Link Organizational Needs with Employee Interests

By Bob Nelson

Although development opportunities are traditional motivators to most employees, during crunch times, such opportunities take on a new sense of urgency. When a needed position is frozen or another position is terminated, how can the work that is left best get completed? When a new project emerges, who in the group is ready to help out?

As organizational needs arise, ask, “Who can best benefit from that opportunity?” and approach that individual.

American Express developed a teaching concept called “Label and Link” that the company trains all managers to use. As a development opportunity arises, a manager labels the task as an opportunity and links it to something that’s important to the employee being considered for the opportunity. Instead of dumping a work assignment on an already overloaded employee, a manager might say,

“Gary, we are forming a new client task force to deal with a new market opportunity, and I immediately thought of you for the team since I know from our past conversations how interested you are in working more directly with our clients. I also know that you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, so if you feel you are too busy to take this on, I won’t hold it against you — there will be other opportunities in the future. But if you are interested, let me know because I’ll take whatever time is necessary to help you with the assignment. In fact, it might even take more of my time than if I just joined the task force myself, but I’m willing to make that investment in you because of what I’ve seen in your potential on our team. Let me know what you decide and thanks.”

More often than not, Gary doesn’t need to think it over further and immediately accepts the assignment. To some people, this might seem like a trick of some sort, but it’s the essence of employee motivation because it aligns the employee’s goals and needs with those of the organization. Gary’s manager sincerely wants to help Gary learn, grow, and develop.

A manager who is sincere in his or her approach and truly has the best interests of the employee at heart can tap into an energy that employees themselves often don’t realize exists.

Another developmental approach is to give employees an opportunity to experience different roles. For example, networking company 3Com believes that allowing those who work behind the scenes — especially engineers — to get out and sell to or visit customers gives them a greater appreciation for the value of the work they do. The employees in technical roles often receive customer feedback second- or third-hand and rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to sit down with a customer directly. How beneficial it is for them to engage in a dialogue that helps them do their job better and avoid feeling as though they are operating in the dark with piecemeal information! When they can hear positive customer feedback first hand, it means much more!