By Rachel Attebery

It’s not news that today’s employee has different needs from the employee of 50 years ago. The “Great Resignation” of 2021 and 2022 left employers bewildered and scrambling to find out why their professionals are dissatisfied enough to leave a “perfectly good job”. Gallup research presented by Vibhas Ratanjee, Global Practice Leader for Organizational and Leadership Development, at the October 2022 RMEL conference revealed that today’s workers care more about their purpose than their paycheck and more about their lives than their jobs. This new data corresponds with the tenets of the book Conscious Leadership by John Mackey, Steve McIntosh, and Carter Phipps. Conscious Leadership names eight qualities of a Conscious Leader: Strength, Energy and enthusiasm, Long-term orientation, Flexibility, Love and care, Emotional intelligence, Systems intelligence, and Spiritual Intelligence. You might have picked up that the acronym for these qualities is SELFLESS. 

As the Director of Operations for Diode Ventures, I believe my main duty is to facilitate the success of my team members. The old value system of using employees to build up and promote the manager no longer works. Instead, employees are drawn to leaders who devote time and energy to developing them, who care about them as holistic people, and who create a culture of support and growth. I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the Kansas City Chapter of Conscious Capitalism this October at their “The Workplace Reimagined: A Purpose-Drive Approach to Talent” conference. While I claim no expertise in modern leadership, there are a few principles I’ve discovered through trial and error that seem to work, which I was excited to share. 

Hire to the Money

This seems basic, to intentionally hire employees for the most profitable parts of the business. There is an underlying assumption here, that management understands which parts of the business are most profitable and what type of talent is needed to be a force multiplier for that profit. For potential employees, the emotional side of the coin is security. When professionals know that their business unit is profiting, they feel safe about their role and positive about their contributions to the company’s success. On the other hand, when employees are hired into losing business units where cuts are frequent and management is in self-preservation mode, this creates restlessness and fear. Leaders first need to build a healthy business, then hire in employees who can keep the momentum going. 

Character over Skills

This principle is akin to getting the right people on the bus from Jim Collins’s Good to Great (2001). In my experience, when given the choice between a candidate who checks all the resume boxes but has immature character versus a candidate who checks enough boxes but has outstanding character, the second candidate is the right long-term choice. Skills can be taught, but character is much more difficult to form in adult employees. The candidate who is willing to work hard, with a humble and positive attitude, with loyalty to the company’s values and mission, is a more valuable addition than the professional who has all the experience in the world but lacks strong character. 

Two-way Interview

In my MBA program at the University of Saint Mary, one of the most insightful courses was Human Resources Management. A key takeaway was that during the interview process, it is critical that the employer and interviewers accurately describe the job role and responsibilities. Misrepresenting the job, even in a rose-colored glasses way, can cause dissatisfaction for the employee once they discover the true nature of their role. Potential employees should ask companies what their values are and consider not only the job duties but also the culture of the firm when making their decision. The interview process is just as much about the candidate’s decision as the employer’s decision. Being honest about the job and company, giving a full description of duties, and clearly laying out the growth path for candidates is an essential ingredient to ensuring a good fit between worker and employer, resulting in a longer-term engagement and higher job satisfaction. 

Person over Employee

If there were any lingering notions that professionals can cleanly compartmentalize work from personal life, COVID-19 firmly extinguished them. With many employees now working permanently from home or in a hybrid fashion, we can no longer keep life from seeping into our daily work. Guest appearances by kids, pets, spouses, home improvement noise, and intimate peeks into our employees’ homes are now part of the routine. Of course, employees never completely partitioned themselves from the impact of personal life, even before COVID hit. Each employee is first a human being, with biased thoughts, emotional baggage, home problems, health challenges, financial worries, and so on. All these elements impact the way our employees show up to work. If a solid worker suddenly has a bad attitude, is regularly late, or has a performance drop, first ask gently and tactfully if everything is all right outside of work. We all need grace and empathy to make it through this life, and it is the responsibility of leaders to exercise this type of emotional intelligence with their workers. 

Vision over Tasks

Imagine you have a choice of working for Manager A or Manager B. Manager A gives you a long, detailed list of tasks to accomplish and tells you you’ll be evaluated based on how many of the tasks you complete. Manager B tells you her vision for where the company is headed and invites you to contribute your skills to fulfilling that vision. Which one makes you more excited to show up for work in the morning? I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a Manager B type for seven years, and the difference is palpable. It was Steve Jobs who said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Inspiring leaders cast lofty visions for their teams but then let them use their skills and creativity to find the best way to achieve that vision. Not only does this exhibit humility on the part of the leader, but it shows confidence in the team, which improves engagement, effort, and ultimately results. 

Get Out of the Way

When employees are operating at their best, they feel a sense of ownership. With ownership comes a desire for autonomy. The professionals adding the most value are the ones who are empowered to utilize all their resources, skills, and character to accomplish the goal. When managers are too prescriptive or micromanage their team, this deflates personal responsibility and produces recipe-following zombie workers. Or worse, it pushes those employees who desire ownership right out the door. Leaders have many responsibilities to enable their employees, no doubt, but we need to know when to step back and let our professionals run with the ball. Autonomy cannot exist without accountability, and the employees who understand this dichotomy will both self-motivate and self-discipline with less involvement from management. 

Oh yeah… Fun!

It’s easy to take work too seriously, especially for highly engaged employees, and I’m certainly guilty of this. Most full-time workers spend more hours with their work colleagues than with anyone else in their lives. Shouldn’t we enjoy that time just a little bit? Leaders set the tone, and employees are always observing their managers for cues. Leaders demonstrate by example how much fun is acceptable, if it’s all right to laugh, if it’s okay to spend the first three minutes of the meeting catching up on life. This is a cultural element that each company must determine for itself, but as for Diode, we laugh a lot. We’ll be holding our second annual Best Moustache competition this November and celebrating our five-year anniversary with a virtual happy hour. Our Operations team spends 30 minutes every other week in a virtual “Ops Team Hangout” where we just shoot the breeze and enjoy being together. Friendly sports rivalries make for moments of levity during our morning meetings. Fun is a powerful bonding agent that should not be underestimated in the retention equation. 

In summary, these are a few of my observations on healthy hiring and management practices. These will look different for each organization. But no matter what industry your business is in, people are the single most important success factor. If you are a leader, decide what values your group will espouse, what your culture will be, and what type of manager you need to propagate this vision. This can make all the difference in recruiting and retention in today’s workforce.