You all know that scene from Mad Men, when Peggy Olson, the plucky assistant advertising creative asks her boss Don Draper for a raise--and he counters by telling her that she is "replaceable."
Being "replaceable" is probably one of the most demoralizing things that you can ever hear on the job. Even if most jobs can be done by other people, most creative people want to feel like they matter and that they uniquely make a difference to your organization.
You should not dismiss it as "special snowflake syndrome" or even narcissism, as most employees do not want to feel like cogs in the machine, and instead want to feel like they are making their mark on the company, and changing it in a way that no one else can do. In fact, telling an employee that they are replaceable is one of the worst things a boss can do.
Here are 4 ways to make your employees feel like they matter, and keep them creative and happy.
1. Empathize and show compassion.
It's pretty simple: treating your employees like human beings will make them feel your humanity. One way is through empathy, which involves putting yourself in another's shoes and considering their needs and interests. While empathy, in general, seems to be lacking in many aspects of our current lives, some of the best ways to strengthen your compassion is by listening and tuning into your employees as people with whole lives, rather than just resources that serve as means to an end.
2. Highlight and play up their unique strengths.
Get to know your employees and find out what motivates them, and what helps best reach their potential. Don't dismiss someone because they are less than perfect in one key area, especially if they are strong in other areas. Pair and team them with people who have complementary but not opposing skills and can lift each other up to fill in weaknesses. Communicate that you value their unique skills and accept their limitations. Remember: you can't expect one person to be great at everything. Take into consideration your expectations for different roles, genders, races, and ethnicities when you set these types of expectations.
3. Give them independence and let your employees take risks.
We have all heard about Google's 20 percent--the ability for "Googlers" to work on side projects for 20 percent of their time. Although the Google 20 percent did not always work as well as it should have in theory, having a culture of creativity and experimentation does matter. So when your employees try new things--even if it is somewhat outside of the everyday--encourage it. As long as the team is hitting milestones, enabling some out-of-scope risk-taking and idea cultivation could end up leading to longer-term success. Moreover, let your employees feel comfortable giving ideas and experimenting by allowing open critique and feedback--even of your own practices. Even if a suggestion does not seem quite right at first, let it percolate and come back to it later.
4. Give them credit and let them shine.
When those creative employees do give great ideas or solve problems big and small, make sure you give them credit, and continue to give them credit. You may feel like because you are the manager, you should get the credit, but this ends up earning distrust rather than appreciation. Giving credit to your colleagues only raises your own profile with both your employees and your clients.