Salaries and perks are great, but what employees really want is to be inspired, connected and living a life of purpose. They need to feel valued. As their leader you need to lead from need.

To Engage Employees, Address These Basic 'Needs'

July 16, 2015
Workers need to connect, contribute, operate freely, and grow. Help them. Salaries, perks are great, but … A new wave of leaders Unleash the energy and creative power

His CEO performance review is in and Scott is clearly alarmed. Unless next quarter’s KPI goals are met the governance committee will ask for his resignation. He grabs his phone and calls Jerry, his college roommate and the person who transformed one of the high-tech market’s most dysfunctional companies into one of its most dynamic. “Jerry, I need your help. My staff is not producing like they once were. They are lethargic, apathetic, unmotivated, dis…”

“Disengaged,” Jerry completes the sentence. “So, how are you keeping your people engaged?”

“We’ve been investing heavily into employee engagement programs, but they’re not really working. We keep pouring money into recruiting and retaining the best. We even keep increasing salaries, benefits and perks, basically giving them everything they want, but nothing’s working.”

“The problem is you’re giving them what they think they want, but not what they really need,” explains Jerry. “Your employees are emotionally detached; their real needs aren’t being met. Fat salaries and perks are great, but what they really want is to be inspired, connected and living a life of purpose. They need to feel valued. As their leader you need to lead from need. Once our basic survival needs have been met, we all aspire to satisfy the four deeper needs; connection, contribution, freedom and growth.”

Jerry is right and is part of a new wave of leaders who know that to get the best out of someone you need to coach and empower him or her to greatness. As a leader in your organization you want to ensure that your employees feel they are:
•  Connected: building relationships with others
•  Contributing: doing something meaningful
•  Free: feeling a sense of choice and autonomy
•  Growing: developing personally and professionally.

Connection — Companies with employees who have strong personal ties to each other have far higher engagement rates than those that do not have such connections. To connect with your employees, create greater trust and loyalty by being more authentic. Great leaders don’t fret over public opinion and neither should you. Let go of whom you think you should be, and just be yourself. You will gain the employees’ trust and respect in the process.

Be vulnerable. Let those to whom you are responsible see and know “the real you.” We all have the same fears of not being good enough, smart enough or worthy enough, so why pretend you are the exception? The best managers connect deeply with their employees by paying attention to what’s important to them. Carve out some time each week to have lunch or a coffee with your key team members. Find out what they enjoy doing outside of work and get to know them personally.

Finally, let them know that you and the company care for them. As their need to belong is met, they will give more of themselves, which in turn will fuel their next need: their need to contribute.

Contribution — Doing something meaningful gives our lives purpose. We all want to be doing something significant with our lives, and to have those efforts recognized. Studies show employees are happiest when they know they are making a difference and helping others.

Often their contributions go unnoticed. Metrics for measuring an employee’s contribution should shift from measuring their individual performance to measuring their team’s performance. How are your staff members influencing those around them? A staff member with excellent soft skills who constantly uplifts his fellow employees is an incredible asset to your team, yet this won’t show up in any assessment. To help your workers feel they are contributing something meaningful you can try to recognize and acknowledge or celebrate their accomplishments as often as possible, or sharing a client story that shows your employee the difference they are making in someone’s life.

Freedom — Self-direction is critical to performance, creativity and engagement. The real you only shows up when you feel free. Employees are far more loyal and productive in workplace environments that respect their freedom and encourage their self-expression. To ensure your staff feels a sense of autonomy remind them that everything they do is a choice.

Choice is power, and when your employees believe they have a choice they will become more engaged in the process. Align their choices with their values, not their fears. When we choose from fear, our actions lack power. When we choose from our values our actions have more power, more meaning and more energy. Give your employees more flexibility to accommodate their schedules. What long-held beliefs might be blocking new win-win opportunities? Decentralize whatever authority you can to give your workers more decision-making power. This will empower them and make your company much more efficient.

Growth — If your charges feel they are not making progress in their own personal development they soon will become disconnected and seek opportunities elsewhere. Ensure that each employee is constantly challenged so that they can grow. As a person gains confidence in his or her power to influence an outcome, they become more likely are to succeed with new challenges.

To help your employees grow, try building confidence. Challenge any belief they might have that is limiting their performance. For example, if an employee thinks they aren’t experienced enough to manage a project you can remind them of their unique strengths and capabilities.

Another way to promote growth is modeling. Have inexperienced employees watch other colleagues with similar skills perform more advanced tasks. Seeing others with similar abilities succeed at a task will help them develop positive, “can-do” beliefs. Recognition and positive feedback are critical to helping your employees feel more competent, motivated, and open to growth. Negative feedback can devastate those with low self-esteem.

Finally, optimize the environment. Create a vibrant, energetic, stress-free workplace that encourages your employees to get the food, exercise, rest and water their bodies need so they can perform at their best.

The most successful CEOs in the world unleash the energy and creative power of their employees by honoring those four needs: connection, contribution, freedom and growth. They know that what really motivates people – once their basic financial needs have been met – is the desire to grow and develop as individuals, to connect and collaborate with others, and to contribute something to a worthy cause. You can inspire your employees to reach their full potential by making your company a place where those four needs will be met.

Ascanio Pignatelli is an award-winning speaker, seminar leader, coach and author
of “Lead from Need.” He is the founder of ApexCEO, an executive coaching and leadership development group that helps C-level executives develop the leadership and communication skills to create more engaging workplaces. Contact him at Tel. 310-913-2313 or visit