As the work force moves from lifetime employment to upwardly mobile serial career, the challenges to retain your key knowledge workers grow. Knowledge workers bring real smarts, not brawn, to the workplace, and it’s clear that the 21st century American company is primarily a knowledge company.
So, what’s the secret sauce needed to both retain and manage today’s knowledge workers?
Motivators for Knowledge Workers
The primary motivators – the secret sauce – for knowledge workers are
- To be challenged intellectually,
- To develop professionally.
Knowledge workers are truly free agents, and free agents move to and stay where they feel wanted and can grow. Knowledge workers know that they need to look out for themselves because no one else will. They actively search for opportunities to grow professionally and increase their worth to the next employer.
Frequently, I hear three common complaints from non-partner/non-executive level employees, your knowledge workers.
- My boss doesn’t take the time to help me develop,
- I’m just given work and told to produce,
- My boss is a jerk or an idiot.
Central to this is that free agents want to feel valued, not used.
Valuing Knowledge Workers
In his book The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, Ben Zander, founder of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, talked about his coaching role at the New England Conservatory. At the beginning of his course Zander would tell his students that he would be ‘Giving An A’ to everyone in his class, with one provision.
“Sometime during the next two weeks,” Zander told his students “you must write me a letter dated next May, which begins with the words, ‘Dear Mr. Zander, I got an A because . . .’ and in this letter you are to tell, in as much detail as you can, the story of what will have happened to you by next May that is in line with this extraordinary grade.”
All of Zander’s students reached beyond what they thought were their capabilities. Since they could visualize the end result, and were put in the driver’s seat, the students worked hard and reached high. Zander believed that all of them were competent and could succeed. He made his students feel valued.
Chances are that your team will need some guidance to write up their personal performance review in advance.
Begin by asking them:
- What do you want to achieve?
- What do you want to learn?
- What excites you about your work?
- Where do you want to be in 2 – 5 years?
- How can I support you to achieve those goals?
- How will you know that working here has benefited you?
- One year from now, how will we know that you have been successful in this job?
This is a recipe for putting knowledge workers in charge of their success by having them help define it. That’s the essence of respect and trust.
You’re saying to them: “I want you to be successful in this job. I trust that you are competent and are motivated to succeed and to help us be successful. And, if there is an alignment between your goals and ours, both of us will be more likely to achieve success.”
Next, you must follow up with action. Dedicate part of your time and resources to providing your team with mentoring and coaching. Move out of your role as results supervisor and become a coaching partner.
As you work with your team, ask:
- What challenges are you facing as you are working on your business objectives and goals?
- What ideas do you have about accomplishing your goals more effectively?
- What assistance can I give you (not doing it for them but advice or support)?
- What organizational hurdles or roadblocks can I help you navigate, surmount or if possible, remove?
- What skills do you need to acquire to do your job better and to prepare you for your next challenge?
Just imagine telling your employees at the beginning of each performance rating cycle, “You will get a 5 rating (it’s usually a 1 to 5 scale that companies use) at our next review, with one provision. . .. I want you to write up your performance review in advance stating what will have happened to you by our next performance review, aligned with this extraordinary rating.”
Notice that implicit in this request is that your mentee will be productive, even though you aren’t asking them what they will achieve or produce. You’re asking them how they will have grown, changed, and developed by achieving a 5 rating.
Wouldn’t it be great if all of your team achieved a 5 rating?