Any manager who tells you that motivating the troops is the first thing on his mind is lying. That’s because managing people is never a job title and it’s rarely a priority. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is.
While managers do have direct reports, their job is to manage a function of some sort: marketing, finance, HR, product development, operations, whatever. And that’s usually the way their goals and priorities are written. Getting the job done is top of mind. Managing people is not.
Don’t get me wrong. The best managers figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time. They know that the hands-down most effective way of accomplishing their goals is to figure out how to motivate their people to work together like a well-oiled machine, so that is a priority. It’s just not the priority.
And while some do have a knack for getting their folks so fired up they’ll work tirelessly and ask for more, most don’t. They got promoted for their functional ability, not because they’re good managers. Don’t think of that as a bad thing; it’s just the way it is. Some learn in time, others not so much. It’s just the natural order of things.
In any case, if you manage talented people, or plan to someday, it’s a good idea to understand what really excites them about their work and what makes them proud to be part of a company. Granted, everyone’s different, but most achievement-minded folks get off on more or less the same things.
A chance to make a real difference.
It’s funny to read about the importance of employee engagement and how Millennials want jobs where they can have a big impact, like those are new concepts. They’re not. Those same factors have motivated go-getters forever. I should know. I was once one of them.
A meritocracy where their efforts and talents are recognized and rewarded.
Those who reach for the stars can’t have limits on how high they can climb. Nobody ever thinks about how former CEOs of Micron (Steve Appleton), Verizon (Ivan Seidenberg) and so many others literally started at the bottom and worked their way up. It inspires up-and-comers to know the opportunity is there.
Empowerment to take on as much responsibility as they can handle and the tools to accomplish their lofty goals.
For overachievers, a little responsibility is a dangerous thing. It’s like a gateway drug. They always want more. If you want them to stick around and help your company to become wildly successful, be smart. Don’t just give it to them; empower them to take the initiative and take responsibility.
An environment that challenges them to reach new heights and mentors to help them do it.
Besides responsibility, everyone who wants to go places in life wants a challenge. Once the challenge is gone, they’ll be next. That’s why startups are such a big draw for success-oriented people. They get to be big fishes in little ponds and wear lots of new hats. If nothing else, startups are characterized by constant challenges.
Exceptionally competent and driven managers who work harder than they do.
Few things are harder for hard-working employees to do than leaving the office while the boss is still there. Smart, ambitious people love working for like-minded bosses who walk the talk.
A successful, growing company that makes killer products customers love.
Everyone wants to work for a winner or at least a growing company with great prospects. Being the underdog is fine but you’ve got to at least have a shot at making it. Even when Apple was down, folks loved to work there, but I bet they love to work there even more now. There’s nothing like knowing you help make awesome products customers can’t live without.
A piece of the action.
What I’ve always loved about the culture of the technology industry is equity. I got my first stock bonus as a young engineer at Texas Instruments and boy, did that motivate me. Nothing tells employees that you value them more than putting your money where your mouth is in terms of ownership. It goes a long way.
While some of these tips are written for top executives with significant control over how organizations are structured and employees rewarded, that’s OK. You may not be in the corner office today, but if you play your cards right, you never know. Just remember, if it motivates you, it will motivate others like you.