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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

4 Ways to Inspire Brilliance From Your Team

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I’m a big believer in personal brilliance. Whether it’s being a talented wordsmith, an amazing salesperson, or an incredible team player, we’ve all got a little dose of secret sauce within us. The trick is coaxing it out of us in a way that enables and inspire us to perform at our best.

This is no small task, and it gets even harder when we think about how to tap into the brilliance of our teams. Everyone’s secret sauce is different, and people are motivated by all kinds of things. (For example, after a long day I just might walk through fire to get to a cheese plate and a good glass of wine, but I digress.)

Beyond the individual coaching we must do as managers, what are some ways to encourage engagement and bring out the brilliance in your team? This was the $10,000 question my company, Brilliant Ink, set out to answer recently with our Employee Experience study. After hundreds of Fortune 1,000 employees weighed in on the relationship between work experiences and engagement levels, we had more answers than we bargained for, so in the spirit of sharing, here are a few ways to start engaging your employees today.

1. Show Them a Path to Success

Sooner or later, most of us will spend some time thinking about where we’re headed in life, especially with our careers. Your employees are no different. But they also know that they need their manager’s help getting there, which is why you need to be thinking about their career paths, too.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but shockingly, 66% of employees aren’t discussing their career path with their managers during the critical first 90 days of employment, and 40% aren’t even talking about it during annual performance reviews.

Don’t make this mistake. Ask your employees where they see themselves headed, and don’t just rely on them for the answer. As a manager, you may have a better line of sight into their career opportunities than they do. Think about where your employees really excel (remember that secret sauce?), and the roles within your organization that may be a good fit for them down the road. The annual performance review is a great time to evaluate career goals, but career planning should really be a year-round activity.

2. Connect the Dots

Knowing where we’re headed isn’t enough. We also want to know why we’re doing what we’re doing, and if it really matters. This is especially true for your current millennial employees—and the ones you may be hiring soon. According to the national nonprofit organization Net Impact, today’s students say that having a job that makes a social impact on the world is more important than having children, a prestigious career, or being wealthy. (Seriously.)

So, not surprisingly, employees who say that their manager has helped them see how their work connects to the company’s mission, vision, values, and business strategy report higher engagement levels than those that don’t. Storytelling can be particularly powerful in this regard. Sometimes simply recognizing your team members’ efforts and placing it in the larger context of the outcome they helped create is enough to remind them that the work they do matters and inspire them to keep at it.

3. Keep Talking—They’re Listening

Do you ever wonder if the pep talks and information sharing with your team are really necessary? I’ll be honest and say that I do. After all, it’s not often that our employees tell us how helpful any of this is to their job.

Well, thank goodness for data. Our research shows that 68% of employees rely on their immediate manager for most of their company information, and this is especially true of your newer employees. We also know that the more direct and inspiring leader communications are, the more likely your employees are to be engaged. So keep talking! Just make sure to keep it real.

4. Get Them Involved

You might never know the real brilliance lurking within your team if you don’t give them a chance to shine. Here’s one of my favorite ideas: Turn your employers into hackers for a day. No, this doesn’t require learning how to code or doing anything illegal. It’s about giving your employees creative license to brainstorm freely about any number of challenges your company is facing.

Here’s how it works: Invite employees across functions and departments to channel their collective brilliance toward any sticky business challenge that’s open for input. It could be related to your strategy, products, or the employee experience itself—such as improving corporate culture or your onboarding process. Match your employees (or let them self-select) to teams, then get out of their way and see what happens. At the end of the day, teams can share their ideas, and the most feasible and popular “hacks” can be advanced for further exploration.

We recently used the same formula for a cross-functional hackathon involving nearly 100 corporate professionals from a variety of companies who were interested in improving the overall employee experience. The ideas were exciting, and the energy in the room was downright electric. It’s a great way to help your employees see how they connect to the bigger picture and get them interacting with people they may not have an opportunity to work with every day.

What personal brilliance is lying just underneath the surface with your team? Taking the time to discover the answers will not only benefit your organization, it will also enhance the personal development and performance of all your employees.

Photo of woman leading courtesy of Shutterstock.