Mueller - Knowing our employees

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I have written before about how we must understand the importance of relationships in business -- after all, people buy and do business with people they know and trust. But, sometimes we forget about our internal customers -- our fellow employees.

How do we build these internal business relationships? I know we often do not want or need to be best friends with our coworkers; after all, we must supervise them, not be their buddies. We do, however, need to know them on some level, understand how they think, what they think. And, most importantly, we must understand how to help them grow personally and professionally.

There is always an "inner circle" in some organizations, right? Wrong! Sometimes within an organization that supposed inner circle is really made up of people who do in fact know each other a little better than most, say, due to length of service, being friends outside of work, or by the mere fact that they have taken the time to cultivate a relationship with their coworkers that is a little deeper than most.

Just like our most upset customers, disgruntled employees just want to be heard. Most employees just want a sense of belonging in the workplace. And, if we go back to our days of Psychology 101, according to Abraham Maslow, people have fundamental needs that have to be met before a person can advance to the next stage in his hierarchy.

The first stage is survival, and then comes security. In the workplace, we meet people's need for security by providing not only the job, but also benefits, like healthcare insurance and a pension or retirement plan. How many times do people stay in a job they do not like because "the benefits are great?" Then comes belonging on the hierarchy -- this is the stage where human relationships are important. People who are more easily motivated are that way because they have a sense of being a part of the group.

How many of us who have employees who, if they would just devote as much time and energy to their work as they do to their service organization or hobby club, would be the top performer? Well, these employees are giving more to other areas because they probably have a greater sense of belonging and importance (the next hierarchy step) in their volunteer jobs than their paid, regular jobs.

The final step in the hierarchy is called self-actualization. This is where people realize their true potential. They do not need other things to feel good. These are the greatest leaders within organizations today -- they are adamant about helping to develop others, donate their time and financial resources to the good of others.

Do we want compliant or committed employees working with us? To have committed employees, and not just a compliant staff, we must make sure they are functioning in the upper tiers of the hierarchy. It is our responsibility to allow them to feel a sense of belonging or ownership in the company. They have to reach the importance tier, and get recognition that they deserve. There should be a human aspect to their work.

First rule of thumb for making this all happen -- communicate! We need to be "sincerely nosey" about our employees, what their hobbies are, how their families are, etc. Find out what makes the staff tick. What are their interests outside of the workplace; is there a new business philosophy that they may be passionate about?

Just like we should do this with our customers, we can clip articles, send relevant information regarding their interests their way. This is one way to practice one of my favorite Dale Carnegie principles: "Become genuinely interested in other people."

Conflicts are likely to occur at times in any organization. Knowing and understanding our coworkers better should minimize these. When we know more about each other, it is easier to talk in terms of other person's interests." (Another Carnegie principle -- the man was a genius.) Knowing our staff certainly makes it a little easier to motivate them when the workload is heavy, and the job calls for even more.

No, we do not have to vacation with our coworkers and staff. We do however have a responsibility as business leaders to bring the human factor into our workplace. After all, human capital is the one asset that can really set us apart from our competition.

Sharon Mueller is president of Success Skills, a staff development and training company committed to the success of a client's enterprise through improving the performance of employees and processes within the client's organization. She can be reached at 332-0900 or smuellerk@hotmail.com.

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