The "gift of accomplishment" is one of the big things that keeps your best employees around. I've mentioned it while speaking at conferences, but surprisingly, I haven't written about it. Let's fix that.
First, what do I mean by "the gift of accomplishment"? I got the term from a very accomplished operations consultant. It simply means that one of the compensations of the job, apart from money, is when leaders enable employees to actually finish things and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Sure, your worst employees don't care. But your best employees, the ones who give extra effort even when nobody is watching, need to feel that they're spending their time well. If they don't, that discretionary effort goes down the toilet.
Sure, you say, blah-blah-blah squishy soft nonsense. What are the nuts and bolts of giving this gift? Well, as it turns out, your technical staff is just as suspicious about squishy conceptual stuff, so the best way to give the gift is to take concrete action. Here are four ways to do that:
1. Reduce Meetings
The biggest thing that gets in the way of the gift of accomplishment is a surplus of needless meetings. If people don't have any time in their day because it's booked solid with meetings, they can get nothing done. Reduce the number of meetings you have and cancel standing meetings when there's nothing to talk about.
And, perhaps the most powerful technique of all, have "work sessions" instead of meetings. That is, get together to get the work done instead of talking about the work. Collaboration-friendly tools like Google Docs are fantastic for this, since you can all hack on a document at the same time.
2. Create Project Discipline
When you're someone who lives to accomplish, the worst thing is to be involved with a project that lingers on forever. You're the leader. Kill the projects that are clearly not working. I'm not saying ignore the need for the project. I'm saying, kill projects that are clearly not fulfilling a need in a timely way. Then, re-evaluate what will fill that need, because that last project simply wasn't it.
You can and should do better than have zombie projects linger around. Maybe change out the team for the new project, or outsource parts of the new project. Maybe insourcing is the answer. Take action. Your staff will notice that you eliminate problem projects, and those who live to accomplish will appreciate it.
Don't take on too many projects at once. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Trying to kick 30 soccer balls down the field at once is a guarantee that you won't succeed. Focus. Defer 20 of them, or however many you need to, in order to focus and be effective.
Ranking projects with departments or business units is one way to dramatically cut down the project list for the quarter. If you're not on a quarterly project review cycle, get on one. If you can't make progress on a project in three months, something's wrong.
3. Avoid Decrees
Avoid making black-and-white rules. One of the most talented IT folks I know was frustrated by his employer's unilateral decision to block outbound SSH connections, "because security." He won't say that he left the organization because of this decision, but it sure didn't help.
He essentially could not do his job (connecting to outside servers in order to deploy his work product) because of this unilateral decision. If you're looking at restricting network traffic, here's a helpful hint: Check in with the people who legitimately use the network before you do so. Enacting broad, sweeping restrictions with no exceptions is a way to limit what great employees can accomplish and results in frustration and employee flight.
I will never forget the Steve Martin line in My Blue Heaven where he says, "It's not tipping I believe in, so much as over-tipping." Over-tipping creates delight and a recognition that the wait staff's accomplishments are truly appreciated.
In that same vein, to give the gift of accomplishment, take tangible steps to show your staff members that their accomplishments are truly appreciated.
[Want more advice on preventing your best people from fleeing? Read How to Retain Good Security People: Keep the Work Exciting.]
Recognition and reward go hand in hand. Project highlights belong in quarterly and annual reports. Individual contributor recognitions do as well. Ice cream socials or after-work events go a long way.
Of course, issue bonuses when possible for truly great work. There's nothing that's quite as sincere of a thank you as cash in hand, and it shows that the work truly did have value.
However, if all you do to give the gift of accomplishment is to show appreciation without following the other techniques outlined above, you'll be seen as insincere and ineffective.
What employees who work hard really want to know is that you, the leader, will also work hard to make things better. They'll feel like they're in good company, and that's what makes them stay.