12 Rules for New Managers – #2: Know Your People

Last week I started a new series, Rules for New Managers, with one of the biggest lessons I have learned as a manager: Keep Your Eye on the Ball!

This week I’m excited to share the second rule. It’s one that will completely revolutionize a manager’s effectiveness, but very few managers seem to really get it. When I began to understand it and put it into practice, it made all the difference in the world.

If you know any managers, please share! If they don’t need to hear this lesson, they’ll at least know other managers who do.

Rule #2: Know Your People

Most managers seem to have completely missed one of the basic facts of life. And it makes them miserable. If only they knew: A person only does what he or she wants. Let that sink in.

So what? Why does it matter?

If I make my team “want” to do what I say to avoid a penalty, as soon as that penalty is no longer a threat, they’ll go right back to what they wanted before. They don’t want the actual thing I want, they just want to avoid the penalty.

How does this look in the real world? It looks like a team that quickly shapes up when you’re around, but goes right back to cutting corners when you walk away. It looks like a team that acts out of fear, not out of inspiration. It looks like a team who doesn’t really have your back now, and certainly won’t in the long run. So no long-term results.

How can you truly motivate your people? It’s about your people and their desires.

Here’s how it works:

     • I sit down with my employee Javier and chat for half an hour. Just chat. About life. About him. I learn that Javier has been through a lot in life and has had to fight for where he is. So he is a very serious person. He is very soft-spoken, kind-hearted, and respectful. He’s very thoughtful and has a young family to provide for. His family is the most important thing in his life.

Now I understand that the key to motivating Javier is to work very honestly and thoughtfully with him. To make sure his job helps him take care of his family, and doesn’t hurt his relationship with them. To show him what incredible opportunity he has, if he takes the job seriously, to earn a higher and higher income and to secure his family’s future.

     • Next, I sit down with my employee Jackson. We just chat for a while, too. Not about work, about him. I learn that Jackson has spent a lot of time in the army. He’s rough around the edges, but takes authority very seriously. He talks a lot about being disciplined and dedicated. You can tell he thinks very linearly, though. He waits for your questions, and answers them with precision. He’ll do anything, as long as you lead him clearly and with authority.

Now I understand that the key to motivating Jackson is to give him especially clear direction. In fact, giving him much autonomy might demoralize him, though most people love it. He clearly loves challenges and discipline, as long as he has a clearly-structured environment and a clearly-defined role.

     • Finally, I sit down for a full hour with my employee Mitchell. He loves to talk! He has a lot to say. His thoughts aren’t very organized, but the consistent message seems to be that he’s very proud of his work–and rightly so! He’s been exceptionally talented all his life, and he sees everything as a challenge to excel! He hates being put in a box, and unlike Jackson, he hates micromanagement.

Now I understand that the key to motivating Mitchell is giving him opportunities to show his value and develop his skills. Micromanagement will demotivate him, so I need to give him room. Sure, he might go off course. But if he does, I know that when I approach him, it should be about the quality of the work he’s proud of, not about me and my disappointment.

Do you see the difference really getting to know your people can make? I used to get teased for how much time I just spent sitting and chatting with my employees. But it worked! It made a huge difference in their performance! I knew them. I knew what they really desired, I knew what each one really wanted! That’s power!

Knowing your people gives you the key to unlock true inspiration and motivation on your team.

Takeaway: Nothing you use to externally motivate your people (threats, rewards, manipulation) will inspire them long-term. They’re going to do what they want. So to truly motivate your people, you have to leverage the power of their own desires. Which means you have to know your peopleTalk to them. Lots! Figure out what makes them tick, and then lead each one accordingly. Make sure to keep in touch with them and their ever-changing needs and desires. Know your people!

How do you go about getting to know your employees and team members?

Author: Peter Elbridge

I have a passion for helping others, and that is why I write. I believe that sharing our experiences and discoveries in life is the best way to make a difference. After all, we're all in this together. (My opinions and endorsements are my own and do not represent my employer.)

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