Strategic HR

Why Intellectually-Stimulating Work Is More Powerful Than Wages and How to Provide It

In a survey of hundreds of professionals, the most important criteria respondents selected for being satisfied with their jobs was the chance to do intellectually-stimulating work—which is no surprise to me. In my experience, when people are very engaged with their work, they don’t tend to leave the organization even if the wages are not quite as high as may be elsewhere. It’s when things slow down and employees are bored or unchallenged, that they take that call from the recruiter.

workPutting together a high-performing team, doing great work, and making sure that both the individuals and the organization are progressing towards their goals are key strategies for recruiting and retaining ambitious and motivated staff.

Here are three steps to designing an environment that provides employees with work that is as intellectually-stimulating as possible.

1. Don’t Get Bogged Down in Useless Administrative Tasks

One sign of an organization that is losing its way is the proliferation of administrative and data-gathering tasks that don’t seem to be productive. According to another survey, employees spend an average of a quarter of their time on administrative tasks and e-mail. But is that all necessary?

All too often, people are asked to provide data without the why or what it is used for. This creates a sense of disconnection from the progress of the business. If employees don’t see the point of it, they will not do it accurately and if the data is poor quality, it won’t be easy to interpret or use and it becomes a vicious cycle. In these situations, people feel a lack of empowerment and often feel that their time is being wasted—which it is.

Sometimes organizations, which work in this way, look like they’re performing well on paper—but they have a problem. They are not achieving their potential. They will soon be in danger of losing their best people who aren’t happy in such an environment. High-performing teams seek excellence but have the humility to know they can never rest on their laurels once they get there. They are not going to be satisfied for very long being in an organization that is drifting along just “doing OK,” they want to be part of an organization that mirrors their own ambitious natures.

2. Set Clear Goals for Individuals and for the Business

One of the things I used to advise new employees was “Ask yourselves each year—‘Have I added at least one new line of experience or skill on my résumé or LinkedIn profile?’ If you haven’t, it’s probably time to leave.”

The concept worked on several levels. From my point of view as an employer, it made them focus on their external worth, not just their perceived internal worth. Taking on more internal and administrative responsibilities might seem important and it might gain favor from your boss because you are making their life easier. But has it actually created shareholder value? Has it helped your customers?

If you set that up as your top priority, then people are predisposed to question getting bogged down in inward-facing activities and put pressure on their manager to do more externally-focused things—things that impact your customers positively. This forces the organization to keep challenging employees, therefore by setting down the challenge at the start, you know as an organization if you don’t deliver, you run the risk of losing that person!

Equally, the management team has to provide leadership. An organization which doesn’t have real clarity on where they are heading, or a well-communicated plan, is not likely to be a challenging place to work. If there isn’t a plan, the team will not be empowered to carry out or exceed the plan.

Google has built an incredible brand being associated with ‘Search’ we automatically associate Google with this term. Apparently, the McLaren motor racing team has a policy that any meeting must be associated with “does it make the car go faster”—if it doesn’t meet this criterion, then they don’t have the meeting. These companies are very successful at hiring the best people in their fields in part because they understand and communicate their goals clearly to their teams.

3. Empower Staff to Self-Manage, with Support from Technology

There is a great deal of evidence that empowering staff creates the conditions for them to find their work highly engaging. Giving control of things that can affect their success, such as budgets and goal-setting, allows them to make decisions and encourages collaboration at all levels across the organization

Many small businesses operate in so-called “high-trust networks.” They are made up of people who understand the company’s culture and who share its goals. Bringing new people on board who are not part of this network, especially if this is done swiftly, carries a number of risks. The new staff may not be as familiar with the business’ way of working. Bringing on board several new staff at once can have the effect of shifting the culture towards a more “low-trust network,” where there is a lot more supervision. That can be difficult for existing staff who may dislike the change, become disaffected and leave, compounding the problem.

Utilizing technology such as augmented intelligence can help sustain what is effectively a high-trust network, but one where the new staff work in a structured environment in which their decisions and actions are visible. Within this structure, employees can feel encouraged to take responsibility for running their own areas of the business.

For example, using augmented intelligence to make suggestions to staff, and to record their response, means that humans and machines can work together to come up with the best solutions. There is less need to worry that people are going to miss important actions or take wrong decisions because of the visibility of what’s going on. This allows the business to maintain the kind of culture that will attract and retain top quality staff as the business expands.

A happy workforce thrives off of more than just good wages. Employees are fueled by intellectually-stimulating environments because they keep them engaged. Companies need to focus on this strategy in order to retain their best talent and ultimately grow.

Mark Robinson, serial entrepreneur and cofounder of Kimble Applications, has more than 25 years’ experience in the IT consulting industry. In addition to founding the company, he also serves as Chief Marketing Officer where is he is responsible for business development, channel management, and market analysis. Mark started his career in management consulting before working for Oracle Corporation where he witnessed first-hand their rise from start-up to software giant. He started his first IT Consultancy Company, Fulcrum Solutions, in 1997 and cofounded IT consultancy Edenbrook in 2001.