Studies have shown that employee engagement is a market advantage – dozens of research studies have demonstrated that when employees are passionate about their jobs and are contributing discretionary effort toward it, the company benefits from higher levels of sales, service, quality, retention – and ultimately growth and profits. There are numerous factors that affect employee engagement, but certainly managers are key to creating the conditions that foster engagement.
Leaders cannot maximize performance in today’s workforce through a “command and control” style. Instead, they must empower their employees to succeed by creating the conditions that engage their internal motivation. Three motivational needs have been identified and confirmed through forty years of research: connection, competence and choice. Connection refers to the innate human disposition toward relationship with others: human beings are intrinsically social creatures, and we have a need to connect with others. The need for competence signifies that we strive to feel capable and to express our capabilities. The need for choice is related to autonomy: humans have a drive to make our own decisions and chart our own course – a tendency which can observed perhaps as clearly in a 2-year old as in a grown adult.
A leader can support an employee’s motivational needs through three key practices: exploring ideas, supporting employee choice, and using needs-supporting language. These practices can be applied in numerous situations. You may want to explore ideas with your employees, for example, when there is a problem that needs to be solved, there is a change of direction, or you need creativity under pressure. Many managers mistakenly think that they need to have all the answers. In fact, employees appreciate the opportunity to contribute their thinking. Just make sure to give credit where credit is due.
The second practice, supporting choice, means allowing employees to achieve business goals in their own way, although within guidelines. Although a human tendency is to think that “my way is the best way,” micromanagement kills internal motivation because it disables the human need for choice. While action align with organizational processes, policies and rule, give your employees the room to achieve goals in their own ways.
Lastly, use need-supporting language. Do so through avoiding criticism, either direct or implied, as criticism undermines the need for competence; neutral, factual statements are more likely to be heard. And avoid the word “should,” which undermines choice. Instead, use words like “It’s important to …” or “You might want to ….”
There are numerous strategies for supporting the three motivational needs of connection, competence and choice, a few of which I’ve presented here. Use the needs to guide your interactions with your employees, and you will reap the reward of increased commitment and higher levels of discretionary effort.