How to Create a Productive Workforce: The 3 As of Happy Employees

Strong teamby Emily Worden

There’s a difference between managers and leaders.  The two roles are intricately linked and complementary, but they’re not the same.  Managers plan, coordinate, and organize tasks. Leaders inspire, motivate, and influence people.  Managers are about accomplishing short-term goals, leaders are focused on long-term vision.

As business owners, we often have to assume the role of manager and leader.  It’s not easy to do – how can you motivate, inspire, and focus on the long-term when you’re drowning in the demands of daily tasks and pressing needs?

Here’s how:  foster empowered, happy employees who trust your vision and work diligently to make it happen.

It’s easier to do than you think.  Most employees are motivated by the same three things:


The 3 As of Happy Employees:



People are driven by the desire to create great work and be recognized for it.  We want to feel that our talents are respected and our contributions appreciated.  Notice your employees’ efforts;  give praise and compliments when appropriate:  “This is great work, thank you.”  “Nice job on the presentation today.”  “This is your best report yet.”  Be specific whenever possible:  “Clearly you put a lot of research into this.”  Specifically praise behavior you’d like to see again:  “I appreciate that you worked extra hard to meet our tight deadline.”



Happy employees understand how their position in the organization supports the common cause.  People are driven to contribute to the greater good – we want to create meaningful work and make progress towards a larger goal.  Help your employees understand the purpose of their job in the context of the organization’s goals; explain why their work is important and impactful.



People are happiest when they’re in control; they’re the least motivated when they’re taking direction from someone else.  Happy employees feel like autonomous decision-makers in their organization.  They’re able to work on their own schedule and accomplish tasks in their own way.  They have independence and don’t have to get purchases under $100 approved.  Make your team members feel like they’re business owners themselves – allow them to make their own decisions about method, metrics, and deliverables and watch productivity soar.

To sum up – happy employees work independently to create something meaningful that is appreciated and contributes to the common good.  Whew!  Sounds like a tall order but you can do it as an effective leader, manager, and business owner.  Here’s six steps to get started:

(1) Tolerate mistakes:  Encourage employees to take risks and accept the inevitable mistakes.  Failure is fine, as long as we learn something valuable about it.  Tell your employees it’s ok to make mistakes; this eliminates the fear of failure and fosters radical innovation.

(2) Have a vision and communicate it:  Project several years into the future – what do you want your business to accomplish?  Develop a concrete vision for your organization’s mission then clearly communicate it to all employees.  Remember, people want to work autonomously while contributing towards the common cause.  A clear vision helps independent employees make their own decisions while staying true to the organization’s mission.

(3) Foster trust:  Be honest, accept responsibility, and don’t blame others for your mistakes.  Likewise, don’t take credit for other people’s work. Hold yourself to the highest standards and your employees will too.

(4) Solicit feedback:  Most employees undergo performance reviews, why should business owners, managers, or leaders be any different? The best review is a 360° review – that is, people at all levels review you – bosses, peers, and subordinates alike.  Ask around – are you clearly communicating goals or just discussing vague talking points?  Do you let people work independently or do you micromanage?  Are you giving people the tools they need to succeed or leaving them high and dry?  If subordinates are uncomfortable reviewing their “boss,” make the feedback anonymous with surveys from SurveyMonkey (

(5) Improve EQ:  Most business strategists agree that it’s more important for great leaders to have emotional intelligence (EQ) than intellectual intelligence (IQ).  Why? Those with high EQ are empathetic to employees’ needs.  They ask questions, listen, and respect other opinions.  Empathetic people make others feel comfortable to express concerns, doubts, or criticism without fear of reprisal, which is critical for a successful organization.  Business owners should treat employees with the same respect as VIP clients, and EQ makes this possible.

(6) Delegate:  Don’t micromanage – it’s the death of happy employees.  People like to be in control and micromanaging takes that away.  Instead, delegate tasks to those with the appropriate skills and encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and take on new tasks.  Outline project parameters and provide the tools, then get out of the way.  Contribute support only when asked and check in occasionally only to ensure everyone’s on the right track.

Great managers, leaders, and business owners understand that employees are an organization’s best asset.  Employees are to be supported and empowered, not squashed and controlled.  Put aside ego and think about it this way: employees don’t work for you, you work for your employees.  Treat them with respect, give them autonomy, and show your appreciation to create an entire organization full of dedicated, happy, and productive people.




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