As business leaders grapple with the fast-changing nature of expectations and resources, facing one talent crisis after another, and trying to strategize how to get more done with less without adding to toxicity in their workplace or burnout in their workforce, one thing becomes clear; the old ways of getting people to do what needs to be done can’t deliver what humans need to be healthy or what businesses need to grow. Therefore, the old methods will continue to result in more and more toxicity and less and less profitability.
I have heard, and I am sure you have too, the lament that “people just don’t want to work anymore.” Of course, we’ve heard some version of that lament from every generation and it’s no more or less true now than it has ever been. What is different is that we are entering an age of what I call a “human-driven economy” where people have more choices about how they work, and given a choice they quite naturally don’t want to do work that is meaningless or unreasonable and they don’t want to do that work in environments that are toxic to their mental and physical health.
In this human-driven economy we will have to recognize that success doesn’t come from driving humans to do more but from understanding the real motivators of human effort and achievement. While we might think it’s all about money, or titles, or public recognition, according to Gallup the third top thing that employees say they want in their next job is the ability to do what they do best. In fact, 58 percent of those surveyed cited this as very important in their career choice. That’s because one of our basic human needs is the need to make meaningful contributions.
As Ben Wigert writes in Gallup Workplace, “When people have the opportunity to do work they are naturally gifted at and trained to do, they enjoy their work, find it stimulating, and want to do more of it.” What’s more, when given the opportunity to do that work in a culture that is conducive both to the work and to their well-being, they want to do still more of it.
There is a word for this basic human need to do what we’re good at and to do it in a culture that supports and values that work and that word is “contribution.” It’s just one of The Six Facets of Human Needs® that I share in my book The Human Team.
Humans love to contribute. It’s what we contribute that creates value in the world, that validates us in our own eyes, that offers fulfillment and accomplishment. But we don’t just love it, we need it. From our earliest evolution in tribes, our ability to contribute would have been part of feeling connected, valued, and safe. As modern humans, our self-esteem and sense of value are directly tied to serving at the apex of our aptitude and ability in our chosen careers.
Contribution isn’t about “just doing stuff.” It’s about being asked to put our talents, skills, gifts, and energy into what we call “highest and best use.” Following this principle and assigning meaningful work that is the highest and best use of a person’s abilities can make the difference between their feeling tired and fulfilled versus feeling exhausted and resentful. It can give them the incentive to tackle the next challenge or take on the next project.
Of course, you’ll notice I didn’t say there is a trick to getting people to want to do more for less; providing appropriate compensation and a healthy work environment are just prerequisites. But for today’s leaders who need every human on their team to be performing at their optimal level this principle of highest and best use is one of our peak opportunities. To see each human on their team for their greatest potential and find ways to put them in positions that align with it and make investments in their training and skills to allow them to be even better at it not only ensures the highest return on individual, but also increases loyalty and job satisfaction. Who needs to think about what they want in their next job when they’re getting what they need in the job they’re in?
Seeing your human team through the eyes of “highest and best use” also allows you to create paths for advancement and personal satisfaction which fuels increases in productivity and profitability to fund the salaries and benefits people need to adequately compensate their contributions. As Christy Maxfield, Founder and Principal Consultant for Purpose First Advisors, says, “… the ability to grow and scale a business is dependent on the ability to systematize and operationalize. And at the core of operationalization is the successful assignment and delegation of work.” So, this principle of “highest and best use” can inform a strategy for delegation that increases motivation and profit.
Whether you’re hoping to improve the results of delegation, revamp your org chart, or improve engagement and motivation, the “trick” to getting people to want to do more is not to bribe them, blindside them, coddle them, or even nurture them. It’s very simply to notice the work they find meaningful, the talents and skills they bring to the work, and where their values and abilities align with the work that will make the greatest impact on the business goals, then invest in them by giving them the opportunity to do more of the work that fits that description.