Boost Your Workforce In Only Nine Minutes

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Can nine minutes once a week transform you from being a manager into a true leader?

As a leader, it can be difficult to remember in your day-to-day that in addition to leading your team with confidence, you also have to make sure you’re addressing their professional needs. But how can you be sure you’re creating an environment where your team feels valued? The answer may involve using just under ten minutes of your Monday morning.

James Robbins is a management consultant, change specialist, and motivational speaker. He's been helping equip and transform leaders for over 20 years. He's the author of Nine Minutes On Monday: The Quick And Easy Way To Go From Manager To Leader which was named business book of the year by Canada's Globe and Mail. I recently interviewed James for the LEADx Podcast to discuss the nine needs in a workplace and the nine minutes that can fulfill them. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: You say there are three truths that we need to know about a leader. What do you mean about these three truths? 

James Robbins: It’s about trying to bring everyone back to the most important things, and the first one is that you know as a manager or a leader—whichever term you want to use for yourself—at the end of the day we're paid to produce results. I mean that's why we're in business, and that's what leaders do. They produce results. But the thing is, whom do those results come through? Is it you or the people that you lead? Well, it's a combination of both. But if your people outnumber you, which they typically do, then it's really your people that produce the result.

So in other words if your scoreboard is how you're evaluated as a leader is actually linked to those results, then your people really are your scoreboard. So that's why you want to do everything in your power to make sure that you're helping them be as successful as you need them to be. And that's one of the challenges that we get so busy as leaders that we get focused on all these other things instead of hey how can I help my people be the best they can be.

Kruse: You say there are ‘nine drivers of engagement’ or basic needs. Summarize them for us?

Robbins: A lot of motivation is driven by needs that people have. We have a need, so we're motivated to take action. Well it's the same thing for us you know psychologically when it comes to the workplace, and there are nine things that drive us to move forward, and I break them up into three groups of three.

The first three have to do with the individual employee themselves. And the first need is the ‘need to be more than a number.’ And studies are clear, in fact it was Towers Pair—now Towers Watson—and their global workforce study. They surveyed 90,000 people around the globe asking them “What drives engagement for you?” and the number one response worldwide was, “When senior management takes a genuine interest in me as a person.” So at the end of the day what people want to know is that they're being useful, they're not just a number, that they're not just an asset, that people notice them and that they care about them. So that's one of the big needs and obviously ‘care’ is one of the sources of trust. There's also this law of reciprocity that kicks in and when they feel like you care about them, they're willing to care back about you and they know that caring back about you means working hard for you. And so that's such an important need that we need to make sure we meet and we can do that in the simplest of ways, honestly, just by showing a genuine interest in them as people. That we know a little bit more about their lives, other than the fact that they just work for us.

Kruse: For example, when you know your team members’ kids’ names, that goes a long way to show we care about them as people, right?

Robbins: Absolutely. It's those small tiny things. And again it's not that leaders don't care. It's just that we get so busy in the weeds doing everything else that we forget to just stop and schedule some time to go “You know, I'm going to be intentional about exercising this need for my employees.” So that's the first one, the second need is the ‘need for growth’ and that's pretty self-explanatory. But everyone has this drive and desire to continue to grow and to improve.

In fact, we find a sense of purpose in that, and it's hard sometimes just to grow by ourselves, especially in these busy environments. And so when our boss is kind of injecting them into our lives helping us to develop, that goes a long way for us to really engage more of our talents. Plus they're going to be trained talents at the same time.

So feeling like we're being developed is number two, and then number three is just our need to be recognized and appreciated. Every time I'm doing a workshop I talk about this, because recognition and appreciation is the cheapest form of feedback that we can give to people. And it's so powerful because from the time that we were little, we've linked what we create with how we feel about ourselves. And so when we're pouring ourselves into our work and nobody notices… We kind of notice that. But when a boss shows up and recognizes either great work or just appreciates that we're actually doing our job, it means a lot to us and it meets a need. So that's a huge source of engagement. In fact, it's reinforcement that we're valuable as a person.

The next three needs actually have to do with needs that I call the ‘of the job’. In other words how can we make the job more motivational itself. Because when we can inspire intrinsic motivation, in other words, that motivation that comes from within, the nice part about that is when people are intrinsically motivated it takes the heavy lifting off of us.

And so there are three ways we do that, the first one is ‘achievement’ or ‘mastery.’ The need to pursue a goal. And so it's about making sure that people have a goal or at least a very specific clear expectation of what success looks like that they can head towards. But that's only one piece of it. And our role as managers and leaders is to make sure that they have a goal, but then to give them feedback on their progress. And that's the huge piece.

And so everyone knows that we need to give feedback to our employees but sometimes they don't connect the fact that feedback closes that achievement loop for people, because it helps them see “Hey, this is where I see you,” and you're either ahead of pace or you're right on pace or you're behind. It's just feedback, it's information, but people crave that so that they can either make adjustments, doubled down, or feel great about what they're doing. So ‘achievement’ is number four.

Number five is our ‘need for purpose’ and this idea of linking purpose to paycheck. And in fact this is one of the most powerful motivators that there is, and it's one of the most neglected in the workplace. When we can help somebody see that their role is part of something bigger, we help them find significance in what they do, and sometimes they just need to be reminded. And I'll give you an example, recently in my church I had this woman who volunteers to teach the Sunday schools, she said to me “Every once in awhile I just need to be reminded that I'm doing this for the kids.” And it's a funny story because it shows you that regardless of how valuable that job might be, we forget at times and we just get stuck in ‘job mode’ and a good boss can come in there and raise people's eyes back up to say “Hey, we're actually doing something really cool here,” and just remind people of that from time to time. So that's ‘purpose.’

And then number six is ‘autonomy.’ People have this need to be self-directed, and this is why we want to give people freedom. This is why we want to help people have choice in how they do things, even as simple as seeking input or feedback from your employees. In fact, I say that's one of the easiest ways to exercise autonomy for people, is to just pull them in on your decisions. And you make decisions all the time, so pull them in on it and they're going to feel more part of the team. The idea of autonomy is to help people feel like they’re owners, not employees. When you're operating from the space of an owner you're going to take more initiative, you're going to be more and more invested. And really that's engagement right there.

Kruse: That's really powerful. We tend to protect and invest in things that we own or that we built ourselves.

Robbins: I mean autonomy, that could be its own whole 60-minute segment that has so much to talk about. But it's true in and—sometimes when I go in, you know—I'll be going in to speak at a company and you know kind of how the drill works and you do some of your homework and you're talking to executives and often what I'll hear executives say to me “You know we want our people to take more ownership,” and I get that.

But some of the reasons why people don't take more ownership is because no one's actually giving them ownership. And so what they're saying is they want the people to work harder, but you have to give them part of the company and you do that by letting them make those calls, appointing them an expert in a certain area, going to them for advice in different places. It’s really just making them feel like they're a vested part of the other place.

The last three needs actually deal with the environment. We can kind of lump them together. The first one is the ‘need to connect.’ And the idea there is the need to be part of a functional healthy team. And when it comes to teams it's not so much that you have to be friends, because you don't, but you do need a respectful safe place. You might have heard the term ‘psychological safety.’ This idea that on a really healthy team anyone can ask any questions. I mean, if you can ask the leader any question then people can feel safe, like they're not going to be punished or fired or put in a doghouse, there's a kind of safety and respect. So again it's not about making people feel lovey-dovey after a team building exercise, even though that's cool. It's about respect and it's about making sure people feel safe.

Need number eight is actually ‘fun.’ And some people wonder about this. But the idea is, you know if your workplace is the opposite of that. I mean is a non-fun workplace engaging? In fact, I was doing a piece on fun at work and I had a chance to interview a director at a funeral home. His name was Michael Pearson and my first question was “Hey, you work with dead bodies, grieving families, and serious situations. Do you guys have any fun around here?” And his answer to me—I'll never forget it—he says, “Here fun is critical.” And he went on to explain that because they work in such a stressful environment, fun is actually a tool they use to blow off stress. Obviously not with the clients but amongst themselves, because it helps them deal with a stressful environment. And so it was key to their engagement.

The last need—which probably overshadows them all— is the ‘need for a model to follow.’ At the end of the day, this goes back to the earlier truth that leadership really does make the difference. And I like to talk about this idea of a ‘weighted relationship’ that when we're somebody's boss we have weight in their lives. And this was drilled into us from the time we were little we've been taught to obey authority. And because of that people in authority play a big role in our lives and they become part of our story.

This is why you can probably remember every primary grade school teacher you had, every head coach you ever played for, and probably every manager you ever worked for, but you can't remember all your classmates and teammates. This is why it’s important, especially for young leaders, to know this is that you bring weight. In other words, your mood counts for more, your words count for more, example counts for more, and because of that leadership is this huge responsibility and like it or not there is a morality that's attached to it. So we always have to be mindful about our example and realize that you give up certain rights when you become a leader. You'll lose the right to just be moody, or you’ll lose the right to lose your temper in the office all the time, you lose that right because all you'll do is destroy morale. And so that's why it's important for leaders always to think “You know what? Yeah, I've got to be on today.” There's a certain performance that I have to play.

Kruse: As an example, a lot of people said Steve Jobs was a jerk but he built Apple, so how would you address that? How can we be authentic but not that kind of authentic?

Robbins: If you're going to be moody and lash out like Steve Jobs then you'd better be Steve Jobs, you know?

I think at the end of the day, it comes back down to you knowing what brings the best out of you, and you have to remember you create an environment. All of us probably can remember times where we've gone to work and whoever the boss was in a bad mood one day, and it's like the long shadow falls over the office and everyone's hushed voices and like “Oh, I stay away from so and so,” and yet your coworker could come in a bad mood and nobody cares. There's a difference between authenticity and being damaging or unwise. So that's just some emotional intelligence there to know the difference. Like the old adage “It's not what you say it's how you say it.” It's also not what you feel it's how you express it. Or the same thing with anger because obviously there are lines you wouldn't go around punching somebody in the face because you're mad, even though that's authentic.

Kruse: The title of your book is Nine Minutes On Monday. It refers to a weekly ritual that gets back to these needs. So tell us about this Nine Minutes on Monday.

Robbins: So the idea is that we have to be intentional about our leadership. I mean let's all face it, we are all flying like a thousand miles an hour. We've got so much on our plates, and so we have to get intentional about the engagement and motivation of our staff. In other words if that's what leads to our success then let's make sure it's a priority, and the best time I know to make something a priority is first thing at the beginning of the week.

So it's a simple ritual that on Monday morning, before you open your email, before you pull out your project list of everything you've got to do that week, maybe get your coffee but that's about it. I've got this template people can fill out and get it for free on my web site, but they answer nine questions and the answers give them some tiny micro goals that they can accomplish this week. And they're simple, it's like “Name one employee that I’m going to either recognize or appreciate this week,” “Name one employee that I'm going to give feedback to this week.”

And so what it does is it takes the things that we know by research that drive engagement and it puts them into micro goals that are manageable for people. And the response I get from a lot of people is like, “Oh, thank you because I can do that because it's not overwhelming.” And here's the thing, at the end of the day, great leadership is the little things done consistently. That's what it comes down to. And these are some of those important things.

Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to get a little bit better every day. Is there a challenge you can give us we could try out right away?

Robbins: Whether it's tomorrow morning, or if you're listening to this on the way to work, when you get in just before you get so busy, stop for a minute and just think about your staff and use the intuitive wisdom that you already have, and what you know motivates people, to create some micro goals. Even if it's just two or three, like “In the next couple of days these are a couple of things that I want to do.”

You know the things that you keep putting off, and whether that's to recognize someone and ask Mary how her son Joey's soccer tournament was on the weekend, or whether it's to pull somebody in on a question to seek some advice to help them experience autonomy.

But just make two or three micro goals based on even some of the things we've covered in this podcast. And go ahead and execute them, and they'll be those little things that make a difference long term.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at