What People Want

What People Want explores what employees want from the workplace and what they want in their relationship with their boss.  A few years ago, I was coaching a manager (John) who excelled at managing tasks and things but not people.  John’s turnover was too high and surveys showed that his direct reports were unhappy.  When I met with John, he said he needed to become a better people person and asked if I could help him do that.  John was middle-aged, and I told him it was unlikely that he could fundamentally change at this point in his life, but I said that I could tell him what good people persons do and if he behaved that way his relationships with his employees would improve.

My experience with John led me to ask what people wanted in their relationship with their boss.  Was it to be respected?  Listened to?  Challenged?  Supported?  I wasn’t sure how people would answer that question, so we embarked on a research project to ascertain what people wanted from their boss.  This book was based on that research.  It turned out that the top seven needs people had were these:

  1. Feeling that others trust me.
  2. Feeling challenged; feeling as if I am growing.
  3. Feeling good about myself.
  4. Feeling competent and skilled.
  5. Being appreciated for who I am and what I do.
  6. Feeling excited about what I am doing.
  7. Feeling involved in activities that matter to me.

The book explores these wants and needs and offers numerous practical tips to help managers build relationships that work.

Author(s): Terry R. Bacon
# of pages: 242 (with index)
Publication date: November 2006
Publisher: Davies-Black Publishing (now Nicholas Brealey)
Available at: www.kornferry.com

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Relevant Research: As I say in the introduction to this book, I wrote it after coaching a manager who was technically proficient but awfully inept with people.  Early in the coaching process he decided that he needed to become a people person and asked if I could help him do that.  This man was in his mid-40s—probably too old for a significant change in his personality and operating style—but I told him I could tell him what good people persons do, and if he behaved the way they do he would be able to improve his relationships with his employees. Afterwards, I thought about what people want from their boss.  What do they want from the relationship?   How do they expect their boss to treat them?  What behaviors from the boss make the difference between employees who are tolerating their workplace and those who are engaged and thriving in it?These questions led me to initiate research on what people want in the workplace and what they want from their relationship with their boss.  The results confirmed many of my hunches about what people want—but there were some surprises, too.  The number one thing people wanted from their boss was to feel trusted.  Among all the things that mattered (feeling challenged, appreciated, recognized, and so on), feeling trusted was most important.  In later posts, I’ll discuss their own wants and needs.  For now, I’ll focus on trust.Aneil and Karen Mishra at Michigan State University have written an excellent book on this topic called Trust Is Everything.  They say that “trusting others means you are willing to be vulnerable to them in the face of uncertainty” (Mishra and Mishra, p. 8), and they argue that trust has four dimensions, which they call the ROCC of Trust:  Reliability, Openness, Competence, and Compassion.  There are probably as many definitions of trust as there are people to define it, but I like elegant simplicity of this framework.

Translated to What People Want, it suggests that what employees most want is to feel that their boss considers them reliable (dependable, trustworthy), open (honest, forthright, candid), competent (capable, skilled), and compassionate (empathetic, caring, not self-focused or self-centered).   Trust from a boss is crucial because it helps validate an employee’s self-image and feelings of worth as a human being.  Working for someone who doesn’t trust you can be humiliating and self-defeating.  It can lower self-confidence, increase anxiety, and lead to depression.  So this issue of trust between a boss and his/her direct reports is of crucial importance to how people feel about their work, how engaged they are in it, and how productive they are.  As Aneil and Karen Mishra say, trust is everything.  That’s why it’s what people want most.

Reviews & Comments: Fills the reader’s mind with high-test tips to create more successful and sustained relationships.  Terry Bacon offers us all practical interpersonal tips to smooth our trip and really enjoy the ride!  —James Brolley, Director, Organizational Development & Training, Harley-Davidson Motor Company.Argues persuasively that everyone can learn to behave—and possibly even to be—more like a “people person.”  If you know it’s important but don’t know how to do it, this is the book for you.  —Dr. Michael Watkins, author, The First 90 Days.An amazing book—one of the few that both educates and reminds us of what people really want and need from their managers.  —Michelle Lewis, Vice President, Corporate Human Resources, E. & J. Gallo Winery.

Pay attention, Over Achieving Managers! I find this book to be just about as good a guide to both leadership and life as one can find. A gem worth using professionally and personally. —Four Corners Business Journal, December 17, 2007

Uncovers the truth about what employees want from their bosses. Reveals insights into the motivations that drive individual behavior. —Training and Development, January 2007

Being an over achieving manager, are you surprised by being perceived as an insensitive manager by your employees?   It is not enough just getting the job done. You must also be highly sensitive to others at the workplace in order to flourish in management. Sensitivity plays a key role in building relationships with employees.   Do you really know what your employees want from you?  This book unlocks the secret of being a more sensitive manager. It is packed with diagnostic tips for identifying your insensitive behaviors, if any, and full of actionable suggestions that you can take immediately, if needed.

How sensitive do you need to be at the workplace? Terry Bacon has “Manager’s Levels of Caring for Employees” for you. While you should be yourself, not faking it, you should know what is expected of successful managers in American workplace. If you decide that you are not comfortable to exhibit the expected behaviors, you should probably reconsider your career objectives.  Relationship is like a plant; you must continuously care and feed it for it to prosper. I recommend that you read this book periodically as self-examination of your relationships at the workplace. If you discover that you are exhibiting bad behaviors, you can quickly fix them by changing your bad behaviors to the more favorable ones.  This is a great book for building and maintaining good relationships not only with your employees, but also those outside of workplace with whom you wish to develop long lasting relationships.  –Jessica Lee

A wealth of information applicable to nearly any middle-sized business structure. WHAT PEOPLE WANT: A MANAGER’S GUIDE TO BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS THAT WORK is based on original research involving some 500 professionals across a range of industries who comment on the motivators which produce workplace results. Managers and business students will benefit from these real-world examples paired with nearly 200 applied practice tips, and will find a wealth of information applicable to nearly any middle-sized business structure.  —Diane C. Donovan, California Bookwatch

Practical and Powerful Guide for Leaders. Terry Bacon’s book is a compelling guide that I would recommend to individuals who are new to the leadership arena, as well as those who are already in management. It highlights leadership theory with practical examples, and the content is laid out in easily digestible segments. Terry combines research based theory with real life scenarios which help the reader relate and apply the concepts to their own situations. I think it should be required reading for all new managers. Great book!  —L.A. Clifford

8 Responses to “What People Want”

  1. As a constant reader of your blog I want to tell you that your writing skills are superb.

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