Your primary focus is the growth and financial health of an organization or the smooth operation of a department. You make efforts to provide your employees with the perks to keep them loyal, and the motivation to make them care as much for the well-being of the organization or department as you do. Yet despite your best efforts, their heart just isn’t in it. Both you and your employees are in a cycle of trading their time for your (or your organization’s) money.

So how do I break this cycle?

Unless you’re Google or Facebook, and can afford to provide over-the-top employee perks and benefits to keep employees interested and focused, you’re going to have to speak to their desire to be part of something great. The companies that retain top talent and get the most out of that top talent give those employees what they are really looking for – a sense of accomplishment and ownership. You see, the benefits and perks are all nice, and great for recruiting, but those are not the things that keep top talent engaged. For that to happen, people need to feel a sense of ownership.

Most of my posts speak directly to improving productivity in the workplace, although I did touch on empowering your employees in an earlier post. Simply empowering them, however, won’t break this cycle. You are going to have to lead them. I see many good managers, but very few leaders. Directing traffic, assigning tasks, and monitoring progress is a management activity – more or less the “what” and “how” of daily work activities. A true leader instills the desire to understand the “why” behind the daily undertakings. If you want your employees to care about the “why” behind what they do, you’re going to have to do two things.

A time for leadership

1.) Demonstrate the “why”. Not explain. Not describe. Demonstrate. What do I mean by this? Tell them the story behind how the organization came to need their specific skills, talents, and work ethic. You hire people because they are the best candidate for the job. You see something in them that warrants bringing them into the fold and leveraging their specific skills. Demonstrate to them how their contributions fit into why you brought them in. Give them the background and the vision for the way ahead. Make them part of the future, and instill in them a sense of ownership in that vision.

2.) Enlist their help in reviewing how work is done, and allow them to truly take ownership of their activities. Give them the power to make suggestions, to engage others both within their own department and across the organization, and to be part of the conversation of where the organization is headed. Again, you hired them because they had a skill or a work ethic or a strength you found valuable.