It may seem that the big accomplishments are the ones celebrated as most significant: the big promotion, landing the big account, pulling off the global conference, exceeding shareholder expectations. Those are all important measures for an organization and big wins certainly fuel long-term success, but when it comes to managing people, the simple, consistent and intentional small acts are usually the most impactful in the long-run.
As an example, if each of us implemented these three simple practices on a consistent basis, our people would love their jobs more and produce better work. The examples given below could begin to create a better culture for our team's starting today.
1. Connect The Work To The Mission
This is the most important attribute of job satisfaction and a key indicator of effective management. My worst moments as a leader have been when I failed to connect a person’s job with the mission of the organization, and my best moments have been when this was done well. If we—as leaders—can help our people see the organizational impact of their work, it brings significant meaning to the tasks and projects they’re executing. The responsibilities of the day are no longer about passing time, but instead, each person understands her/his contribution to the whole.
We can each take a step on this one right now. Separate a sheet of paper into three vertical columns. List out all of your team members on the left column, put their role/responsibilities in the center column, and in the right column write a few bullet points about how that person/role contributes to the mission of your organization or team. Share these words with them this week, and remind them of this connection moving forward. Consistently connect the work of the team and the individual with the mission of the organization.
2. Empower Decision Making
The fatal flaw in many leaders is control. It is probably a quality that helped us get to where we are, but control can become an unhealthy structure that our teams learn to hate. Mature leaders discern the mission critical decisions that only they can and should make, and then build a sense of ownership for their employees (or volunteers, if in the not-for-profit space) by delegating the rest of the substantive decisions to others. There are hundreds of decisions made each day in whatever size team you oversee, and most of them can and should be made by other people. Will the outcome be exactly as you would do it? Nope, but that’s ok. Different is good—maybe even better.
Even today we could each rattle off 10-20 decisions that we are currently making, that could easily be delegated and serve as an important empowerment opportunity for trustworthy team members. So let’s make a list, and define who should lead the process of decision making moving forward. For some on your team, it may be best to give them the authority to make the decision, but also surround them with a team to give input before that decision is made. You know your people and how to set them up to succeed. Share the new responsibility/opportunity with them this week and offer to be available if they want input, but ultimately the decision is theirs to make.
3. Express Gratitude
This one is so important. Phrases like the ones below can have a profound impact on morale and job satisfaction.
“I appreciate you.”
“Your input was invaluable in that meeting.”
“You’re bringing great insight and energy to our team right now.”
Similarly, withholding such encouragement can make a person feel unseen and unappreciated, two qualities that quickly motivate someone to start investigating the LinkedIn jobs page. Our words of appreciation must always be honest—people see through fake platitudes in a second—and the words should also be generous. Withholding gratitude and kindness is a quick way to limit productivity and quality of work, plus it’s just unkind.
Today would be a great day to start. Each person on our teams may receive gratitude differently. Some may prefer it in a handwritten note, others are good with a kind text message, and others may receive it best if acknowledged in front of the whole team (this can be a fantastic way to celebrate a person whose work is usually behind the scenes, or someone who doesn’t get much public praise from clients, etc). Regardless of how we do it, a plan can be put in place today—preparing intentional, truthful words—to share a word of gratitude with each of our team members over the next week.
Simple, tangible steps that can make a huge difference in how our people feel about their value to us, and the organization. We can make these tools sustainable by scheduling a “3 Simple Practices” repeating reminder in our calendars every few months. Eventually the need for reminders will go away, as connecting work to the mission, empowering decision making, and expressing gratitude become habits, and the foundational attributes of our leadership.