I like Seth Godin. I like his approach to the work world. I particularly admire his ability to write short, tight, pithy blog posts that never fail to make me think. A recent post of his has been running through the back of my mind for weeks now. The gist of the post:

“My boss (when I had a job) worked for me. … His job was to figure out how to best give me access to the people, systems and resources that would allow me to do my job the best possible way. … What happens if you say to the people you hired, ‘I work for you, what’s next on my agenda to support you and help make your numbers go up?’”

This speaks directly to the intrinsic motivator autonomy that Dan Pink and others tell us is so powerful. People want the autonomy to do good work. But managers so often excel at not removing roadblocks, if not actively creating them. I’m reminded of a job very early in my career. Several of us shared a single calculator. Work would slow as we anxiously waited our turn to check our numbers with the calculator. Think how much more productive we would all have been for an incredibly small investment in a few cheap calculators.

Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, sees this as so important, he considers it a management philosophy:

“Employees First, Customers Second is a management approach. It is a philosophy, a set of ideas, a way of looking at strategy and competitive advantage. … The whole intent is to do everything we can to enable those employees to create the most possible value.”

How do you put employees first? How do you know what barriers to remove or tools to provide? How do you figure out how to “work for your employees?” Steve Hannah, CEO of the satirical newspaper The Onion, offers these guidelines.

“I am the hired help. The creatives are absolutely the center of gravity. … Never, ever do anything to deprive a human being of their dignity in work, in life. Always praise in public and criticize in private. … Listen to the people below you because they are on the front lines.”

Do you not only listen, but then act upon the suggestions of your people on the front lines? Do you offer praise when they deserve it? Do you see yourself as the hired help to make the “creatives” in your organization as successful as they can be? Until you do, you will not achieve the bottom-line results you want.

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