For managers, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to make team members stick around and keep performing at their peak. Fat salaries and endless perks don’t guarantee retention and performance; they’ll attract a steady stream of applicants, but they won’t make people work hard.
To stay loyal and motivated, employees need to feel valued, challenged, and optimistic about their future in the company. But in the real world of flawed people, imperfect organizations, overstretched budgets, and limited time, words like “engagement,” “fulfillment,” and “empowerment” may sound too conceptual. There are more tangible, short-term goals that directly affect the bottom line, and that’s what matters in the C-suite.
Managers deal with employees directly, and they are positioned to view culture issues at ground level. Yet many organizations, especially those outside the corporate office world, either dismiss or fail to understand the connection between their overall performance, turnover numbers, and their employees’ mental states. Even organizations that understand the connection often don’t prioritize it, and as a result, managers are left to deal with figuring out how to increase morale and retain talent, wondering what they can do beyond pushing their people to meet the next deadline.
DIY Empowerment = Retaining Top Talent
The good news is that there are actions managers can take to create a challenging and engaging environment in the workplace, even if those at the top of their organization aren’t fully invested in it. Creating a loyal, hard-working team can be as easy as changing a few simple habits and putting people first.
Get help with big problems.
Many managers try to protect their people at all costs, thinking that by handling all the issues for the department, they’ll keep everyone happy. But that not only leaves people feeling powerless, it takes opportunities away. Challenging your people by placing problems in front of them creates unity, sparks invention, and implies trust (which equates to feeling valued). Next time you’re facing a tough decision, seek the advice of your staff; you’ll probably find them ready and willing to help.
Be a reference instead of an authority.
You’re seeking advice to solve the big problems for the whole department; that’s great. Don’t make the mistake of overreaching when it comes to solving your employees’ problems, either. Acting as a reference instead of an authority means providing trustworthy, accurate advice rather than using your power to step in and solve issues. By putting employees in charge of finding their own solutions, you foster independence—something that can come in handy when multiple projects come raining down on the team.
Find their wheelhouse and hand over the wheel.
Chances are, every one of your employees has a particular skill they’re best at within their role: a chef, for example, who can work the grill better than anyone else on the line, or a developer who has a knack for figuring out issues in WordPress. If you can identify that skill in every employee, you can use it to your (and their) advantage by making them the go-to in their area of expertise.
That doesn’t mean overloading one person with the same, repetitive task; it means putting them in charge of that arena and making them a reference for the rest of the team. There’s no better compliment than to tell someone you think they’re so good at something that others should be learning from them, and there’s no better way to retain talented people than to give them responsibility.
Back up your people.
If you’re prepared to empower your employees (and you should be), you also need to accept that you have a responsibility to support them and their decisions. That means helping when they ask for assistance, giving credit when they succeed, fighting for them when people question their expertise, and even knowingly allowing them to make mistakes—within reason, of course. It takes more than simply bestowing responsibility on someone to fully empower them; it takes believing they can do a good job without your help and allowing them to do it.
Offer opportunities for career progression (other than promotion).
In traditional corporate settings, employees are taught that solid performance will lead to regular pay raises, with a title advancement every X number of years. But in a modern employment market, the primary thing a traditional approach does is give employees a schedule for when they should leave: for a higher-salary position after receiving a title bump, or for a new opportunity if that title bump doesn’t arrive on time.
If you can offer real career progress—like training that helps them develop a new skill, education reimbursement for obtaining an advanced degree, or internal opportunities for role expansion—you can become the engaging new opportunity your people are seeking, instead of a stepping stone on the way to more money and a fancy nameplate.
Seek understanding at every level.
If you manage managers, how do you measure your employee’s performance? How do you know if the people they’re managing are performing well? When you’re busy handling your own task list, it’s easy to fall into a routine of interacting only with those people who report directly to you and vice-versa. But there’s life beyond that one-degree separation, and your behavior impacts the engagement, performance, and satisfaction of those people. Understanding the roles and needs of people outside your team allows you to better understand the actions your colleagues and employees take and how you can help them.
Let’s say you’re the production manager for a company that manufactures shipping containers, and you’re getting heat for falling behind schedule. If all you know is that the paint shop is causing a bottleneck, all you can do is tell the shop manager to push his people harder. But if you know one of the painters has a kid on the way, and one of your novice welders has painting experience, maybe you could have made an adjustment to take pressure off the paint shop before there was an issue. Beyond preventing a breakdown in production, you’d have made a new parent feel valued knowing his boss’s boss cares about his family.
If you ask about the pressures your direct report managers face every day, you’ll have an easier time helping them achieve their goals—or in other words, your goals—with their own teams. Going further, if you understand what your entire team is doing and communicate regularly at an individual level, you’ll gain perspective and provide information and support that makes it easier for everyone to stay on the same path.