(Taking a break from my Ted story to talk about a topic that’s been banging around in my head. He’ll be back soon…)
Are all your employees interested in growth?
My quick answer is - heck yes. As my favorite psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, has found - we all have an intrinsic need to feel like were growing in areas that matter to us. And like-minded psychologist Abraham Maslow talks about our need for self-actualization. The drive to be all that we can be, to reach our potential.
But, every business owner is frustrated by at least one employee that has zero interest in growth AT WORK. Zero motivation to take their work skills to the next level. Or at least these never-growthers seem that way from the outside.
So let’s try and figure out what’s going on with these employees.
APPETITES COME IN DIFFERENT SIZES
Herzberg says we have an intrinsic need to grow, but he doesn't say we each have the same-sized appetite for growth.
If we draw our employees growth needs on a continuum or line, they might look like this.
The never-growthers are represented by the person on the left side. Let’s zoom in on this group and try to understand why they’re seemingly disinterested in growth at work.
To simplify our discussion, I'll start with a couple assumptions about the never-growthers.
They’re aligned with your organizations standards. In my case that would mean they’re aligned with my Work Map. If they aren’t, they shouldn’t be part of the organization.
They’re doing their jobs at a competency level equal to or better than a replacement you could find in the market. If you’re into baseball stats this is something like VORP or value over replacement player. If they aren't, they shouldn't be part of your organization.
NOTE: To keep things simple I’m ignoring employees that haven’t yet had time to get up to speed on their job skills.
Now let's take a look at a few never-growther scenarios:
SCENARIO #1: INTERESTED IN GROWTH OUTSIDE OF WORK - BUT NOT AT WORK
These people aren't really never-growthers. They just aren't focused on growth at work.
So how can you manipulate their attention back to work topics?
You can’t, and the harder you try the more you're going to frustrate each other.
Remember, they’re aligned and getting the job done better than the average replacement you could find in the market. That's worth its weight in gold, so be grateful.
Not everyone, long-term, gets their jollies cranking out more widgets or processing more claims or doing yet another website re-design or leaning out another process. Maybe they’re more into growing their faith, their gardening skills, their soccer coaching skills. Peoples appetites and targets for growth can move around over time - that's life.
You don't get to choose their growth area. Heck, I’m not even sure they get to choose - do any of us really have a choice over which topics interest us at a given point in time? Stuff happens, interests evolve.
So you need to take the time to understand where their non-work growth interests lie. Then do your best to accommodate and celebrate their growth in these areas. Offer flexibility and support. Show off their outside accomplishments to co-workers. Support the whole employee.
Long term your business will likely be rewarded for this open-minded support. But even if you aren’t, it’s still the right thing to do. Why waste energy letting yourself be frustrated by people that are aligned and doing good work?
SCENARIO #2: ZERO INTEREST IN ANY GROWTH
This is the far left side of the line I drew above.
I admit that this scenario feels so foreign to me that I struggle to understand it.
No drive. Finished.
It feels sad. And maybe it’s more a state of low interest in growth rather than zero interest.
Either way, these people are aligned and getting the job done. Maybe someday they’ll get all jazzed up about growth and maybe they won’t, but don’t get frustrated and down on them. Great teams have drivers and role players. Let them play their role and be grateful for them. Treat them with the same care and respect you show everyone else.
SCENARIO #3: TOO BUSY FOR GROWTH
It's a busy world. Maybe these people have a buried desire for growth, but there are so many pressing issues in their life right now that they can’t get to it.
Physical health issues.
Mental health issues.
And on and on and on.
We can't begin to imagine everything our employees are dealing with. Which means we have to accept that their brains and calendars might not always have room to focus on growth. But these aligned, skilled, loyal employees will always appreciate your caring support and flexibility.
SCENARIO #4: NO GROWTH DUE TO BEING HUMAN
I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist or HR professional, but from spending fifteen plus years face-down in this stuff - I believe this scenario is alarmingly widespread.
We human beings suck at keeping our minds and our priorities in order.
This is the shit that clogs our brains and stops us from jumping on the growth train. Some of it boils down to plain old insecurity. What if I fail? What will people think of me if I do my best and face plant? What will happen if I tell my boss or co-workers what I really think?
I envision a Scenario #4 brain that looks like this
Where the bullshit of life crowds out or starves our growth interests.
In this scenario people aren’t looking at the two ends of the growth line and saying “I’ve thought this through and I choose no growth because I think it’s a smart choice.”
Instead, they avoid the topic completely. They medicate themselves by staying busy or using some other mind-deadening means. Which is so easy to do these days with all the distractions and options.
And if you push or probe them a bit they might just tell you to back the hell off. They have no interest in chasing growth just to put more money in your pocket.
Or maybe they’re really scenario 2 - no desire for growth. Or scenario 3 - too busy right now. From the outside there’s no way to know who’s in which scenario. And that’s why you need to treat people in 2, 3, 4 with the same respect.
Care, be loyal, offer support. If they show a spark for something, help them in any way you can. Try to help create this version of their brain.
And about now I’m guessing you’re thinking “I’m running a business not a mental health clinic.”
Agreed, but if you’re interested in the long term effect you and your business will have on the people that you touch, then you need to prioritize investing in the growth of other human beings.
If you do this, you’re business will stand heads above the crowd and you’ll eventually be rewarded in dollars and cents. But don’t do it for that reason, do it because you care.
Do it because you believe in this quote from Gordon Mackenzie. (Mackenzie is the author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball which I summarized here.)
“You have a masterpiece inside you, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be. If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.”
Yes, this quote is a little grandiose, but at it's core it's right. You, the business owner, are in a charmed position to help many people create their masterpieces.
Get to work.