Making an Investment in Others

By Breanna Wells

“What is your dream job?” 

That is one of my favorite questions to ask during job interviews. Oftentimes, the applicant is not interviewing for the job of their dreams, however I love seeing the light in their eyes spark as they describe the place in which they would like to be one day, doing the things that are most meaningful to them. Passion exudes as they detail their hopes and dreams. 

But generally something happens between that first interview and years, months or even weeks on the job.  

I once had a boss who referred to employees as “bodies,” and that term never set well with me. Employees are so much more than “bodies” who are there to complete a task.  Human beings are extremely complex  — people who have emotions, hopes, fears, insecurities, goals and passions.

Around the world, roughly three-fourths of employees are disengaged at work, according to the 2017 Gallup Employee Engagement report. How can organizations afford to have the majority of their employees being just what my former boss referred to as “bodies,” operating at a less-than-enthusiastic level? They can’t, and that’s why I believe one of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is not recognizing and nurturing those characteristics that make up a person’s identity. People want to be seen, be recognized and know that what they are doing matters.

The outcome of neglecting that over time is that the light that shone so brightly in that first interview goes dim and that person either shuts down and only does the bare minimum to receive their paycheck, or they leave and your organization loses a great employee. Both results are detrimental to a company.

I’ve seen it time and time again, and I’ve personally been responsible myself. In the hustle and bustle of the everyday grind, the spreadsheets, the deadlines, the-place-is-going-to-crumble-at-any-moment dilemma that has to be dealt with NOW, leaders often neglect dedicating time and effort into breathing life into their people. But it’s the most important investment you can make, not only for your organization, but also for your employees.

Leaders must be intentional about developing their people, making it just as an important and essential part of the day as the business at hand. Investing time, attention and resources are vital to not only fueling the passion to get the best from your employees, but also in empowering them to reach their personal and professional goals.  So, how can leaders do that?

Tell Them the “Why”

True, not every position at every company is someone’s “dream job,” however properly communicating during the job interview your company’s mission, values and “why” their position is so important to that mission instills connection right off the bat and makes them feel valued, important and needed. When purpose is defined and that connection is established, people feel that what they are doing makes a difference, and it doesn’t matter what their job title is, they will go above and beyond to do their part to make that mission a reality.

Train Them Well

Developing people starts even before their day one begins. Great leaders make sure they have a plan in place for training and development.  Employees feel two emotions when they start a new job: nervousness and excitement. As their leader, you want to eliminate the nervousness and sustain the excitement to drive passion by having a robust onboarding and training process. Employees not only need to have thorough instruction on how to do their job, but all the other details that are oftentimes left out like the history of the company, what winning look like for the organization, team building opportunities and emergency procedures…just to name a few. Being well-informed drives confidence and passion. And development doesn’t need to stop there. Look for opportunities to invest in tools and training that will enhance their unique skills and talents for further career development.

Get to Know Your People

Yes, that’s right…get to know your people personally. Where are they from? What are their likes/dislikes? When is their birthday? What’s their Enneagram number?

When you know what makes your employees tick, what their personality type is, what they’re passionate about, the better equipped you will be to praise, coach and if needed, discipline them. Taking the time to get to know your employees also builds connection and trust with you, their leader, so that they can bring their concerns or hard things that they’re working through to you without fear.

Give Them Challenging Opportunities to Shine (and if They Don’t, Coach Them Through It)

Think of projects or tasks that will challenge your employees. It may be something out of their comfort zone, but these learning opportunities will stretch them and help them grow. If they do well, celebrate that success. If they don’t meet expectations, coach them through what could have been better and look for instances where they could learn from a mentor who could provide additional expertise and insight. Be sure to give them another opportunity to try again. More than likely, you’ll drive their ambitions, and they’ll do their best to achieve more than is expected. 

When in Doubt…

Every person feels inadequate at times and needs a reassuring word or just a little ‘push.’  I know I have doubted my abilities before, and I’ve been fortunate for leaders who have spoken the words I needed to hear at that moment to give me that extra boost to take on whatever I was feeling insecure or incapable of. Be that voice of confidence in your people’s ear to give them the assurance they are lacking in that moment. Let them know that you believe in them and their abilities. Usually, that’s all it takes to move them forward. 

When leaders put forth intentional effort to make these investments in their people, the dividends pay off greatly. Employees who are informed, known, heard, challenged, and trusted will take their light and spread it throughout your organization and beyond. 

Breanna Wells has 15 years experience in journalism, marketing and communications, including a decade-long career at the state’s largest newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. During her tenure as niche publications director, she led a creative and diverse team of editors, writers, photographers and designers. A “graduate” of the first VIP2 University session, Breanna now leads the creative efforts at VIP2.