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Whose values rule?
As I surfed the net about 10 years ago, preparing for a presentation on managing people, I found a thought-provoking survey that graphically illustrated the different values of managers and employees.[i] Both managers and employees had rated 10 factors influencing motivation, and the rating was vastly different. Managers rated Good wages and Job security as the top two factors. Employees rated Appreciation of work well done and a Feeling of “being in on things” top.

Key comparisons went like this:

Factor Employee Rating Manager Rating
Appreciation of work well done 1 7
Feeling of “being in on things” 2 10

Neither of the top two factors in the employees’ view was really on the managers’ horizons. Across the organisations surveyed, managers might have been wondering why the good wages and job security were not transforming staff turnover and presenteeism, while employees might have been wondering when managers would value them for their contribution.

Wanting more
People experience value in different ways of course, some of which have a more lasting impact than others. We’re all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[ii], and the importance of satisfying survival or hygiene needs as a baseline. In a privileged first world society, most people want more.

Staff dissatisfaction and disengagement if they don’t have that “more” is costly. Disengaged staff resist change and new ideas, perform in a jobsworth way and take their frustrations out on others. Then they leave. So, it’s vital to find out how to reverse the downward spiral.

Staff satisfaction surveys often find out the current status quo, probably aggregating by department and then overall for the whole company. The voice of the individual may be missed.  This is important because an organisation is a diverse humming hive of people with differing views of the world, differing cultural backgrounds, differing orientations. There is no single panacea.

3 Key Elements
Three elements seem to me to be of prime importance:

> Listening
> Acknowledgement
> Choice

Listening.  Managers proactively seeking out the views of their reports and checking out their understanding. Regular times for meetings with enough space for views to be volunteered and considered fully. Gathering the perspectives of diverse groups, as part of the way you work as well as specifically in change situations and new projects. Identifying the people whose views you need, before you jump in feet first. Finding out what’s going on for the whole person who comes to work.

Acknowledgement. Summarising back key points demonstrates both real listening and that differing views and contributions have value. Giving evidenced praise for tasks well done, as soon as possible after completion, acknowledging skills and commitment.  Taking people’s circumstances into account and flexing demands to make it easier for people to give their all when at work. Highlighting the contribution of individual people or teams to a successful outcome.

Choice. Most of the time there is plenty of scope for choice. One size does not fit all. Managers and leaders who use a coaching approach support staff in making informed choices and increase a sense of agency and value. Research shows that a coaching culture throughout improves team functioning, engagement and productivity[iii]. Helping to shape objectives, priorities, modus operandi, policies, working patterns, social responsibility initiatives, working environment… When people have helped to create something, they see value in it and give more energy to achieving it.

People are the solution

This isn’t rocket science. Yet you’d be surprised how often in my professional life as a coach, I’ve worked with people who are suffering because these positive elements are lacking in the workplace. How often staff are blamed for shortcomings.

Listening fully to your people, acknowledging their worth and widening the scope of their choice is likely to prove that, while people are sometimes the problem, they are also the solution.

Sarah Gornall, PCC, is an experienced executive coach and Past President of the UK Chapter of the International Coach Federation.


[i] I like to be able to quote the source of information to know that it’s reputable. In this case, as with many things on the internet, unless you pin them down in the moment, the source of origin can later be elusive. The survey was attributed to “The Public Institute” which I now can’t trace!

[ii] Maslow, A.H. ((1943) “A Theory of Human Motivation” Psychological Review, 50: 370-96

[iii] Filipkowski J, Ruth M, Heverin A (2016) “Building a Coaching Culture with Managers and Leaders” HCI and ICF, available from www.coachfederation.org/research 

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