People dynamics can make or break a career. Nail the people skills, and you’re guaranteed a more successful career more quickly.

Richard Branson is famous for being open about the fact he isn’t the smartest person in his companies – he makes sure he employs and surrounds himself with people way smarter than him.  He credits a large part of his immense success to this strategy.

One of the tricks to having other people work for you successfully is to do your best to ensure they are engaged and happy.

Gallup’s State of The Global Workforce Report 2013 shows that the bulk of employees worldwide (of 142 countries surveyed) – 63% – are “not engaged,” in their work meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in company goals or outcomes. And 24% are “actively disengaged,” indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers. In rough numbers, this translates into 900 million not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers around the globe.

Big Numbers, right?!

A few weeks ago I went in to see a potential new corporate client about running my Women of Influence program in-house for them.

After an initial discussion we moved on to talk about content of the program. I asked the HR Director “What do you think your women really need from the program?”

The response I got was unexpected.

“Tell me Fiona, what do love doing? Let’s start with that.”

Immediately the conversation took on a different energy. My engagement level in the proposal increased ten-fold.

It was a smart question because the truth is we do our best work when we do what inspires and motivates us. This particular client had already worked that out.

Career conversations in most organisations rarely involve this type of question – mostly they include discussions around what you have done well, what you can do better and your goals for the future. But when was the last time you asked a team member, or in fact you were asked “What do you really love doing?’.

It’s such a simple and effective way to build rapport and trust, and to get to the heart of what motivates your staff.

The key is not to be scared of the answer – while we can’t expect everyone to love 100% of what they do, I believe the 80/20 rule is a good one to apply here.  Aim to help your employees work out what they need to be doing to be really engaged in 80% of what they do. I think most people would be delighted with that figure, and your engagement levels would go through the roof.

You’re going to lose people along the way, but you’re better off building a team that is focused, motivated and wants to be there because they not just because it pays the bills.

And if the answer you get is “I don’t know what I love”, encourage that team member to take time to work it out. Get them a coach, do some strengths testing – help them work out where their brilliance lies and then allow them to create a plan on how they will use that brilliance.

People: sometimes you can’t work with them; but you most certainly can’t be truly successful without them.