what do employees REALLY care about? mission, vision, and support.

Maybe you want to recruit or retain top talent, or maybe you are top talent and you're looking for your next opportunity. Certain things are top of mind for both sides. Benefits. Work-life balance. Company reputation and financial performance. Over the past 15 years I've talked with countless candidates, employees, and colleagues. They consistently put three things above all of the rest: a company’s mission, vision, and how they support employees. 

After I drafted this blog post, I came across an article from Harvard Business Review: The Most Common Type of Incompetent Leader which is directly related to what I'm about to share. It’s been circulating on social media, probably because so many of us can relate. It suggests that many who lead teams are managers in title only. They practice "absentee leadership" where they shirk from responsibility and conflict. This is taking a toll on our workforce. Imagine what would happen to employee morale, retention, and performance if companies and their managers lived by these three mantras:  

We’re on a mission
So many of us want to make a difference in this crazy world, but we don’t know where to start. Our 40-hours a week plus nights and weekends have to be contributing to more than company revenues and EBITDA, right? . 

Employees want to work for companies that are on a mission. Your company doesn't have an immediate tie-back to a social cause? Your product or service just isn’t all that sexy? It doesn’t matter. You can still be mission-driven. Positively influence the conversation in your industry to create change. Give back to the community by supporting students, startups, or local organizations. Help employees advance their careers, even after they leave your company. There are a myriad of ways to create this kind of energy. Once you’ve figured out what your mission is, shout it from the rooftops. Soon it will become contagious. Top talent will want to join you (and not just millennials). 

Vision comes from everywhere...and everyone
Does your company share the vision of your CEO and executive team through the press, social media, and in company meetings? That’s commendable, but today vision shared from the top isn't unique - and it's not enough.

The most talented employees want to follow visionary leaders. They expect their immediate manager and their manager’s manager to have a short-term and longer-term plan that builds upon and goes beyond the C-level message. They want proof of it regularly, in little everyday ways, not just when it comes time to discuss quarterly goals. 

Employees also want to know that their vision is valued. They know how things really work, and believe me, they know how they’d like them to work. Are your managers encouraging their teams to be visionary everyday? Have they created an atmosphere where employees feel welcome to share ideas and feedback? Most importantly, are they listening to their employees? If not, it’s time to teach them how. Companies talk and talk and talk about being innovative. But let’s face it - you can’t have innovation without vision. 

"We’ve got your back"
Employees want support. This is emphasized by the HBR article, too. What my teams and colleagues ask for fits squarely into three categories: 

Overcoming roadblocks: Are you hiring leaders who will move mountains when they need to, even if that means standing up to management, taking a professional risk, having difficult conversations, or completely reworking existing processes? Will they do this for their teams, and for other teams? If this isn't part of your culture, you’ll hear employees say that they could do XY and Z, but for what? “Nothing ever changes.”

Professional development: Every employee who has worked for me has asked me what professional growth would look like within the company (and beyond). They want insight into the responsibilities of a certain role. They want to know what types of people are successful at that next level. If employees aren't ready to be promoted, do managers have the tools to explain why and how they can work to get there? Do we connect employees with mentors and advisors internally or externally to broaden their perspective? How can HR provide actionable guidelines to help? 

Securing resources: Teams always ask for resources. Managers can't solve every problem. But the best ones will find creative solutions. They'll ask to share resources with other teams, or they'll work to make an existing process more efficient so that human or financial resources can be freed up. A company that's vocal about supporting employees in the day-to-day will encourage this kind of problem solving, which will help everyone get more "stuff" done.  

In summary...
So many of us feel disconnected and disenfranchised these days outside of our "9 to 5". We’re doing our employees a real disservice if those same sentiments are heightened by a negative experience in the workplace. Managing people is nuanced and it’s challenging. It's my personal charter to prioritize mission, vision, and support for my teams. I’m not the perfect textbook manager, but I’ll always push myself to do the best for my employees. I truly believe small everyday actions can make a big difference. If you’re also a manager, my hope is you will click away from this post with a renewed and maybe even a similar perspective.

How have you fostered mission, vision, and support in your company or organization? Which companies are getting it right? Please share your insights in the comments below so we can all learn from your experience.  


Thumbnail photo credit: Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash