What Great Bosses Know about Voodoo

Voodoo.

It’s a word that hasn’t been part of my leadership lexicon. I never encountered a  reason to weave it into a column or a course.

Then I met Boss Voodoo.

I discovered him on a post-holiday clearance rack. Poor guy. He never achieved stocking stuffer status. But for $2.50, he became my muse — and the star of this column.

Check him out:

Boss Voodoo came with no instructions — other than a tag that warns (in English and French):

This is not a toy – This is an adult novelty product, only to be used by persons over the age of 18 years.

So, my fellow adults, we have one novelty product bearing 11 messages, along with 10 pins. And we can do whatever we want with him.

Here are the messages:

Be good to me.

Leave early.

Give me a long holiday.

Buy me dinner.

Appreciate me.

Give me a bonus.

Compliment me.

Time to give me a promotion.

Thank me for my contributions.

Pay me more.

No overtime work.

Frankly, I was surprised at the list. I expected it to be a Dilbert-esque litany of management grievances (“Telling lies,” “Taking credit for my work,” “Playing people against each other”), any one of which would merit a sharp jab from a pearl-topped pin. Take that, Evil Boss!

But instead, it’s a wish list of employee desires and aspirations.

Breaking it down:

Four requests for fairness and feedback: Appreciation, compliments, thanks — and kindness.

Three desires that impact the bottom line: A raise, a bonus, a meal.

Three shout outs for work-life balance: Long vacation, leave early, no OT.

One call for growth: A promotion

It appears we could use our Boss Voodoo pins to prompt, not punish — a kind of acupuncture in which we identify areas we’d like to stimulate toward health.

OK, I like that.

But how realistic are the requests?  Do they match up with what employees really want from bosses? Here’s how I see it, based on reading thousands of evaluations of managers and comments from their staffers.

Fairness and feedback: Spot on. It’s a continuing challenge for bosses. Employees want to know where they stand and to be recognized for good work. They value bosses who take time to thank them – sincerely and specifically — and give them feedback on their work and progress.

Pay and perks: Do you know anyone who would turn down a raise or a bonus? Money matters, of course. But there are plenty of well-paid but unhappy people whose bosses don’t understand that true motivation encompasses far more than money.

Work-life balance: This one rings true. Today’s organizations often feature slimmed-down staffs and obese workloads. Employees (and managers) struggle to find what I prefer to call work-life harmony. Telling a good employee, “You’ve worked hard, go home early today” is a small but powerful gesture of support.

Ambition: I think this is underrepresented on the list. It’s not just about promotions. Employees want to learn new skills, take on challenges, and be the parent of ideas and solutions.

The trick, the management magic, oh heck — the voodoo in all this is knowing your people well enough to anticipate their needs and concerns. Each one will be different. So let me ask you to predict: Given a blank doll and the chance to list their wishes on it, what would each of them write — and how you would respond?

Boss Voodoo and I wish you pinpoint accuracy and satisfied employees.

There are three things I think are likely to show up on most employees’ lists. I share them in today’s podcast, “What Great Bosses Know about Voodoo.”

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

You can download the complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U.

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