How to keep people working hard for you (Warning: It's gonna scare you.)
With all the focus on employee engagement in the past 10 years, you'd think we would have moved the needle more than we have (29% in 2004 vs 30.5% in 2016according to the Gallup 2004 and Gallup 2014 studies). We've spent billions of dollars each year on training (last year saw the biggest training spend ever of $70 billion in the US alone) and 52% of leaders still fear they don't have the leadership talent they need. Industry leaders like Google, Netflix, Zappos, and LinkedIn who offer wonderful perks and added ping-pong tables, video games, in-house massage, and catered meals during the week, but for all that money spent, those companies still struggle with losing great employees. According to most surveys, if you look around at two-three of your colleagues - chances are, one of you will choose to leave within the next year.
The way I see it, it is a classic case of throwing money at an emotional problem. People don't stay or leave because of the deli sandwiches on Friday or the Nerf gun battle on the second Tuesday of the month. People stay or leave based on their connection to the people they work with...and as long standing research has indicated, primarily the person they work for. The relationship you have with your direct employees often plays the largest role to whether or not they will stick around long enough to reminisce about the good old days of last year.
And when it comes to your employees, let's face it. You just don't trust them.
"You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough." - Frank Crane
That is the problem that money won't fix. The majority of the manager toolkit and organizational policies are based on distrust. Keeping an eye on people and keeping them in line. And when you think about it, it is pretty ironic. The one group at your company (HR) that should be talking about connection, trust, and communication are often the ones who have created tools that do just the opposite. Attendance policies, alcohol/drug policies, firearms policy, dress codes, hourly tracking of salaried employees, the list goes on and on. And nearly every one of them could be addressed by simply asking "do you trust this person to make smart decisions about this issue and do their jobs?" If the answer is "yes", making a policy says you don't. If the answer is "no", then why did you hire them?
"The opposite of trust is suspicion" - Stephen M. R. Covey
Suspicion is the feeling that something is wrong or bad without any proof or evidence. (Merriam-Webster) In this case, policies are created because we feel people are bad or wrong without any proof or evidence. If your friend asked for you to sign a contract, read a document, or agree to punitive measures, how long would you be their friend?
Many people will say that you can pick your friends but can't always pick the people with whom you work. Five to ten years ago, I would have agreed with you. But with unemployment hovering near record lows in some locations, talent people have lots of options in the job market. And more and more people have become intolerant of a poor working culture or not feeling trusted to do their jobs.
If you feel the need to tell your people "you empower them" or "give them license" the undercurrent of what you are saying is that you are in control of their empowerment, or more simply that you have authority to empower them. If you hire people you trust, communicate openly, listen to their feedback, provide you feedback, and give them autonomy in how they get their results, you will never have to tell them "I empower you" because they have never need your permission.
"Suspicion is a heavy armor and its weight impedes more than it protects" - Robert Burns
Confident people don't tolerate the weight of proving their trustworthiness on a daily basis. It is the fall of many relationships. So take a really hard look at trust. Do you trust the people who work for you? Do you trust them enough to tell them the financial state of the business? How and why you are making talent decisions? Whether you plan to sell your business or not? If you don't trust your people, why did you hire them? If you do trust your people, and you're not telling them...maybe it's yourself you don't trust.
If you want your employees to stay and work hard for your mission...you've got to trust them. Otherwise people resort to fear, suspicion, and self-preservation. If they don't feel trusted, they won't trust you...and they will do what they need to to look out for themselves...not your business.
If you want people to work hard and stay with you, get rid of unnecessary policy, communicate with candor, be honest about your mistakes, be clear about your intentions, and be open in your dealings with people. Trust is scary AND necessary if you want a truly great company. Without trust, at best, you will be tormented as you race to the middle.