Consistently encourage brainstorming on new ways of doing things, fresh perspectives, and innovative processes, and take time to listen to them. Even the lowest level employees have good ideas on how to make the workplace more effective or improve customer service. Make it a priority to implement the best ideas, and they will feel appreciated from your effort.
Ideas to try:
- Have a brainstorming meeting, at least monthly. Remember, in brainstorming no ideas are bad ones. Select the top few, and have employees take the responsibility of selecting one or two each to study in depth. Ask them to report how that idea will benefit all stakeholders, which departments would be involved, and what could be pros and cons of implementation. This gives them the opportunity to think strategically and feel they are part of the team.
- Get them involved in the decision-making process. Ask them to sit on a job interview panel, and provide input about a candidates’s suitability for a position, including their fit within a team. Have them participate in the goal-setting process for their team. This will their increase their feeling of ownership and accountability for the results and make them feel valued.
Praise and reward them
When employees believe they are important to an organization and get recognized for it, they feel valued. Everyone loves to be told “thank you,” especially when they have just solved a problem, or finished an important project. That appreciation is even more important when it comes from the leader. As the leader, you feel good when you praise them. It also makes them want to experience that feeling again, so they want to continue the good work.
Praise and rewards aren’t difficult. They can be as simple as a “thank you” to a formal awards ceremony, complete with bonus, and anything in between. The key is to make it sincere. Just as we can, employees can spot manipulation every time. They aren’t fooled if you never say “thank you” and suddenly say it before asking them to work overtime. Look for opportunities to praise and thank someone: for innovative ideas, professionalism, dedication, great attitude, and ability to solve customers’ problems. As leaders, remember a famous quote by Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics: “There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”
Ideas to try:
- When possible, praise an employee in front of others, using their name. Tell them what they did that was impressive, such as doing a great job on a project.
- Send them a personal handwritten note; select them to work on a special project that will give them visibility; or recognize them in a public meeting and give them a round of applause in front of their peers and other leaders.
- Look at rewards from an emotional perspective. Remember, you are dealing with people who have real feelings and needs. Cash is good, but so are other rewards: take them to lunch; throw them a small party in the conference room for their accomplishment; send out a mass email to the company detailing their great work; or give them a more flexible schedule or time off.
People who feel valued and respected for their work are more motivated to work harder and perform better. Making them feel valued will inspire them to be great followers.
“The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.” – Sybil F. Stershic, Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care
Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at www.susancfoster.com.