Finding a balance between those roles — some of which at first seem to conflict — requires a crystal-clear strategic vision, passion for your people and a commitment to developing your own emotional intelligence.
It’s possible to replace employees, but you can never precisely replicate an individual’s specific skill set. In today’s knowledge economy, the old adage that employees are your biggest asset rings true. One of the most important things you can do as a leader is show your employees you understand this, as well as the value they bring to the table — that you have confidence in their skill sets and expect great things.
Setting high expectations not only inspires employees, but it also helps you get the best work from them. At the end of the day, your team’s success equals your success. Below are a few key ways to keep your team motivated and, ultimately, help your entire organization succeed.
1. Help your employees chart a career path
Rarely are employees satisfied with clocking in, clocking out and collecting a paycheck. They want to know that they’re learning and growing on the job, that they’re actually working toward something. In fact, according to Work Institute research, career development (or, rather, the lack thereof) is the leading cause of employee turnover in the U.S.
Show employees you care about their development by having conversations about their career objectives, and not just during your annual reviews. A Quantum Workplace study has found that when employees have these types of discussions more than once a year, there’s a marked increase in levels of engagement. Be intentional about this process to ensure you regularly discuss professional goals with each of your direct reports, whether that be via an official quarterly meeting, a casual lunch conversation or something in between.
What should happen during these discussions? First, dial up your emotional intelligence and pay attention to how employees are feeling and responding to you. Make sure your employees know that their career success matters. Share your goals with them, and ask about their own. By discussing your own goals with your employees, you’ll show that you trust them and help them feel more comfortable opening up. Secondly, offer ways that you or the company at large can help them work toward their objectives. Don’t leave the meeting until you both have some concrete action steps.
2. Seize opportunities for learning
Encourage your employees to learn from work experiences — both the good and the bad. This may require helping those you coach to recognize the learning opportunities in their workday. “Employees are often pushed for time and don’t prioritize their own learning,” notes Michael Butler, principal at Pariveda Solutions, in a company blog post. “As a leader, you can start by helping your team glean key lessons from their work experiences.”
Butler recommends reminding your employees to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and how they can improve in the future. You can call out these daily learning opportunities in the moment or ask your direct reports to think through what could have gone better on a weekly 15Five or quarterly survey.
Identifying and responding to these learning experiences is incredibly powerful; it helps create a culture of learning within your team. In addition, provide resources for continued learning throughout the year. These could take the form of an in-house training platform or financial support for an off-site workshop, among other options. Reward those who make an effort to improve and grow, whether that’s with a gift card, a one-time bonus, access to further educational opportunities or even just bragging rights, such as “Learner of the Month.”
3. Foster friendship
Employees want to have personal relationships with their colleagues, and Gallup research shows that work friendships lead to better performance. When employees truly feel a sense of camaraderie with their colleagues, they feel more compelled to take positive actions to benefit the business.
To help cultivate relationships, allow time and space for your team to interact while they accomplish tasks. That could mean adding 15 minutes of social time with snacks and drinks before an all-hands meeting or setting up “huddle rooms” as more casual conference rooms when teams just need an informal setting to collaborate. Support these tactics by encouraging teams to work cross-functionally. This breaks down silos, contributes to productivity and leads to more opportunities for personal connection.
Luckily, the possibilities for social engagement are virtually endless. You could organize a formal team-building event, a family picnic, an employee heritage celebration or a post-work happy hour. Keep your company culture in mind, and promote the types of activities you think would appeal most to those on your team.
Being a successful leader requires a delicate mix of attributes. You have to be able to set high expectations, motivate employees, provide support and also course-correct when needed. By focusing on employees’s goals, development and relationships, you’ll set up your team — and company — for success.