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Get the Most from Your People: Give ’em What They Want

Are you struggling to get the best from the people you manage? The secret is deceptively simple, according to the author of a new book: treat people the way they want to be treated. In his book, What People Want: A Manager’s Guide to Building Trust-based Relationships with Your People (Davies-Black, 2006), talent management expert Terry R. Bacon explains how any manager can gain the respect, trust, and dedication of his or her employees by first determining what his people value most and then finding ways to deliver it to them.

Bacon, a Durango, Colorado-based workplace consultant and coach, conducted a nationwide survey of 500 employees to learn what matters most in their relationship with a manager. Among his findings: 90% of workers rank honesty, fairness, and trust as their top three needs. What don’t employees want? Surprisingly, they don’t want fun, friendship, and “interesting conversations” from their bosses.

So, why should managers even care about what employees want? In today’s talent-driven workplace, it’s not enough to be technically good at what you do, says Bacon. You’ve got to be good with people—a fact driven home by a recent Harvard Business Review report that says most employees would rather work with a “lovable fool” than a “competent jerk.”

Bacon’s Research Revealed Seven Top Employee Needs:

1. Feeling that others trust me
Trust is the most fundamental relationship need. Without trust, there will not be much of a basis for a relationship at all, especially at work, where relationships are for the most part not complicated by long family or personal histories. People also want to feel that they can be honest with others and that others will be honest with them.

2. Feeling challenged; feeling as if I am growing
With rare exceptions, people are not content in trivial, boring, or stagnant jobs. They don’t want to do the same things day after day, month after month, year after year. They need to feel that their work is challenging and that they are developing their skills, capabilities, and possibilities. For most people, a satisfying career consists of a series of increasingly challenging roles and responsibilities.

3. Feeling good about myself
Self-esteem can come from a constellation of qualities and accomplishments: appearance, intelligence, talents, autonomy, integrity, awards, titles, positions, job responsibilities, membership in special groups, acceptance or recognition by important others, and so on. The elements that constitute high self-esteem for each of us vary considerably, depending on our background and life experiences, and those elements evolve as we grow and develop and as our expectations change.

4. Feeling competent and skilled
People want to be expert at something, however modest that something might be, because it’s critical to how they define themselves and how they develop and sustain self-esteem.

5. Being appreciated for who I am and what I do
People want others to recognize their accomplishments and hold them in high regard. Even beyond simple recognition, however, people want to feel pride in who they are and be genuinely accepted for what they contribute. Acceptance and appreciation are essential to feeling part of a community.

6. Feeling excited about what I am doing
People want to be energized and enthused. In virtually every part of our lives we search for excitement for the simple reason that it’s more fun than the alternative. We live for that adrenaline rush, whether it comes from scaling mountains, running rivers, watching a suspenseful movie, dancing with a loving partner, having a lively debate, closing a big deal, or launching a new project.

7. Feeling involved in activities that matter to me
People want to feel that their time on earth is relevant, that they are contributing to something they believe in. Nothing is worse than going through the motions and feeling that you’re wasting your time.

Clearly, writes Bacon, many of these relationship needs are interrelated. For example, feeling that others trust you helps you feel good about yourself, contributes to feeling appreciated for who you are and what you do, and is an essential condition for feeling that you can be honest with others and they will be honest with you.

Avoid the Managerial “Dark Side”—Top Workplace “Don’ts:”

  • Don’t be abrasive
  • Don’t be the loudest person in the room
  • Don’t be overbearing
  • Don’t bully people intellectually
  • Don’t be condescending
  • Don’t minimize others’ contributions
  • Don’t impose yourself on others
  • Don’t attack the person rather than the problem
  • Don’t be manipulative
  • Don’t use flattery as a tool
  • Don’t use threats
  • Don’t be drawn into pointless conflicts
  • Don’t try to reason with someone who is in the throes of anger

And, one “Do":

Always look at the big picture, says Bacon. The context in which events occur is often a mitigating factor. It enables us to see why things happened the way they did. It’s important to make decisions, especially human decisions, by looking at the general rather than the particular.

The information in this article has been adapted from What People Want: A Manager’s Guide to Building Trust-based Relationships with Your People (Davies-Black, 2006).
©Terry R. Bacon. All rights reserved.

About Terry R. Bacon: Terry Bacon is a founding partner and CEO of Lore International Institute (www.lorenet.com), a global HR research and consulting group. He is the author of What People Want: A Manager’s Guide to Building Relationships that Work (Davies-Black, 2006) and more than 80 books, research reports, and white papers.

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.