Andy Kanefield - How to help employees know what you want Featured

8:01pm EDT October 31, 2011
Andy Kanefield, founder, Dialect Inc. Andy Kanefield, founder, Dialect Inc.

A good foundation to understanding the intrinsic motivation of the employees you lead needs to take into account motivational factors that all employees share, as well as factors that differ in influence for each person.

There are many ways to slice the pie of motivational differences. One way to think about different motivations is through the filter of organizational identity. That is, the ways in which organizations express who they are to employees and clients.

Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, says: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

His quote will likely elicit applause from many leaders and followers. “Of course we need to know where we are going,” they might say. As we all know, many people get irritated by the very mention of vision or, at least, have their eyes glaze over with a “here we go again” look.

Other leaders start at very different places. Inc., for example, while noted for its excellent customer service, starts with an emphasis on culture. As one Zappos senior executive puts it, “I read about how Zappos is focused on customer service. It isn’t. It’s focused on company culture, which leads to customer service. We don’t talk about customer service; we allow it to happen on its own by having the right people.”

Another common belief among organizational leaders is that a business is first and foremost a set of processes. Get the processes right, and you’ve built a great business.

Finally, other leaders emphasize that everything starts with the customer. Everything is about the customer first and all else follows from that.

So, who is right? In one sense, each perspective may be right. The question itself, “who is right,” is problematic since we know that leaders with the perspectives we’ve characterized above know that one has to attend to all aspects of one’s business. However, leaders do have different perspectives either on organizations in general, or their organization in particular, regarding how to lead people to the desired results. Some focus on direction, others on culture, others on processes, and others on the customer. Just think about the way you, as a leader, spend your time or wish you spent your time. That will give you valuable insight into your own preferences.

How does this relate to employee motivation? Your employees follow the same patterns outlined above. You have employees whose first concern is one of the following:

Where are we going? What kind of place is this to work? What behaviors and beliefs are important to us? How do we get things done and how do we measure our progress? Who is our customer and how do we define and improve on the value we deliver?

Your employees are typically going to focus more on one of these question clusters than the others.

Do you have clearly articulated answers? If not, employees will either fill in their own answers or look for a place that does have clear answers.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO's Tale of Getting in Sync.”

Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Andy can be reached at (314)863-4400 or You can reach him by e-mail at