What if we ask employees what they would like to do?

What if we ask employees what they would like to do?

The biblical reference to labour is that I tell a man to go and he goes and to come and he comes, because I am the boss. All our employee relationships are based on this concept. Today, however, enlightened companies like Google and Microsoft realise that employee engagement is more subtle than that. The employee who volunteers takes more responsibility for seeing that s/he does a good job. Better still, they show a more responsible attitude towards the company for which they work, towards customers, suppliers, colleagues and all who have contact with the business.

Some people accept responsibility more easily than others. They are the more confident members of society. They have a realistic view of themselves, neither too deprecating nor too grand. They know what they are good at and what their weaknesses are. Their self-perception is comfortable but not in a self-satisfied way. Knowing who we are is the first step to being human. It’s a step other species have yet to make although some are getting near it.

The process of bringing up a child is one of changing dependence to independence. Parents who fail to fit their children for the world because they protect them too much are doing as big a disservice as neglect. Indeed, I think the greatest gift you can give someone you love is independence. That is not the sort of independence money can buy, the freedom never to suffer deprivation. It is an ability to stand on your own feet, to face the world confidently.

If employers still think they have a responsibility to develop their employees they must conclude that they want their subordinates to be independent, able to make judgments and handle the curved balls life has a habit of throwing. An employer who does not have this aspiration is a slave-driver. Only the desperate will work for him or her.

It has long since been established that people do best what they enjoy doing. It therefore makes sense to fit jobs to people not people to jobs. The best way to do that is to ask them what they enjoy doing? People don’t always know, of course, but they can be helped to find out. If they have been through a good education system they will have a very good idea anyway. Here are four questions that help to establish someone’s ideal job.

1) What do we most look forward to doing?

The answer probably won’t be work, it may involve problem solving, physical exercise, making others happy in some way. When we get a frisson of anticipation that makes us excited and eager we are looking forward.

2) Of the things we accomplished in the last three years, which gave us greatest pleasure?

By excluding the purely selfish we get a picture of what brings us joy and involves other people. It takes a little thinking about to get this one right but it is worth the effort.

3) What did we do in the last three years that brought the best thanks and gratitude from another?

People generally are economical with their thanks so when we perceive real gratitude we have accomplished something unusual. It will also have been rewarding to us.

4) If we had one week to live and all our affairs were tidied up so that we could spend it how we liked, what would we do?

This is different from the first question. That was about looking forward, this is about planning to look back.

Shall we ask our employees these questions, establish what they would like to do and then encourage them to do it?

It will make for a very happy team.