My firm recently analyzed the results of nearly 1,500 personal history data questionnaires gathered during our corporate assessment and coaching efforts undertaken over the last three years.
One of the first things apparent was the startling difference between men and women in the importance placed on “financial and career prospects” — a term coupling the rankings assigned to having advancement opportunities and the chance to earn high compensation. Regardless of leadership level, males were much more likely to place greater importance on this area than their female colleagues. For their part, women were much more likely than men to place higher importance on being recognized at work and gaining a reputation for expertise.
Does this mean that women aren’t interested in raises and promotions? Does it mean that as long as you “show men the money,” you don’t need to recognize their important contributions to corporate success? The answer is no on both counts. It simply means that financial and career prospects for women, and recognition by peers for men, aren’t first on their respective lists.
What does this mean for HR departments working to keep key players of both genders engaged and committed? Based on the data we’ve analyzed, we’d offer the following:
• Don’t assume you know what motivates people professionally. You need to ask them. Ask your high performers, both men and women, to share their work aspirations, and fully explore what they mean. For example, it is important to determine whether women view expertise as an end in itself, or as a means to an end — i.e., gaining advancement and greater financial reward.
• Judge promotions on an individual’s current performance as well as their potential and readiness to fill the new role — not just on how obvious they’re being about their desire to advance.
• Help employees make the right choices for their own particular goals and aspirations. We found that women in particular will often develop deep expertise in a certain niche area valuable to their employer. In some cases, these individuals cultivate such expertise solely because they get fulfillment from being seen as an “expert” in a certain area and being asked for related input into important company decisions. In other cases, however, such specialization is undertaken as a way to stand out as a high achiever suitable for promotion. In the latter situation, such specialization is an inefficient means to the desired end, and can actually limit chances for advancement on the management track.
• Financial and career prospects are just one of many potential motivators that can be used to keep key players from jumping ship. Smart businesses will proactively seek input from these players on what else might make their careers more fulfilling. Examples of alternative motivators include opportunities for new learning, work on cross-functional teams, flexible scheduling and autonomy in accomplishing a desired corporate outcome.
• Recognize the experts in your organization. Expertise is hard-won, and is easily lost if it’s not perceived by the expert as being valuable to management. Such recognition also serves to motivate others. One of the most effective ways to recognize expertise is to have a technical career track as well as the typical management track. This way, pivotal employees with no desire to manage don’t hit a dead-end with an organization and take their expertise along with them when they move to greener pastures.
• Consider programs and processes that will help you identify high-potential employees. We define a high-potential employee as an individual who would excel at a job two levels above their current position. Offer these future key players targeted development opportunities to help them prepare for the next level.
• Start early. The fight to attract and retain star talent is fierce, and losing the fight could have catastrophic impact on your bottom line. Put a people strategy in place to keep consistent flow in your “leadership pipeline” — all the way from front-line leaders to the C-suite.
If you want your workforce to be engaged, you’ve got to return the favor. If you pay attention, you might be surprised at what you find.