- June 26, 2019
- Posted by: Phillip Van Hooser
- Category: Choosing to Lead, Leadership Development, Why Employees Do What They Do
Clients often ask me, “Phil, when it comes to my employees, how can I actually determine individual needs?” Maybe you’ve wondered the same thing. That’s a great question and it deserves a logical, commonsense answer.
There are three primary ways to determine your followers’ needs — and none works perfectly alone. But when applied in concert, each of the three has utility and benefit that can support the other two. The three ways to determine individual needs of employees are to ask, to observe, and to listen.
Obvious Way: Ask to Determine Individual Needs
First, the most obvious way to determine individual needs is to ask your employee.
“Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened.” Truth knows no time-line. The validity of asking, seeking and knocking is as real today as when this truth was penned two millennia ago.
But asking alone is no guarantee that you’ll learn what you need to know about the needs driving your employee’s behavior. Yes, some people readily share their needs when asked. They’ll be thrilled you cared enough to inquire. However, don’t be surprised if others respond to your question with little more than a blank stare and a mumbled “I don’t know.” Some needs are so deep-seated that it is difficult to understand them, much less verbalize them.
You should also know this: Some individuals may know very well what their needs are but still not share them with you if asked. They may choose to withhold such personal information out of fear and uncertainty as to how you’ll use it. Until they feel completely comfortable that they can share their deepest needs with you without the risk of being hurt in any way, they’ll hold back intentionally.
Best Way: Observe Your Employees to Determine Individual Needs
Second, the best way to determine individual needs of your employees is to observe them.
In their groundbreaking book, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman introduced the world to a commonsense technique they called MBWA — Management By Walking/Wandering Around. The premise was simple: Get out of your office and go where your followers do their work if you really want to get to know them and what their needs are.
The best way to determine an individual’s needs is to watch and learn from them. However, if you’ve created a situation (either intentionally or unintentionally) in which you infrequently observe your followers, you really have no idea what their needs are. On those rare occasions when you do finally come around, they’ll change their behavior (that is, clean up their act) until you leave, at which time they’ll slip back into their more comfortable patterns of routine behavior. But you’ll never know — because you’re not there often enough to observe them when they don’t take notice of your presence.
The more you walk or wander around, the better you’ll know your followers and their needs. The less you do so, the less you know about the needs that drive their behaviors.
Worst Way: Listen to Others to Determine Individual Needs
Finally, the worst way to determine individual needs is to listen solely to others.
Don’t get me wrong. You can gain valuable information by actively listening to others. However, as it relates to identifying the needs of others, we cannot expect to learn a great deal about one person by simply listening to another. Any information gained from a third party will always be tainted by their past experiences or personal biases.
There’s nothing wrong with quizzing John or Sally and thus learning all that is possible from them about Bill and Suzanne. However, to stop there and not go further by talking directly with and observing Bill and Suzanne is simply unwise.
For leaders to create a self-motivating environment at work, they must determine individual needs for each of their followers. But be warned: It’s neither quick nor easy to do so. It requires a significant investment of time and energy, as well as a sincere interest in people.
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