Understanding What Your Employees Need to Be Successful

Recently I was asked to facilitate a brainstorm with a department of employees in my building in which I never interact with.  This particular department works around the clock and can be called in to work at a moments notice depending on the needs of our building.  Without speaking for them, I could assure you they would classify themselves as overworked and underpaid in addition to under appreciated.

The brainstorm was meant to answer a few questions and ultimately improve productivity within their department and also for the company as a whole.  There were specific goals set forth at the start and my only intention was to gather relevant data to send back to the powers that be.  I approached this brainstorm strictly as a facilitator assuming I would learn absolutely zero relevant pieces of information that I could use in my daily routine.  I was wrong

After spending time listening to this group talk about their work/life balance concerns and how we could improve productivity from their point of view, it reminded me that every employee wants a few simple things in order to be appreciated and applauded in their daily routine.  It also led me to wonder how many employees around the country are starving for a few of these simple things.  Here they are:

Recognition & Reward

In speaking with the group they mentioned several times that it would be nice to feel appreciated.  At one point, someone even went as far as to say they wanted to be applauded for their efforts.  While I will be the first person to state this is a weak and immature approach to your career, it also reminds us as managers that we have to applaud success when we see it.

Let me explain, applauding effort can be a tedious task.  Showing up to work on time is your responsibility as is working hard.  This is simple effort that everyone is asked to put forth no matter what your pay grade or experience.  When someone is asking to be applauded for effort, they want a pat on the back for simply showing up each day.  This doesn’t work and over time we applaud mediocrity.

I don’t feel this group really wants fake applause.  I believe they are truly seeking reward for their hard work.  The light bulb that turned on for me was hearing them starve for some attention when they go the extra mile.  The comment made to me was that a previous regime (these folks have been with the company for 20+ years) used to call you in and hand you something as simple as a $25 gift card for working a double shift.  This seems small in the minds of many in the company but to this group, it means the world.  Improving the environment in an organization is as simple as making someone feel appreciated and respected and we forget sometimes that these simple little pieces of feedback can go a long ways.

The title of this post refers to understanding what your employees need for success.  While there are several different factors that lead to success for an employee, making them feel appreciated with small rewards is something that an employee needs to feel successful.  See the cycle that everyone goes through?


If you were to ask ten people on the street what empathy means to them, I’m confident you would receive ten different answers that all weave back to the same definition.  Empathy is defined as identifying or experiencing the thoughts of another’s feelings or attitude.  While many top down corporate folks have lost their empathy somewhere along the way, empathy is a key trait that all employees are usually seeking in some form or another.

Empathy was another common theme for this group I met with. I felt this starvation for empathy within each of them and it was as if they were just crying out for someone to understand their frustrations and their daily roles.  They continually discussed the need to have others in the building understand what it is exactly they do on a daily basis such as having a job shadow program or inviting their managers out with them to watch them do their job.

They weren’t asking for anyone to do their job for them.  They were simply asking that when things started to go wrong, someone else in the building understand why, or to empathize with them.  When I even threw the word empathy out to them, they showed this sense of pride as if to say empathy was too weak of a word.  But I kept coming back to this place of a lack of understanding for what they contribute and do for the company.

I attributed it to a mule that carries items for an individual.  The mule just continues to get more sacks lopped on his back without anyone ever understanding how hard of a job this really is.  The individual putting the sacks on clearly has never carried them up a hill in the heat nor do they understand the things that are going through the mule’s mind.  This group of employees just want someone to walk a mile in their shoes and understand the day to day.

I believe a prescribed amount of empathy is necessary in order to help your employees be successful.  I say prescribed because each employee will need a little less or stronger dose pending who they are as humans.  In order to feel successful you need feedback in good and bad times but you also need someone to be there to understand what you are going through.

These are two ideas that can help your employees feel successful.  While there are a thousand others that can be published, you need to understand what it is that helps your staff achieve success each day.  Maybe empathy isn’t something that will fly in your office, but whatever the need, learn it and understand how to implement it.


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