3 Questions to Keep Your Employees Engaged and Passionate

When your employees hit a crossroads, use these questions to keep them excited about being part of your business.
Q4 Sales
April 02, 2012

"What should I do with my life?" is a question many people ask themselves when they hit a crossroads. Author Po Bronson asked the same question and it became a book by that title, filled with stories of individual journeys through jobs, startups and dreams of something better or different. As small business owners, we want to make sure that when employees hit a crossroads we have an answer that keeps them excited to stay at the company.

Eric Jackson, Forbes blogger, recently did a post on the "Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail to Keep Their Best Talent" that received almost two million views. While I agree with all ten of his reasons, the one that I believe impacts small business the most is the second item on his list: "Failing to find a project for the talent that ignites there passion."

Jackson writes: “Big companies have many moving parts—by definition. Therefore, they usually don’t have people going around to their best and brightest asking them if they’re enjoying their current projects or if they want to work on something new that they’re really interested in which would help the company …  The bosses are also usually tapped out on time and this becomes a 'nice to have' rather than 'must have' conversation. However, unless you see it as a 'must have,' say adios to some of your best people. Top talent isn’t driven by money and power, but by the opportunity to be a part of something huge, that will change the world, and for which they are really passionate. Big companies usually never spend the time to figure this out with those people.”

Two major things come to mind from this short excerpt. The first is that we have an opportunity to recruit some great talent that is tired of the big corporate grind. The second one is we face the same predicament and we shouldn’t wait to have the conversations that allow an employee or partner to grow and develop as a person who wants to make a difference. Even in small companies, there is room for this kind of thinking and action.

From memory, there is a section in Po Bronson’s book where he explains that through hundreds of interviews one thing remained clear: People want to contribute and share their passion in the workplace, to do good and meaningful work. Not everyone wants to go out and start their own business, but almost everyone desires to make a difference. These three questions are ones that have popped up in my conversations with small business leaders and startup entrepreneurs who have a loyal team.

1. Where do you want to go in your career or work experience? Then really listen to the answer and see if it meshes with any of your vision and plans for the future. You could discover that your staff has precisely the talent you need to launch that new product or project.

2. What do you do in your free time? While I’ve not seen this written much about elsewhere, I’ve heard it numerous times from the employee as both a complaint (as in you never asked about me) and a praise (wow, the company really cares). You may find that a person does something in his or her free time that you could support in your local community with dollars or some time off.

3. How can I help you succeed and get the job done? You can’t allow a pat answer to this question. You have to let your employee or team know that they can truly raise their hand and say “this is where I really need help.”  Then go about getting them the resources they need.

What are you doing to keep your people engaged and on the team? Let me know in the comments.