I grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, New York. No, I wasn’t homeless. I just hated being in that tiny apartment with my folks fighting all the time. It was a lot more fun and a lot less chaotic hanging out outside with my friends.
You see, my parents worked for beans and hated their jobs. Sure, they took care of us -- put a roof over our heads, food on the table and all that -- but they were miserable and it showed, big-time. To their credit, they truly wanted better for their kids.
So I grew up knowing I had to do three things.
1. Make money. We were the poorest of all my friends and relatives. That’s why my folks fought so much. It really sucked and it was humiliating. I knew I had to change that.
2. Work hard. My dad drilled his work ethic into me and I’m eternally grateful for that. I just wish he didn’t throw a fit over having to miss a day of work when I broke my leg playing basketball.
3. Find something to do with my life that didn’t make me wish I was dead and take it out on everyone I loved. There was no way I was going to work at a job I hated. Period.
Luckily, I found my way into the high-tech industry where opportunity abounds and you can pretty much achieve whatever it is you’re capable of achieving, as long as you’re willing to work hard and take risks. No, it hasn’t all been fun and games, but it’s been a better ride than I had any right to expect and more fulfilling than I had ever dreamed.
Given my background, it should come as no surprise that I’ve long been an observer of what motivates people, empowers them, and makes them happy to come to work. Besides the paycheck, here are nine things that I think good employees -- the kind you want to keep around -- live for.
A piece of the action. I believe it was chip giant Intel’s founders -- Andy Grove, Gordon Moore, et al -- who pioneered the practice of issuing stock options to employees. That said, profit sharing has been around for a long, long time. People really love knowing they have skin in the game. It’s motivating and empowering.
The chance to be a part of something great. Ask anybody why they work at Apple and they’ll tell you: It’s pretty cool to see somebody walking around using a product you had a hand in making. When I was in the microprocessor industry, the engineers lived to build a chip that was better than Intel’s on a shoestring budget. It really moved them. No kidding.
Some honest guidance and feedback. Maybe the secret to wealth and power is a bit over the top, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect some genuine guidance on what’s expected of them and a little honest feedback on how they’re doing. Emphasis on the words “genuine” and “honest.” I mean, we get enough BS from the politicians.
A little predictability (and a lot less abuse). There’s nothing worse than a boss that reminds you of an alcoholic parent. A manager whose emails, phone messages, and cubicle visits are more like drive-by shootings than management direction. It’s chaotic enough just trying to get products out the door and beat the competition; folks don’t need that sort of chaos from their management, as well.
A sense of humor. Over the years I’ve known a zillion successful executives, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists. One thing’s for sure. The really good ones know how to goof around and take the edge off. They don’t take themselves too seriously. You need that sort of leadership in today’s hypercompetitive, super fast-paced global markets where everyone’s stressed out to the max.
The opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merits. A challenging work environment where they can push the envelope, take risks, and grow. A place where management has faith in them, at least to the extent that it’s warranted by their capability and potential.
Free food. Don’t ask me why, but when it comes to free food and drink, especially decent free food and drink, employees get downright giddy. One company I worked for had fresh fruit in the morning, one of those automatic espresso machines, and beer and wine in the fridge to take the edge off those late night sessions. Very cool.
Management that actually knows what it’s doing. Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes to think they work for idiots. When the Peter Principle is so evident that employees think they’re more competent than executive management -- and they’re probably right -- I guarantee that’s not a happy place to work.
A little appreciation. Yes, being paid what you’re worth is huge, no doubt. But when the job is done and it was a job well done, a little public acknowledgement goes a long way. Look at it this way. Employees want bosses to tell them what they did wrong in private and what they did right in public.
Feel free to send this list (anonymously) to your bosses. You never know, right?
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.