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The rules of team retention


You can sense whether employees are happy in an office the moment you walk in the front door. The most noticeable characteristic is the level of energy and emotional commitment that employees exhibit. Even a casual observer can feel the difference when walking the halls.

YOU CAN SENSE WHETHER EMPLOYEES ARE HAPPY IN AN OFFICE THE moment you walk in the front door. The most noticeable characteristic is the level of energy and emotional commitment that employees exhibit. Even a casual observer can feel the difference when walking the halls. People move faster, interact with more visible animation, communicate with more palpable emotion and enthusiasm, listen more intently, and respond more vigorously—and they seem to be enjoying themselves. This energy persists throughout the day, day after day. Some team members call the energy "fun." Others describe it as "challenging" and "stimulating." Now how does it happen?

Bob Levoy

Find out what makes team members tick

At the management seminars I conduct, I'm often asked, "How do I get my employees to do what I want them to do?"

That's the wrong question.

The bottom line: Listen and learn

The right question is, "How do I get my employees to want to do what I want them to do?" The answer to that question is this: First identify their job-related needs.

To start the process, test your own knowledge first. Put a checkmark next to the five job-related needs in the list on the next page that you believe are most important to the one employee you would most like to motivate. You'll probably need to guess. (Note: The job-related needs in this motivation inventory, patterned after psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, are listed in ascending order. They start with basic needs and continue with higher-level, self-actualization needs. Get a printable version at vetecon.com

  • Assurance of regular employment

  • Satisfactory working conditions

  • Feeling safe at work

  • Good pay

  • Health insurance and other benefits

  • Maintaining adequate living standards for my family

  • Adequate vacation arrangements and holidays

  • Low-stress environment

  • Written job description so I know what's expected

  • The right equipment to do my job well

  • Thorough job review so I know how I'm doing

  • Being told that I'm doing a good job

  • Getting along well with co-workers

  • Involvement in decisions affecting my work

  • Participation in management activities

  • Feeling that my job is important

  • Respect for me as a person and as a professional

  • More autonomy on the job

  • More job responsibilities

  • Interesting work

  • Opportunities to do work that's challenging

  • Opportunities for self-development and improvement

  • Other __________________________________________

If you don't know team members' job-related needs, why not ask? Let your staff fill out the inventory and give them time to answer these questions: What part of your job do you like best? Is there more you'd like to be doing? What frustrates you about your job? What would you change about your job to help you get more of what you want from your work? Once you've got their answers, consider taking time for one-on-one meetings to talk about their feedback.

S-T-R-E-T-C-H your way to a great team

Providing team members with adequate job challenges is another way to keep them engaged. Consider the gap between employees' abilities and the demands of the tasks they are to accomplish. Too little challenge leads to boredom, and too much challenge leads to job stress.

The way to get staff members functioning at the upper range of their capacity is to give each team member a little more responsibility. Achievement leads to motivation—just watch athletes trading high-fives after a touchdown or a home run. Or observe the expression of someone on a diet who discovers after weeks of self-discipline that he's lost 10 pounds. And check out your team members' faces when they succeed at administrative and medical tasks they thought they couldn't accomplish.

The point is: If you want to motivate employees, don't lecture them. Don't threaten them with dismissal if they don't improve. Instead, s-t-r-e-t-c-h them by providing opportunities for growth. Ask employees what specific knowledge and skills they'd like to learn. Then design a program that incorporates the needs of individuals as well as those of the practice itself.

And don't forget: Along with stretch must come a willingness on your part to accept some mistakes. Without risk there is no growth.

In the trenches: Associates: If your boss won't bit

Make team members' opinions count

Engage employees by giving them a voice in the decisions that affect them. This is often called participative management.

Bosses who use a participative decision-making style do not simply count their team members' votes and then do whatever the majority wants. But they do consult with their employees before making a decision that affects them—partly to enlarge their information base, but also to tap into people's self-motivation. Most team members will work harder to carry out a decision that they've helped to influence than a decision that was imposed on them.

Skillful leaders understand the power of involving people in solving problems. When individuals and groups realize they truly have influence and the authority to make a plan and execute it to reach the goal, engagement kicks into high gear.

I've seen this happen at countless staff meetings I've attended as an outsider. The leader asks questions: "Why do you think this problem exists? What do you think we should do about it?" The brainstorming begins. As team members work together to solve the problem, their first joint decision ignites a spark. When everyone is empowered to act and bring about positive outcomes, it sets the team on fire.

Studies show that "softer, fuzzier" considerations that focus on the individual—not on concrete factors such as salary or incentives—are what really matter to employees. Employees will go the extra mile if they feel responsible for the results of their work, have a sense of worth in their jobs, believe their jobs make good use of their skills, and receive recognition for their contributions. So what are you waiting for? Find out what motivates your team members today.

This article is adapted from Bob Levoy's latest book, 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).

Bob Levoy, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, is a seminar speaker based in Roslin, N.Y., who focuses on profitability and practice growth. His book, excerpted here, is available from Amazon.com.

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