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In this economy, every business has bought into some aspect of the “more with less” mantra. A common question heard around boardrooms, both large and small, is, “How can we get more out of our people?”
Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, a consultancy that helps businesses fuel sustainable high performance, says that it’s time to ask a different question: “How can I intentionally invest in meeting the multidimensional needs of my employees so they’re freed, fueled and inspired to bring the best of themselves to work every day?”
Schwartz argues that if employees feel truly valued by employers, they are willing push themselves harder to excel. “The ethic of more, bigger, faster generates value that is narrow, shallow and short term,” Schwartz says. “More and more, paradoxically, leads to less and less.”
The way we’re working isn’t working, he says (which is also the title of his new book). Regardless of how much value we produce today—whether it’s measured in dollars or sales or goods or widgets—it’s never enough. We’re so busy trying to keep up, that we don’t realize we’re in a Sisyphean race that we can never win.
The solution, Schwartz says, is shifting the primary value exchange between employer and employee away from the traditional trade of time for money. “It’s a thin, one-dimensional transaction. Each side tries to get as much of the other’s resources as possible, but neither gets what it really wants,” he says.
Instead, Schwartz advocates that employers should focus on fulfilling the four core needs of their employees, leading them to operate at their very best: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Leaders at small and medium-sized businesses should particularly recognize the value of relating to employees on a more personal level.
One must read Schwartz’s new book to understand this concept in depth, but here’s a quick summary of the four core needs, why they are important, and what steps employers should take to monitor and improve them:
- Physical. Physical capacity is foundational. Every other source of energy depends on it. The key challenge is to create a healthy balance between activity and rest. Employers should stress the importance of healthy eating and good sleep habits. They should also encourage employees to work smarter, not longer, and train mid-level managers to help their teams achieve this.
- Emotional. Here, we’re talking about the sense of security and well-being that comes with being accepted and valued. The less people feel valued and appreciated, the less engaged, loyal and productive they tend to be. Much as we aspire to feel good about ourselves, regardless of what others may say, our sense of self-worth is profoundly influenced by the degree to which others value us. Again, management should take note: expressing appreciation requires more conscious intention on their part.
- Mental. The core need at the mental level is self-expression: the freedom to put our unique skills and talents to effective use in the world. Self-expression is fueled by our capacity to control the placement of our attention and to focus on one thing at a time. Leaders need to create work environments that encourage people to focus without constant interruptions. Unfortunately, encouraging employees to set aside sacrosanct time to think creatively, strategically and long term is countercultural in most organizations, which are focused on immediate results and urgent deadlines.
- Spiritual. The need for significance at work is a manifestation of our inborn hunger for meaning in our lives. Schwartz says this “spiritual energy” is fueled by deeply held values and a clear sense of purpose — the external expression of what we stand for. He holds up Zappos.com, the online shoe and clothing retailer, as proof that this can occur even with mundane work assignments. Call center employees at Zappos.com are encouraged to stay on the phone as long as it takes to genuinely connect with customers and build a relationship that is more likely to endure. This approach not only serves customers well, but also makes employees proud to work at Zappos. They find more significance from the relationships they nurture than from the products they sell.
Paul Nolan is editor of SalesForceXP magazine, a bimonthly publication that provides sales managers with insights for getting “Xtra Performance” from their sales teams.
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