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What do employees really want?

The other week I came across an article on Entrepreneur.com called The Five Things Employees Really Want.  At first I blew it off as just a fluff piece.  But I quickly realized that this is a pretty important question. 

Attracting and retaining exceptionally talented employees is probably the single most important factor in the success of your business. Understanding what your employees need and creating a workplace that gives it to them is an investment that will pay huge dividends.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have learned 3 simple rules over the years that have helped me.

Rule 1: Entry level employees want growth and mentorship

Entry level employees are just getting started in their career.  In many cases they’ve invested years in a college education or trade school and they’re eager (even impatient) to get moving and learn the ropes of their chosen profession.  They want to learn, they often think they know more than they really do, they want to be given real responsibility, and they often think they can handle more than they really can.  Entry level employees are a great source of energy and new ideas, but they need guidance. 

When hiring an entry level employee it’s critical that you be able to provide the mentorship they need. Keep in mind that they want to succeed, but they don’t know what to do.  Without a healthy dose of mentorship and support, they’ll go nowhere, get frustrated, and you’ll have a difficult relationship. On the other hand, if you have senior level people who can mentor, and you’re able to provide the increasing levels of responsibility entry level employees crave, you’ll probably form a lasting bond with that person and they’ll look at you as the company that gave them their start.  If you can’t provide mentorship and growth, you’re just wasting your time and theirs.

Rule 2: Senior level employees want you to let them do their job

A senior level person wants responsibility and they want their relationship with management to be based on the knowledge that they are the expert in their field, not management (me).

Now letting someone do their job is a little bit of a fuzzy concept, so let’s make it a little more concrete.  If I hire someone to do a job, it's because they're better at that job than I am.  They know more than me, they are more experienced than me, they’re doing it every day and they’re closer to the reality of doing that job than me, there is something that makes them better at that job than me.  If this isn’t true then I probably shouldn’t be hiring them. 

That means that I disagree with that employee about something, I need to assume that they’re right and I’m wrong.  It doesn’t mean that I can’t disagree, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t argue a point.  It does mean that the starting point for the disagreement is that my employee is assumed to be right, and I’m in the position of convincing them, not the other way around.

So, give senior people real responsibility, get out of their way and let them do their job, and when you disagree don’t make them convince you that they’re right, instead put the burden of convincing on yourself and assume that they know what they’re talking about. 

Rule 3: All employees want donuts

I’m only half joking.  All employees want to be valued.  Do the little things like bringing in a couple of dozen donuts or bagels once a week.  Tell them they’re doing a good job when you do it.  Hand out little perks like gift cards to local lunch spots.  Do whatever works for you, but find a way to let your employees know that you appreciate them.  I’m just saying that it should probably involve food… and donuts are delicious.

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