By now, most of us ought to have realized that most workers want to be productive. Leigh Branham and David Sirota have each written books validating that fact with the findings of surveys involving tens of thousands of workers.
Branham is the author of Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business: 24 Ways to Hang on to Your Most Valuable Talent, while Sirota is the author of The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want.
Both authors talk about the need for employers to invest in their workforce.
Yet a gap exists between what many managers know and what many managers practice. The truth is that good workforce management requires workforce investment.
When I talk about stuff like this, many employers and managers tell me they already pay their workers well.
No argument from me. Using the traditional definition of investing, most employers pay their workers a decent wage.
What I'm talking about is investment in other areas. When we look closely at the definition of investment, it also includes equipping people with skills and enabling them with authority.
Equipping people with skills
Workers who are gaining skills are more engaged. They want to put their abilities to work, so they look for ways to be more useful.
Conversely, when people are confined to very specific work and have no opportunity to learn, they quickly get bored.
My question to the managers out there: What are you doing to invest in your workers' learning?
I recently had lunch with a CEO who sets time aside every Monday morning for employee development. He and his employees read business books. They debate the content. They look for ways to apply what they discover. And he's not the only person I know who does this.
Think about it: It's a very inexpensive way to invest in how your workforce views the tasks before them and how to do things better.
Equipping with skills also involves more formalized training. This can be as simple as actually acting on what gets discussed during an annual performance review. If it's been suggested a worker brush up on a certain aspect of his or her job, why not ask him or her to find a workshop or class that teaches what you've both agreed needs to be learned?
Research from the American Society for Training and Development indicates that a 10 percent increase in training gives employers a better return on productivity than a 10 percent increase in work hours or stock options.
Enabling people with authority
If you've ever been to a wedding you've probably heard the preacher say something to effect of "by the power invested in me, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife." It wasn't just a power he assumed, it was granted by a higher authority - usually the state in which the wedding took place.
The idea here is that managing a workforce also entails giving people authority to make decisions. A micro-managed workforce is merely a collection of robots, and robots will only do as directed. They haven't been equipped to think for themselves.
Managers can't just will employees to make better decisions; it requires some form of training. Workers need to be taught what criteria must be considered to make good decisions. Processes and policies have to be reviewed. People need to be trained in all of this so that the managers' time can be freed up for other managerial tasks.
Does it take time? Yes. Does it pay off? If the training is done right, absolutely. Such investments pay for themselves over and over again.
So here's the trick: If you're going to do any kind of training, make sure it's appropriate to the needs of the workers as well as the needs of the company.
A lot of people out there call themselves trainers and coaches but they don't exactly have their finger on the pulse of reality. Hiring a bad trainer just once can create such a bad taste about training that nobody wants to go through the pain again.
To not invest in one's workforce is like expecting bigger and better things to occur just by happenstance. It's like expecting to become an expert tennis player just because you show up on the tennis courts every day. Or like expecting to become a great golfer just because you golf a lot.
Granted, just showing up is half the battle. But putting forth an effort to get better is the other half. Managing a workforce requires the same mentality as any good investor: Consider the current situation. Look at where you want to go. Invest the time, money, and effort needed to make it happen.