John’s not a top executive, or even a hi-po. He’s an engineer who works at General Electric and he loves it. Earlier this year I asked him why.
He paused before answering. “I do interesting engineering work,” he said, “so I’m always learning. And I enjoy the people I work with, but the big thing is the opportunities.”
I was puzzled by that. John won’t be “going anywhere” in an organizational sense. He’ll probably spend the rest of his career doing essentially the job he does now. So I pushed him a little. From his replies and conversations with others, I offer you this list of opportunities you can give your people.
Give the gift of opportunity to grow. John’s in the same box on the org chart where he’s been for years, but he’s constantly growing because he participates in projects that stretch him.
Give the gift of opportunity to learn. John attends classes and seminars to refresh and sharpen his skills. He learns new ones, too.
Give the gift of opportunity to show off. John isn’t a show-off in the standard sense. He wouldn’t even let me identify him by name or the location where he works. But he loves the opportunities he’s had to tell other engineers about his work and what he’s learned. In a nutshell, John doesn’t care what you think of him unless you’re an engineer who understands his work. Then he enjoys strutting his stuff just a little.
Give the gift of opportunity to fail. That may sound weird to you, but it may be the most important opportunity of all. Freedom to fail is a statement that you’re smart enough to come up with new ideas and that while some of them won’t work, you’re more important than a well-intentioned failure.
I don’t care how big or small your company is, everything on this list is available for giving. And, through a wonderful alchemy, they’re gifts that give back and keep on giving, too.