Let’s imagine that the unicorn you hired recently is delivering on his potential and leading the organization to new levels. Now the question becomes: How do you keep him from jumping ship?
As a people leader, you have to know what motivates your direct reports. We spend an enormous amount of time at work and want our work to be meaningful, to see the connection between the job that pays our bills and our larger hopes and dreams. Your job as a people leader is to help make this happen for your direct reports. When employees feel disconnected from their larger selves, they become disengaged from their work, too. Employee engagement starts with one all-important question: “Why?”
If your business is ultimately going to add value and meaning to lives, employees have to be connected to their “why.” But it’s not just the employees’ “why” that matters—the company one matters as well because that helps drive employee engagement on a larger scale. If you want to avoid employee disengagement, you have to be able to identify your company’s “why” and connect it to that of your teams. Do you communicate the core values of your company from day one? Does your “why” drive all your decisions? Working to make sure your team members feel connected to the larger “why” is one way to keep them engaged.
See the Whole Person
This part of the work begins with recognizing a simple fact: Your unicorns are so much more than the job they’ve been hired for, and you need to see the whole person, not just the job description. To care personally about your direct reports, you must allow them to be who they are—not just what the role demands of them.
Managers fall into a trap when they look at an employee’s resume and expect him to replicate past successes beat for beat. “I see what you did with company XYZ—now do that exact same thing for us!” This ignores the context in which the unicorn achieved his past success. What was his team like there? Was he given the freedom to innovate and think outside the box at his past company? Will he be similarly supported in your organization? Moreover, this impulse ignores the person. Sure, the unicorn accomplished a lot in his role at his previous company. But how has he evolved since then? Is the position you’re considering him for in line with his career growth? Or could his talents best be utilized in another capacity within the organization? Most importantly, what does he want?
Your direct reports are multifaceted people with many passions. A surefire path to employee disengagement is to stifle their interests in tasks that fall outside their job descriptions. Effective leaders see their employees as complex individuals. They expect team members to do their jobs, but they’re always interested in their employees’ unique interests, and they strive to draw these out within the context of their assigned tasks.
What really gets your direct reports excited? Even if you discover that your unicorn’s secret passion lies completely outside his job description—let’s say he ultimately wants to open a school for children in a developing country—you can still use that information by connecting it to the work he’s doing for your organization. If he wants to open a school, he’ll need experience overseeing administrative issues, so when those opportunities arise, seize them. Tell your unicorn, “I thought this role would be a good fit because of your wish to strengthen your administrative abilities.” He’ll likely be gratified and motivated to do a stellar job because you cared enough to remember his interests and because he can see how the work he’s doing now can help get him where he ultimately wants to be.
Drive Engagement with a Growth Mindset
Does your company have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? Fixed-mindset companies tend to reward a select few who perform in a traditional way with promotions and raises. Employees who aren’t perceived as premier leaders are more afraid of taking risks and feel that management doesn’t have their backs, so they display less commitment than workers at growth-mindset companies.
Organizations with a growth mindset view talent differently. Managers tend to speak more positively about their direct reports, and collaboration is the norm. It’s expected that employees across the organization, whatever their level, will look for out-of-the-box solutions and seek to develop new skillsets while at the company. Growth-mindset companies frequently hire from within; hiring managers are interested in potential and reward candidates who display a passion for learning.
People leaders who invest in their employees’ learning and development create an exciting environment to work in. Why would a unicorn leave a job in which her boss truly cares about her, her mind is engaged, and she’s developing a diverse set of useful skills?
We’re all so much more than the job we’ve been hired for. We want a workplace that allows us to bring our whole selves to work and that understands we have needs and lives outside the office. No one takes a job without careful consideration of how it will affect every other area of life: “This job will provide great health benefits for my child with special needs,” or, “Working through the weekend is not expected here, so I can take more hiking trips.” You don’t need to know every detail of your direct reports’ personal lives, but being a people leader means caring about the whole employee. It also means being open about your own life: “I’m having a rough time because the baby was up screaming between midnight and 4 a.m., so forgive me if I’m a little unfocused today.” A simple admission like this requires a certain amount of vulnerability and reminds your direct reports that you’re a human being, too. All this is part and parcel of the growth mindset and helps you achieve greater levels of employee engagement.