There is No Substitute for Knowing Your People!

Today, I help managers with the people side of the business. As I shared earlier on my leadership blog, however, this is where I’ve traveled, but it is not where I began. The truth is that as a young man I was promoted into management for my technical skills—not my people skills. Some of my best leadership lessons came through taking responsibility for mistakes that I made and adapting my approach to get a better result. I share these lessons today in my leadership training, development and consulting work.

One of my most important lessons was about motivation and it came with the following words from one of my team members:

Young man I need to talk to you!

I can still see “Jane’s” face and hear the frustration in her voice as she said these words to me. I knew she wasn’t happy with me about something but her outburst surprised me. As a twenty-something manager, I was struggling with the people skills area but it was less so with Jane. She knew the work, did her job well, required little interaction, and she respected me in my supervisory role.

That day was different though! Even though I was the same age as some of Jane’s children, she had never publicly called me “young man” before. I also never heard her address me in a tone that sounded like I was getting ready to be scolded. I knew something unpleasant was coming for me emotionally so I prepared myself.

What did I do wrong? Well, I made a common management mistake with employee motivation. I rewarded Jane with something that I valued and not with something that she valued. Jane was the most dependable person in my finance unit. I began giving her more responsibility and moving her to a team lead role.  Jane complied and in her usual manner, she performed well. At the time, I was a bit impressed with myself and how I was starting to do better in the people skills area. Only, I wasn’t doing as well as I thought!

I may have been impressed with how I was working with Jane. Jane was unimpressed with me, however. She wanted none of my new plans for her and she was determined to make me hear her. I was shocked when she said the following:

“Listen, I do not want your job or to be your assistant supervisor.  

If I wanted your job, I would have applied for it and they would have given it to me before you ever came here.

I have grandchildren and friends that I want to spend my time with.  I want to spend less time at work not more!”

As Jane unloaded her frustrations on me, she taught me a valuable management lesson that day. As a manager, there’s no substitute for knowing your people.

Jane’s verbal spanking was good for me. I learned from her that I needed to better understand each of the members on my team. I needed to reward them with what was important to them–not what was important to me. She taught me that rewards and motivation are individual. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Today, managers that I coach often ask me how they can determine what their individual team members value. I’ll tell you what I tell them. To know your people, you can start with effective communication: speak with each of your employees regularly, ask good open ended questions, and listen much more. (In fact, managers can improve their effectiveness across-the-board by just listening better.) You can also silently observe your team members more in the workplace to learn what they value. Management by walking around is still a useful tool. To summarize, you can learn much about what motivates your team members when you make time to STOP – LOOK – LISTEN.

To lead your team effectively, there's no substitute for knowing your people. Click To Tweet

3D men in gearsFinally, the psychological work of Dr. David McClelland with his Three Needs Theory provides a useful assessment tool for managers. As you stop, look, and listen to your employees, you can assess your employees’ individual needs for achievement, power, and affiliation.

With this information, you can avoid the common leadership mistake of thinking that what is important to you is also important to your employees.

Motivation is not one-size-fits-all. It's individual! Click To Tweet

There’s no substitute for knowing your people. In fact, employee engagement and motivation are not possible without this information.  Jane taught me this important lesson years ago and I share it today.  Stop, look and listen to your people.  Give them the rewards that they value. With this approach, you’ll create a work environment where your employees will want to give you their best!

If you want to improve workplace motivation, there's no substitute for knowing your people! Click To Tweet

Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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