Simple is often better. In the challenging realm of leading people, I’ve discovered a simple method that covers it all. My goal, which I tell everyone I lead, is that they are simply happy and productive. This covers both the employee and the company. The employer/employee relationship should be symbiotic, with each party “getting something” out of the relationship.

TL;DR: Know what makes your employees happy, so that they’re getting what they want out of the job. Communicate what the company needs in the form of productivity, to make sure the company is getting what it needs from this position.

First, an employee is almost always happy if they are getting what they want out of the job. This could be sufficient income, learning new skills, contributing to an altruistic vision, being part of a dynamic team, progressing in their career, serving others, being creative, flexibility to raise their family, the list goes on and on. But here’s the key: we don’t know what makes them happy until we ask them. It’s critical to ask the people we lead what makes them happy – what are the reasons they want this job. (And btw, it’s ok to say that they want to make sufficient income. Making a living, paying one’s bills, taking care of one’s responsibilities, paying fair share of taxes…these are all noble quests and earning sufficient income is required.) So, I like to have an in depth conversation about their reasons with people I lead when I begin leading them and during their annual performance review. And to revisit these often – even informally at weekly and monthly updates.

Second, the company needs things done to survive and thrive. Every role should have well defined deliverables and timeline – the production that is needed. As a leader, I need to understand this for each role I’m responsible for and communicate these productivity expectations to each employee. When this productivity happens, the company is getting what it wants. And again, progress (or lack thereof) needs to be communicated at each weekly or monthly update, celebrating what’s going well (or clearly discussing what’s not and what can I or the company do to help.)

Happy and productive is an easier way to say there is a mutually symbiotic relationship. Both employer and employee must benefit. It’s our opportunity as leaders to ensure this is the case.