Making The Job Meaningful All The Way Down The Line

Nucor (NUE ) motivates workers largely through its innovative pay structure. But no company has all the answers on how to inspire workers. So we asked a leading thinker on the topic, best-selling author Bob Nelson, about winning strategies at other companies. Nelson, who has consulted with more than 1,000 companies, bases his philosophy on research he did while studying for a PhD under management legend Peter Drucker. Here he explains, in his own words, how employers can create environments to bring out the best in people.

SHARE PRIORITIES

Money alone doesn't create an environment where people are willing to go all out. You have to move toward the things that are between the lines, such as how people are treated. They're not just there for the paycheck and the not-so-bad commute. What they really want is to know that what they do matters.

Take The Scooter Store. For the first 15 minutes of every day, everyone in the company, about 800 employees, meets with their immediate team. Every person shares their top priority for that day. After 15 minutes everyone votes on the most pressing need they have to pass on to the next group up the line. So the executive team gets, bubbling up from the grass roots on a daily basis, the most important priorities for the organization. Then they concentrate on them.

FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT

Some 90% of all career development occurs on the job -- not the job you hope to have 10 years from now but the one you've got right now. At American Express (AXP ), executives are careful to explain how an assignment will help an employee reach a development goal. They call it "label and link." They teach managers that when they give someone an assignment, they should label what they're doing and link it to what's important to that person. AmEx does that because as it has surveyed employees, it has discovered that a high priority is learning and development.

PROVIDE PERSPECTIVE

I was working with Giorgio Armani. Its Costa Mesa (Calif.) store manager came up to me. She said: "I had this young sales associate, and he would drag into work and spend his time socializing. It was so frustrating. One day I pulled him aside and said: 'You know, you could be something. It could start in this job here today. You're letting your life pass you by."' To her amazement, this guy came alive in ways she'd never seen before. In the first month [after the talk] he went on to be her top salesperson.

The generation entering the workplace today expects to have meaning in their jobs from Day One, not after paying their dues. Form the right connection, and you can turn that force to the benefit of the company and employees. It's a movement away from more traditional forms of recognition to the more intangible -- flexible hours, autonomy, development. Today, a "years of service" program...is out of sync with the dynamic. We don't need "employees of the month" as much as we need "employees of the moment."

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