Showing Employees You Value Them

Who doesn’t like Rosabeth Moss Kanter as a management coach? She’s reasoned and realistic. A few years ago we began to use her “3 Ms of Employee Engagement” to help ourselves and our clients understand what to give to employees to help them feel they are valued and to let them value the work they do.

Here’s Ms. Kanter’s recap of the topic:
“I summarize these keys to strong work motivation in three Ms — mastery, membership, and meaning. Money is a distant fourth. Money can even be an irritant if compensation is not adequate or fair, and compensation runs out of steam quickly as a source of sustained performance. Instead, people happy in their work are often found in mission-driven organizations where people feel they have positive impact on social needs. As my HBS colleague Michael Norton shows in his book Happy Money, giving to others boosts happiness.” [Emphasis ours.]

She briefly defines the Three Ms this way:
Mastery: Help people develop deep skills.
Membership: Create community by honoring individuality.
Meaning: Repeat and reinforce a larger purpose.

Maybe the simple way to describe what we mean by showing employees they are valued is to tell you the best way to make sure they don’t think they are. If you want to make sure employees feel undervalued, never listen to their ideas; tell them exactly how to do every step of the job; keep them isolated from their coworkers by telling them everything has to go through a manager; and don’t talk to them about the overarching mission of the company and how their specific work fits into it.

To engage them year-round (and not just on Employee Appreciation Day), help them believe they are a master at what they do – and that the company is a master in your field. Get excited about their ideas for how to do the work and help them iron out the details. Have them train new employees on how to do the tasks.

To reinforce membership, host team activities that the employees – not management – design. Brand your business to service – service to clients and customers; and service to the community. Let the employees use some time each month to support charitable purposes. Create opportunities for the team as a whole to participate in a community service project. But do remember there actually is an “I” in team: it stands for individual. Don’t subsume all your employees into a giant collective that leaves each person feeling swallowed up and unimportant.

To create a sense of meaning for your employees, talk often and candidly about the mission of your organization and how it is being accomplished. And ask them to talk about what they’ve done to advance the mission. If you sell carpet, talk about how flooring improves the world one business or one household at a time. If you are a nonprofit that raises money specifically to give to others in need, let them talk about how awesome – and sometimes frustrating – that is. If you run a financial institution, remind them the overarching goal is the safety of each customer’s funds and, indeed, the overall economic fitness of your community.

That’s a long-winded way of saying we love Employee Appreciation Day. Of course, at Align it means food and games. But it can’t just be one day each year. You have to create a culture of showing employees they are valued.

Shake Up Your Employee Meetings

Whether it’s an all-company gathering, a department meeting or even a one-to-one conversation with the boss, most of us head in to employee meetings with a combined sense of obligation, skepticism, trepidation and boredom; and an overall belief this will be yet another waste of good work time. The problem is not the attendees’ attitudes. The problem is that meeting organizers and presenters – and that’s typically company leadership – don’t take time to plan meaningful gatherings.

Leaders have to shake it up. They’ve got to match their presentations with what we’ve come to expect in the world – a fast pace, multi-media and a chance to interact. If you’re a leader that has no idea how to do that – and in fact, even if you do know how to do that – one of the ways to refresh and invigorate meetings is to include non-management staff members in planning and presenting. Ask them what they’d like to know more about and ask them how they would present it so that it’s interesting, meaningful and understandable. It’s even a good idea to let those folks make some of the presentations. We don’t always have to hear the CFO give the financial highlights. Lots of your team members can read financial statements. Have one of them talk with the CFO to glean what’s going on and then let the employee present it in the manner she wants to and highlighting what she thinks her peers will find important. If she wants to create a rap and “spit the word,” we challenge you to let her. In fact, Leaders, we challenge you to join her!

And let’s go ahead and slay another sacred cow. Maybe there is no financial report or state of the organization report. Those things can be written and read; or discussed by a direct supervisor with his staff members (which would like be a more interactive exchange anyway). At a large gathering, instead of droning on about the company’s quarterly results, or the latest capital campaign, use the time for building a collaborative team. Do team activities – fun and silly; or meaningful learning experiences – it doesn’t matter. Show them – let them experience – working together as a group to complete a task that isn’t related to the work they do at their desks. Shake up the teams, by the way – don’t make it “department wars,” but get folks from different departments working together on a team. (“Department wars” are okay for endeavors like fundraising when they’re competing to see who can raise the most money. For the most part, however, we strive to break down any walls between departments.)

If you don’t want to be silly or conduct non-work related activities (and we don’t know why you wouldn’t), then have the entire office work on rearticulating your vision, mission, values and corporate culture… but let them have a creative, innovative, fun time doing it. Have them make a three-dimensional poster that represents a value; or have them write a short story or scene to act out about the mission.

Bottom line: we all engage better if we feel that the meeting organizers wants us to be part of the meeting. Nobody wants to be lectured, regardless of age, rank, gender or any other criterion of distinction. All team members have brains; and, when encouraged, most are willing to participate.