How to motivate employees is a common priority for effective leaders. Relevance motivates us all. Yet it’s easily overlooked by busy leaders as a foundational need their employees have.

Many people who come to me with frustration in their current jobs have good reason to feel dissatisfaction. Often, they simply feel disconnected or irrelevant in some way. These situations can improve. When I coach unsettled professionals pondering a job change, we start with a clear understanding of current reality.

Sometimes we discover that it’s not a bad boss or job that’s causing angst. It’s a lacking connection to core values in our work and environment. Simply knowing what that is can be eye-opening for the employee and the boss.

Janet and Melissa

As an example, Janet is a hard-working manager well regarded in her field of expertise. She is pleasant to work with and proficient in almost every task. She genuinely cares about the people who work with her. Yet Melissa was unhappy working for her. She felt some considerable guilt about that because she respects Janet and the organization. Nonetheless, dissatisfaction and discontent eventually took a toll. Melissa found herself wondering if she’d made a mistake taking the job and was in the wrong place.

I particularly like this story because the uncovered solution turned out to be a win for both Janet and Melissa. What was lying underneath was that Melissa felt unfulfilled because she felt insignificant and irrelevant in her job. Logically she knew that her work was important, but she felt detached from others and the big picture. She came to the office every day, did her work, and then went home. There was little feedback on what she did. She saw almost no visible connection to her work and the group’s larger goals. There were few opportunities for her to knowingly contribute to others’ challenges or to help solve problems. As a result, Melissa felt irrelevant to the organization–and to her supervisor.

Significance Makes Employees Feel Relevant

The need for significance is an important value. In the book, Strengths Finder 2.0, author Tom Rath discussed significance as one of the 34 most common talent themes in the Clifton Strengths Assessment. He described the significance theme as a drive to be admired as “credible, professional and successful.”  

Melissa was conduting research critical to some goals in the organization. However, she worked in isolation with little communication or interaction with others about how her research helped. She felt irrelevant, and that made her feel unfulfilled and sometimes disgruntled.

Thankfully, Janet actually was a good boss who cared about how to motivate employees. She didn’t know she was leaving Melissa out in the cold. Once Melissa was able to approach her seeking guidance on how she could experience feeling more relevant, Janet responded. The truth was that the results of Melissa’s research and work was relevant on a daily basis.

Melissa found Relevance

First, Melissa’s workload volume was providing time and space for decision makers to focus on other issues. They were confident information they needed from Melissa would be ready and valid.  In fact, the information she compiled met their needs for critical long-term goals. In addition, her work ethic and independence had been keeping Janet feeling completely stress-free about the subject matter. This gave her time to focus on other things for which she desperately needed time.

To Janet’s credit, after explaining all this, she also reflected on how she was spending her own time. She began to engage in Melissa’s work and asked questions from time to time about Melissa’s insight. As she did more of this, she became more aware of Melissa’s knowledge. She often discovered areas where she wanted to ask Melissa’s perspective on other topics or issues. In a short amount of time, Melissa proved to be an enthusiastic and helpful sounding board. She gained more opportunity to help solve problems or identify new questions that might lead to solutions.

Win-Win Outcomes

This new engagement with her boss made Melissa feel more valued and more confident. She began to feel relevant and needed. This pumped up her energy and allowed her to notice areas where she could pitch in and add more value. She also became more comfortable in communicating more directly and openly with her boss. She even began to develop more respect for Janet’s leadership–and her time. Both employee and manager were connecting on a different level, and adding value for each other on a regular basis. It was a win-win outcome.

Are your employees relevant? Do they feel that way? One of the best ways to motivate employees is to help them see their own significance. Significance is a powerful motivator–and one that will replenish with every new accomplishment.

Find Relevance for Greater Motivation

If you are a smart leader who cares about developing others, you want to help them understand their own relevance. Leadership coaching can help you apply this and other ways to motivate employees and help them grow.

Are you a professional seeking a greater connection to your own relevance? Career coaching can help you understand your current reality and reach your next level of satisfaction and success.

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