Join me at the front of the room during a business presentation when this photo of Braelyn pops up on screen and you will witness a fascinating phenomenon. Leaders in the room have no idea who Braelyn is or why she’s on the screen, yet immediately their expression softens. Many are smiling. You can literally feel a shift in their energy.
“What’s happening right now?” I ask them. They speculate: She’s cute. You want to respond by reaching out to her. She reminds me of my own daughter. I encourage them to consider what they are feeling. Sometimes I hear: Unconditional love. What finally dawns on them is the purity of Braelyn’s intention—she’s reaching out for no other reason than to connect. That is what makes them feel good.
Braelyn’s photo represents a basic psychological need that every human being has for Relatedness—the need to care about and be cared about by others without ulterior motives.
Scientists have discovered that human beings thrive when all three psychological needs are satisfied: Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence. Regardless of generation, gender, job classification, race, or cultural influences, people have a high need for Relatedness.
In the workplace, Relatedness is often discounted or nonexistent. This is a huge risk, because there is no such thing as compensatory need satisfaction. If people aren’t getting their Relatedness need met at work, there’s a chance they are not getting it met at all given the amount of time people spend at work compared to other areas of their life. Without Relatedness at work, people simply will not thrive or have the energy, vitality, and well-being required for pursuing and achieving their goals.
Satisfying people’s need for Relatedness at work
- Listen. Listening is the greatest form of flattery. It’s an old adage, but listening can go way beyond superficially motivating someone. Genuine listening satisfies a deeper motivational need to feel connected to the person with whom you are communicating. If you have a personality type that doesn’t predispose you to be a good listener, take a class to learn the fundamentals. Listening is a skill. Learn how to do it. Develop a value for doing it. Do it. Listen with intention and you may discover that the person benefitting from the experience is also the one doing the listening.
- Reconsider the F-word in organizations: Feelings. When you listen intentionally, you hear the content of what people are saying. But, you also hear the sub-context—how they feel about what they are saying. Acknowledge people’s feelings. Feelings are the primary way people make decisions and come to conclusions about their well-being. Those feelings of well-being or ill-being lead to people’s intentions. Their intentions are the greatest predictor of their behavior. Those behaviors are what lead to employee engagement—and disengagement. To ignore feelings as if they don’t exist is foolishness—and a big reason for suboptimal motivation and disengagement.
- Tie work to meaningful values and contributing to the greater good. Have you had a values conversation with the people you lead? Do you know what they find meaningful? Have you helped them make the connection between their daily efforts, values they personally hold dear, and a noble purpose? Dr. Ken Blanchard records an inspirational voicemail every morning for the hundreds of people that work in his company throughout the world. Every day, he reminds people that no matter what their role is in the organization, they are an integral part of making the world a better place.
- Advocate for procedural justice. The primary reason people leave organizations is due to perceptions of injustice. For example, if people have a bad boss, they don’t leave just because of the bad boss, but because the organization has allowed that bad boss to exist—procedural injustice. If you have a HIPO program where individuals are selected as “high performers,” but the selection criteria and process is ill-defined, not public knowledge, or limits participation, then you probably have a small group of HIPOs and a workforce full of LOPOs (low performers) whose sense of Relatedness has been totally undermined. Transparency and communication about policies and procedures is essential for people to have the sense of fairness that is the foundation for Relatedness with the organization.
- Fight for distributive justice. If salaries are out of whack compared to your competition, you will most likely lose employees who are motivated by money. But, if salaries are out of line internally—if the CEO and executives make 100 times what the average person earns, for example—a large part of your workforce may “quit but stay”. They are disengaged, getting by doing as little as possible. People interpret unfair distribution of resources as a statement of how little the organization cares about them. Fight for fair wages—help topple the top-heavy inequity that is eroding Relatedness in so many organizations.
I began by asking why Braelyn’s photo made you smile. The question I really need to ask, so you can take advantage of motivation science, is: “How can you help people thrive through Relatedness at work?” As a leader, you influence this psychological need every day. When you do it well, you will see immediate results that come from an optimally motivated workforce whose engagement improves over time.