For the past two years, we’ve all watched the evolutionary workplace processes prompted by the Great Resignation. Take flexible work arrangements, for example. They’re now the norm in many industries that used to claim jobs couldn’t be done well remotely. However, one outcome of the mass employee exodus still needs to be explored and examined: how to help employees feel like their work matters.
Do employees actually care if they’re progressing in some way? According to research, yes. Of those who quit their job in 2021, Pew Research Center found that 63% cited no path to advancement as the reason. In other words, they had no way to realize their goals at their companies—so they left in the hopes of finding new employers that wouldn’t thwart their growth.
If you’re a leader, you must pay attention to figures like those. Even if your team members seem satisfied and aren’t quietly quitting, they might still feel like they’re spinning their wheels. In that case, they might not be your team members for much longer.
Rather than risk preventable attrition, consider applying the following management strategies. Each one is designed to turn your workplace into a space where employees can name, claim, and exceed their personal goals.
1. Acknowledge and accept that everyone has different goals: Tonya Towles, founder and CEO of The PCS Pro Team
You already know your personal goals as an entrepreneur, CEO, or executive. Just don’t assume that all your employees share your goals. That’s a huge mistake, but it’s one that many high performers make. What makes it so potentially disastrous? You’ll be dangling the wrong carrot and won’t realize your workers are uninspired until it’s too late.
Tonya Towles, founder and CEO of The PCS Pro Team, admits that realizing her team members didn’t share her big goals was an eye-opener. However, she’s used this realization to improve how she leads others. “My mom had an expression,” she explains. “'If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ Not everyone’s contentment or success is the same. Remove the bias of what you think is a good goal. Who wouldn’t want to make a million dollars? It surprised me when someone told me they didn’t.”
The best way to discover your employees’ goals is to ask. Of course, as the boss, you might not have time to do this with each person. Ask supervisors to talk with their direct reports about personal goals. The more you know, the more you can help everyone around you grow.
2. Allow team members to make mistakes: Melanie Clark, CMO at Abstrakt Marketing Group
Have you made many missteps in your career? Of course. We all have. That’s how we make discoveries. Those of us who are lucky end up not repeating the same errors twice. And those of us who are really lucky end up working at companies where mistakes aren’t punished.
How can you ensure your team members know it’s OK to stumble? Melanie Clark, CMO at Abstrakt Marketing Group, has an answer: Provide support so employees can feel comfortable stretching themselves. “From stressing the importance of risk-taking to encouraging team members to speak up and take ownership, we’ve been able to develop a workplace culture that rewards ambition and creativity,” says Clark. “When I first took on my position, I knew that it was up to me to set the tone. We had to be willing to take risks and serve as role models for our teams. That meant encouraging them to take ownership of projects. It also meant providing support when things didn’t go as planned.”
The point is that you can’t tell your employees, “We support you going for your goals,” if you don’t let anyone fail. Wins are great, but failures can become the stepping stones to greatness. Everyone’s heard that Thomas Edison’s light bulb invention journey was a slow, arduous process of experimentation. The reason was simple: Edison knew that to move closer to his goal, he had to break a few eggs (or bulbs!).
3. Check in with employees to revisit their goals: Kelly Knight, integrator and president at EOS Worldwide
Are you still focused on accomplishing the same goals you had 10 years ago? Five years ago? Last year? Probably not. So, try not to fall into the trap of thinking that your employees won’t change their goals either. They will—and won’t necessarily tell you if you don’t ask.
This is why Kelly Knight, integrator and president at EOS Worldwide, ensures that all managers have quarterly check-ins with their team members. The meetings allow both parties to ensure they’re on the same page. “Listening to your team members during this conversation is imperative,” Knight notes. “They want to feel heard and valued. Allow the space for team members to be honest about their goals and professional dreams. This builds trust. Once trust is built, there can be increased openness to explore how that individual is working toward their goals.”
It’s OK if you find that employees are reluctant to speak openly about what they want to achieve at their first check-ins. Give them time. When they see that it’s safe to say, “I want to become a manager,” or, “I’d like to learn the skills to transfer to another department,” they’ll begin to open up. And you can help them blossom from there.
4. Show employees how their innovation, creativity, and hard work can pay off: Suzanne Bates, managing director at BTS Boston
Do you give regular raises? Promotions? If so, do they happen occasionally, or is there a structured path employees can take to move up the ladder? Suzanne Bates, managing director at BTS Boston, believes that one of the critical ingredients to motivating workers to set and achieve goals is showing them how they will be rewarded once they hit various milestones.
Bates says that her company’s “clear, globally aligned performance and promotion criteria that are made transparent to everyone” has been a massive reason that team members have been able to succeed personally. “Within the criteria are many development goals that provide people with the chance to demonstrate capability through critical experience and exposure,” Bates explains.
Now is an excellent time to map out this type of “success ladder” at your company. When employees can see where they are, they can see what they must do to make progress. Because you’ll be designing the framework of this ladder, you can be sure that it aligns with your organization’s overarching goals. Everything connects, and everyone wins.
Each of your employees has multiple personal and professional goals. As an employer, you’re in a position to shepherd and guide them toward their North Stars. And your reward will be more satisfied workers who feel good about their contributions.
Image Credit: Supporting employee goals | Getty Images
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