There’s truth in the adage “good employees leave bad managers.” Just poll a dozen random people on the street to unleash a flurry of nightmare boss stories.
But more than bad managers, employees leave bad companies.
The Predictive Index® surveyed 3,000 workers across 20 industries as part of its annual Employee Engagement Report. According to the data, nine of the top 10 reasons people decide to quit map back to the organization itself—its vision, culture, and senior leaders.
If you run a company, read on.
Paint a vision of the future that motivates employees
The No. 1 driver of employee engagement is also the No. 1 driver of turnover intent: “The senior leadership at my organization has communicated a vision of the future that motivates me.”
It’s not enough to draft your mission and vision statements (though that’s a start). You also have to communicate often and gain employee buy-in.
To get a pulse check on where you stand today, answer these questions:
- If you were to poll your employees, how many of them could recite—or at least summarize—your mission and vision statements?
- If your employees were at a cookout and someone asked them what your company does, how would they answer?
Someone who’s not motivated by your vision might say, “We sell shirts.”
Someone who is motivated by your vision might say, “We strive to provide the highest quality Supima cotton T-shirts at an affordable price. That’s because we believe every human deserves to know the luxurious feeling of wearing super soft cotton that looks as great as it feels.”
Why motivation matters
TSheets polled more than 1,000 small business owners and found 15% were in the red last year, while 22% only broke even. Of those who were in the green, most earned just $50,000.
Owning a small business is hard. To stand a chance of beating the odds financially, you need to know how to motivate your people so that they go above and beyond the minimum requirements.
To retain your top performers, you need to bring them into your vision.
Employees who feel motivated by their company’s vision are less likely to quit—plus, they’re more engaged and more productive.
Motivated employees are brand evangelists who build awareness and keep the flywheel turning, even when they’re off the clock.
A 5-step formula for painting a vision that motivates employees
So how exactly do you nurture motivation?
1. Get clear on your business strategy
While it might sound like this tip came out of left field, the first thing you’ll want to do when facing a business problem, like high turnover, is return to your business strategy.
Make sure your business strategy meets the following criteria:
- It’s agreed upon: Do you co-own the business or have an executive team in place? If so, sit down and make sure all stakeholders are clear on the strategic goals you’re chasing.
- It’s explicit and clear: Even small businesses should document strategic goals. When they’re down on paper, they can be shared across the company and referenced when making decisions.
- It’s expressed in people terms: Make sure you express your objectives in terms of people requirements. What behaviors must employees have to help you reach your goals?
With your business strategy in order, you can move on to step two.
2. Create a talent strategy that aligns with your business strategy
With your strategic objectives refined and your end-of-year targets set, it’s time to create a talent strategy that aligns with your business strategy. This is talent optimization.
Talent optimization is a natural motivator. Following the discipline ensures every single decision you make (e.g., who to hire and how to design your culture) keeps your business strategy front and center. When every decision is strategic, nothing is left to chance.
When you use talent optimization to create your talent strategy, employees:
- Understand why they’re doing the work they’re doing.
- See a clear path for how the company will achieve its goals.
For employees, there’s nothing worse than uncertainty—not knowing why the company is implementing (another) new process or how it will sell a million T-shirts by year’s end.
Uncertainty makes workers hesitant to commit emotionally, and when they don’t commit, they’ll always be operating with one foot out the door.
3. Use people data to hire the right people and design teams strategically
As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It’s all about intrinsic motivation.
Employees need to be in a role they’re behaviorally wired to do, one that energizes them.
If you leave employees to languish in jobs that are a poor behavioral fit, the misfit will manifest as low engagement, low performance, or both.
Employees need to be part of a team that has trust, healthy conflict, collaboration, communication, and effective decision-making.
If you build teams haphazardly, you could end up with a group of risk-tolerant captains who drive the ship into an iceberg. Or you could end up with a team that accomplishes little because everyone’s too afraid to take a risk.
How can you ensure job fit and team fit? You do it with people data.
Administer behavioral assessments, so you can understand the factors that drive each individual’s workplace behaviors. This way, you can match each person to a job they’re naturally suited to do—and build out your teams strategically.
4. Design and reinforce your company culture
Culture is so much more than ping pong tables and beer kegs. Culture is how you keep the wheels greased. It’s how you keep people excited about reaching strategic goals.
Culture is a lever business leaders can use to drive performance. If you don’t have a defined, intentional culture, start by drafting core values that align with your business strategy. Values are the behaviors you need your employees to exhibit so that you can be successful.
A tech startup trying to innovate and scale might choose action or energy. A company focused on improving quality might go with reliability or safety, especially if it exists in a regulated industry.
To reinforce your culture, communicate your values regularly, in writing and at company meetings. You can even make them part of your shared vernacular. Weave them into the everyday.
Reward employees who exhibit these values with public recognition (as long as they enjoy being recognized in front of others), cash bonuses, or promotions. You and any other senior leaders should live and breathe these core values to set a great example.
5. Encourage employees to evangelize
You’ve laid the important groundwork:
- Expressing your business strategy in people terms.
- Creating a talent strategy that answers why and how.
- Hiring the right people and building balanced teams.
- Designing an intentional culture.
You have the right people on the bus. They’re energized by their work. They believe your company has a bright future, and they’re behaving in the way you need them to.
Now’s the time to get them 100% motivated by your vision. Do that by encouraging evangelism.
Take the time to craft an elevator pitch. Present it in front of your employees, and ask everyone to learn it. This is how they should talk about your company—and your vision.
Sign up for industry events and encourage employees to work the booth in shifts. Email a sign-up sheet in advance and ask them to answer the question: Do you consider yourself an evangelist? Those who respond yes can take the role of booth lead. It’s a subtle way of rewarding the behaviors you want to see.
Getting ready to launch a new service or open a second location? Invite everyone to post a video on social media on the same day—and make sure they know they’re helping the company reach its strategic objectives by doing so.
Motivation is an ongoing effort
Once you lead your employees to a motivated state, you need to keep them there. It’s not enough to hope they continue to be energized by their work, have bought into your vision of the future, and are in sync with your culture. Keep the fire stoked through consistent, transparent communication and career opportunities for learning and development.
To nip any brewing issues in the bud before they become major problems, you’ll need to collect, analyze, and act on your people data. This is as simple as rolling out an employee experience survey. Did you score low in a certain area? Do something about it.
The most successful companies are always improving and never complacent.
Erin Balsa heads up content marketing at The Predictive Index, the leader in talent optimization. When she’s not obsessing over AP style and SEO, she’s adding to her Pez dispenser collection and dancing in the kitchen with her kids.