It might sounds crazy to talk about worker loyalty at a time when big companies routinely show longtime employees the door. But loyalty isn’t dead. Instead, it has shifted, with few people nowadays feeling loyal to the company overall or even the people running the business. “In the past, loyalty was vertical,” says Daniel Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. “The organization was on top and it provided security down to the individual.”
So, to use Pink’s language, today’s workers tend to feel horizontal loyalty — a commitment to colleagues, former colleagues and particular projects. In short, put people on a team, and loyalties develop.
As a manager, you need to understand this if you’re going to motivate people effectively. No one tactic is going to forge the bonds of loyalty, of course, but there are lots of small things you can (and should) do to build stronger and more productive relationships with your employees.
.1. Frequently take the pulse of your team.
We know this sounds pedestrian, but when was the last time you asked your team members how they feel about their jobs? It’s a small thing, but do it.
Try a simple, anonymous questionnaire:
Do you understand where the company is going and what you need to do every morning?
Do you see how you fit in?
Do you care enough to take action?
How loyal are you to your projects and your team?
Mary Ann Masarech, director of research and marketing at management consulting firm BlessingWhite suggests combining these questions with others directed at personal satisfaction:
What are the aspects of your work that you like most?
What would you like to learn?
What are your aspirations?
Which of your talents gives you the greatest satisfaction?
2. Create great jobs.
What’s a great job? Individual expectations naturally vary, but the 600 senior executives and HR professionals surveyed for The Work Foundation’s 2009 “Good Jobs” report agreed on several common factors for job satisfaction:
A balance between how much effort workers put it and the rewards they receive
A certain level of autonomy and control for employees to work unsupervised.
The takeaway? Your team members want meaningful work that makes use of their talents and interests, and that offers good compensation — not just financial rewards, but recognition, authority, or leadership.
So know your employees’ personal goals and make sure that they have the tools to achieve them. Set aside some time in annual reviews to collaborate on goal-setting. What would they like to do more of? What would make their jobs more interesting? “The past year has meant that [managers] cannot offer people promotions or new titles, so they just avoid asking about goals or aspirations,” says Tom Barry, managing director of BlessingWhite’s Europe office.
Every job has elements that are repetitive, but these can be leavened with personal projects that give employees freedom to indulge an interest or acquire another skill that can prove helpful to the business. Confectionary company Cadbury recently beefed up a leadership program that gets high-potential senior managers involved in projects with charities. “Those who’ve done the course have a hugely increased connection to the company,” says James Longwell, Cadbury’s global learning and development director. An added bonus: The program gives junior staff something to which they can aspire.
3. Create great careers.
Work with your direct reports to develop an extended career plan for them — even if that plan means the individual must leave the business to achieve a certain professional goal. The reality is that some of your key people will leave for a variety of reasons, no matter how much they seem to like their jobs. Why not map a path that would welcome them back into more senior roles after gaining other experience? So-called ‘boomerang’ employees can be great external advocates for your company. McKinsey and Microsoft realized this benefit and created online alumni networks to keep in touch with departed colleagues.
4. Rebalance the blame culture.
Most people don’t leave their company, they leave you — their boss, says entrepreneur and author Jo Owen, author of “The Death of Modern Management.” “If you want engagement, you must show that you care, delegating more than just the rubbish that you don’t want to do.” A manager who is quick to apportion blame for mistakes is highly corrosive. Delegating effectively means sharing credit and taking blame. Do that, and the staff will take the risks that are required for success. They’ll do it with you and for you.
5. Make meetings optional.
Most people dislike meetings because often they don’t create results. Denmark-based workplace happiness advocate Alexander Kjerulf’s advises against making meetings compulsory. This is about treating people like adults, he says. “They can decide if their time is best served by going to a meeting or working at their desks.”
That way, those who attend do so voluntarily, and with the expectation of adding something valuable. “Make meetings shorter, more focused and get everyone who’s attending to influence the agenda,” says Kjerulf. “And always start a meeting with something positive. It sets the tone.”
See also: Surviving Your Worst Meeting Nightmares
6. Acknowledge individuals.
There are lots of ways to create a sense of respect among your team. “Some things are really banal: saying good morning,” says Barry. “If you’re a manager, make sure you make yourself available to people when they need to speak to you.” General team praise is largely meaningless, but specific and personal thanks goes a long way. Move from “Good job, team” to “Thanks, Jane, for staying late last night.”
7. Put employees into the bigger picture.
This should be something every manager thinks about from recruitment onwards. Employees look to team leaders to remind them why their work is important in the big picture, and to create excitement about what the company is doing.
There’s no quick way to achieve this. It’s your job to align business values and goals for employees. Focus on results, says Kjerulf. Find ways to make people feel like their work has an impact on the overall business, such as keeping them in the loop on what happens next for a project they’ve completed or acknowledging when their work has generated more customers or revenue.
Final tip: Be realistic about what you can offer as an employer. You can’t make people happy and you’re going to see some turnover. But some churn is healthy, says Owen. It’s infinitely better than an office filled with loyal, but “useless time-servers,” he says.