This week, for our exclusive “Let’s Talk…” feature centering on management, we asked a line-up of more than 25 business leaders to reveal how they bring out the best in their workforce. Common strategies included affording people autonomy, holding them accountable and setting tasks that stretch them to reach new heights.
Role-modelling a strong work ethic and fostering an inclusive, respectful and inspiring work environment were also considered important. As more than a few also pointed out, it will be easier for business leaders to bring out the best in their workforce if they’ve actively hired outstanding people who genuinely believe in their vision.
How do YOU bring out the best in your workforce?
Amantha Imber, Founder, Inventium: “I ensure people feel challenged by their work. Feeling a strong sense of challenge in one’s work is a critical driver of innovation. Challenge refers to people working on tasks that are complex and interesting — yet at the same time not overly taxing or unduly overwhelming.
“It is important that you don’t simply think about how to give people (including yourself!) the biggest possible challenge. Instead you should ensure that the level of challenge you set is one that is achievable. On the flip side, don’t set tasks that people can complete with their eyes closed. As a manager, take time to thoughtfully consider how you allocate tasks and projects to people. Ensure that you are matching these elements so that people feel a significant sense of challenge.”
Tanya Titman, Founder, Acceler8: I focus on empowering staff to make decisions without needing my input and recognise each person’s strengths (and weaknesses). It’s important to push staff to aim higher, extend their goals and challenge them to think beyond their current mindset. Staff need the right skills to grow, and this means soft skills as well as technical skills. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the team and a good leader shouldn’t be afraid to employ or develop staff to be better than you in their field of expertise. My key belief is that it’s important to be real and authentic, and show your human side.
Luke Anear, Founder & CEO, SafetyCulture: “There are five key factors that bring out the best in the SafetyCulture team:
- Openness and honesty: this is a company value and also something I live by
- Transparency: keeping my team involved in every part of the startup process
- Autonomy: I believe in giving people room to do what they do best
- Structure: I’ve spent a lot of time working on the structure of our teams
- Culture: fostering an authentic team culture ensures people want to come to work and give their best every day.”
Mick Spencer, Founder & CEO, ONTHEGO:
“First and foremost, by hiring team members who are aligned to the vision of the company. There is no better incentive for them to go to work every day. When hiring staff, tell them where you want the company to be, not what you want them to do, and work with them to understand how they’re going to help you achieve that goal.
“You need to create an environment where people’s ideas are heard and actioned, and everyone is on the same page when it comes to the direction of their immediate team and the company as a whole.
“You need constant communication between team members and their direct managers because as the business scales quickly there will be new pressures and pain-points, and the last thing you want are issues bottling up within your team. Set reviews so everyone always knows where their performance is excellent, where they need to improve and what the challenges are that they are facing. Give them the time. If there is transparency, there is motivation. Open recognition is also an important part of this process – for example, we use a recognition software called Redii.
“Have people perform with the attitude that they have the opportunity to make themselves redundant in the next phase of the business as they transition into middle-management roles and beyond. So always be clear about the sort of promotional opportunities that come with showing stellar initiative and passion at work.
“Essentially, hiring on culture, values and attitude is important. People need to want to work with you and just as importantly work without you when you’re not around to drive them. Personal values and attitude play a big part. You can’t bring out the best in someone who doesn’t want to be the best.”
Tony Wu, Co-Founder, Weploy: “Two key things are trust and empowerment and they go hand-in-hand. When I hire someone it’s because I can see that they have a unique skill-set and ability, so I need to trust that they will come into work, perform well and kick some serious goals. Alongside that trust, it is also important I instil a confidence within the team around the concept of ‘failure’.
“Mistakes will happen, but it is about bouncing back and learning from those mistakes for the benefit of the business. And finally, the company’s overarching mission is so important. If your people genuinely believe in what you are doing, they want to fight the fight with you, and this passion goes a long way in bringing out the best in your workforce.”
Maria Bellissimo-Magrin, Founder, Belgrin: “We bring out the best in our team through inclusivity. We’ve created a family environment with buy-in from everyone, no matter their role. We all sway left and right of our direct role to complete whatever it is that needs to be completed. I also work across a lot of projects myself, and I believe that if your team sees you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get it done, they are happy to put in the hard yards too. Everything starts at the top and trickles down.”
Karen Gately, people management specialist & Co-founder, Ryan Gately: “A leader’s ability to develop the capabilities of their team and influence successful behaviours will ultimately determine the level of business performance is achieved. When talented people are motivated and bring the full strength of their knowledge, skills or experience to their role, truly great results are possible.
“The first step toward success is to develop relationships based on trust and respect. When people trust the person you are, and respect the wisdom you offer, they are entirely more likely to be influenced by your leadership. Create a workplace culture in which people are able to thrive because they enjoy coming to work and are inspired to give their best.”
Ruth MacKay, CEO, OURTEL Solutions & author (The 21st Century Workforce): “Communication is the key to creating an engaged workforce. Check in daily with your employees to ensure they feel connected to your organisation’s goals and understand how their contribution fits into the greater strategy of the company. I’m also a big believer in constantly tracking KPIs. This will ensure you are recognising and rewarding good work, and will help you to identify when your team members need extra support. This should be a regular conversation you have with your people — not left to quarterly or annual performance reviews.
“In my case, because I manage a virtual workforce this can often be even more challenging then in a traditional workplace where you can walk down the ‘corridor’ and catch up with your employee. Instead, I have now mastered the use of tools such as virtual classrooms and video conferencing to stay in close communication with my team throughout each day. Thereby building what I now realise now are even more authentic relationships, compared to my many management years in bricks and mortar workplaces, because these relationships are built with no noise, but strictly on performance.”
Kristen Hansen, Director, Enhansen Performance & author (Traction): “Did you know that our brains scan the environment for threat or reward five times per second? Any negative emotion – frustration, anxiety, anger – creates a threat state. People have less focus, insights, and social connection. Positive emotions create a reward state, with clearer thinking and more productivity.
“We want to create a happy and curious team. Of course, not all people are the same. Find out what each person requires to reach reward state. For example, many people are motivated by autonomy. Giving orders limits their ability to work creatively. Don’t tell someone what to do. Instead, provide an environment where they can perform at their peak.”
Rob Hango-zada, Co-founder & Joint CEO, Shippit: “Being a manager is bloody hard, there’s no way around it. But it’s one of the most rewarding roles in any company. There are thousands of strategies and even more books that proclaim the secrets of being a good manager. From my experience managing people and processes at FMCG companies and now as the joint CEO at Shippit with my other half, Will, we have proactively initiated a few processes to bring out the best work and culture in our team:
- Create an environment that encourages and rewards innovation and collaboration; shared spaces, weekly all hands sessions, problem workshops and our values focused around pushing the envelope.
- Reward results and recognise performance that’s not just monetary. For example, we use HeyTaco to celebrate little daily wins and enable team members to reward one another. Once team members amass enough tacos they can take a day off or redeem for cash and other benefits.
- Provide clear goal posts in the way of objectives and key results, move away from micro-managing but use frameworks that help team members think for themselves and produce their best work, this creates ownership for each of our staff.”
Emma Bannister, Founder & CEO, Presentation Studio: “You’ve got to balance a fun and inspiring place to work, with one that has boundaries and clear direction. Fun at work is not dependent on a vast open workspace, foosball tables or beanbags. Instead, it relies on you sharing and discussing creative ideas with your teammates. We regularly get together to help boost each other’s creativity through things like ‘popcorn sessions’ (where we watch videos or Ted talks), walking meetings through the parklands and presentations to each other about our passions.
“When you facilitate this kind of creative collaboration, even if it’s not 100% work-related, then each of us becomes more innovative, and the office becomes more fun and productive overall. People want to come to work, instead of feeling like they have to. Make everyone feel like they are a part of the solution to problems and that their ideas are valid. There is nothing worse than a manager or leader who barks out orders or tells everyone all the things that are wrong.
“Get everyone involved, especially if you have a younger generation of workers who want to feel like they are an integral part of the business and what you are creating. Have regular one-on-ones with your direct team and remove excess layers of middle management that create friction not flow.”
Grant Richmond-Coggan, Business Director, Red Agency: “Businesses exist to achieve together what cannot be achieved alone. Being a leading communications agency, we have a very fast paced and dynamic environment where a lot is expected of staff, the majority of whom are under 30 years old. There have been numerous articles written and debates about how to achieve the best from Millennials or Gen Y, but I truly believe it comes back to the simple tenants of running a successful business:
- Strong leadership with a clear vision that each employee at each level understands, and importantly understands how their day to day contributes to achieving that vision.
- Hiring on attitude and values not just skills. It’s hard to change and attitude, the rest can be learnt on the job, find great people and let them grow.
- Empower those people with responsibility and openly reward success. Even our most junior staff pitch for some our biggest new business opportunities.
- Create an environment where failure is accepted with accountability. Those who fail together, learn together and eventually win together.
- Finally have fun. You want your team to wake up and be excited about coming into work and inspired to do incredible things, if the workplace is not enjoyable this will not happen.”
Nazar Musa, CEO, Medical Media: “Bringing out the best in your team is important, and what’s equally as important is knowing where your strengths lie as a leader – and where they don’t. I’m conscious of the fact that there are people who know more about certain aspects of the business than I do, and understanding that can bring out the best in others by letting them do what they do best.
“I don’t micro-manage anybody in my team, I bring out the best in them by trusting them which allows them to begin to flourish. We aren’t afraid of making mistakes in this office, and my door is always open. I’m always open to giving my co-workers the chance and opportunity to shine because you can’t micromanage your staff, that only limits them from reaching their potential. It’s better to support them and allow them to flourish.
“There’s no massive hierarchy in this organisation, anybody can walk into my office and ask for help as I believe in open communication with my co-workers. When you have an environment that encourages people to talk openly, it creates a more open and conducive work environment where people aren’t afraid of making mistakes.
“70% of your week is spent at work (if not more), so if you’re not happy where you work it’s going to affect most of your life. That’s why I try not to see myself as better than anybody, I remember everybody’s names in the office, and I take the approach where I am their boss, but rather than just being a boss, I’m also working towards the same goals as they are.”
Maureen Ball, Managing Director, Roobyx: “This might sound very old fashioned, but respect is a key ingredient in bringing out the best in your workforce. No matter a person’s position, they should remember that it’s the team working cohesively that ensures ongoing success. It’s not up to one individual. Each person was hired to fulfil a position and securing their ongoing contribution is vital for the successful execution of business deliverables.
“All too often managers and employees forget to respect others or do not acknowledge the contribution they make. Commonly, personal feelings about another person’s character gets the way of crediting that person’s contribution as useful or relevant. It should be remembered that liking someone you work with is a bonus, respecting them and their contribution is imperative. You don’t ever have to be best friends with anyone to acknowledge their skills, knowledge or accomplishments.
“When respect is shown, it is almost always reciprocated. Respect empowers other to do their best as it acknowledges that as part of a team, they are helping everyone achieve company goals.”
Tammy Butow, Co-founder, Girl Geek Academy: “I recommend believing in and trusting your team to do their best work. Hire your dream team then let them shine. I aspire to coach my teams in the same way top basketball coaches, such as Steve Kerr, support and develop their teams. By doing so, you instil accountability and trust — which helps them feel inspired and capable. They are the ones on the court because you believe in them. Always encourage your team to work together and do their best work as a team. Team syncs and 1:1s are critically important parts of the week. Encourage your team to have 1:1 time with each other, to support each other, treasure these moments and always be present.”
“Further, leaders should afford employees workplace infrastructure and technology that enables them to securely access and share files from anywhere (on any device), collaborate with teams in multiple locations in real-time and otherwise work flexibly. People increasingly demand work that fits around their lives, not the other way around.”
Dayna Holt, People & Culture Manager, Atomic 212°: “Bringing out the best in your workforce usually comes down to five main elements:
- Play to strengths – Research by Gallup shows that people who use their strengths daily are six times more likely to be engaged on the job. With this comes more enthusiasm, loyalty, better performance and increased output.
- Recognition – Recognition needs to be all inclusive. When you recognise people you not only reinforce the behaviours you want to see people repeat, but you encourage ongoing patterns of these behaviours. When a person feels valued they are more likely to maintain and/or improve on their good work.
- Empathy – At the base of empathy is human connection. Focussing our attention on the people around us strengthens our ability to learn, communicate and get results. Empathy doesn’t mean you agree, it is helping an employee know that he or she is being heard.
- Allow a point of view – Everyone has a point of view. We encourage our team share it without running the risk of looking disloyal or untrustworthy.
- Create a safe environment – This covers many aspects of a work environment. To some this could mean physical safety, to others it is a safe place to voice their point of view. Regardless of the personal meaning to people, feeling safe in the workplace promotes a sense of wellbeing and belonging.”
Rony Chiha, Founder & MD, Adcreators: “In any workplace, employees thrive on feeling appreciated and valued for their hard work and contribution. Over the years, I have discovered the importance of creating a culture in which praising employees is a natural thing. By giving credit where credit is due, employees are determined to work hard and empowered to achieve their absolute potential.
“More often than not, credit is given to team members who are in the forefront of a project. However, as a leader, I have recognised the importance of acknowledging the efforts of all who have contributed and giving balanced credit for all those involved. This encourages my team to work more cooperatively and brings out the best in each individual.”
Steve Traplin; CEO, Groupon (APAC): “My philosophy on management is a simple one. Hire outstanding people and stand out of their way to allow them to do what they do best. Our business is propelled by the passion of our people, and I firmly believe that our continued success in APAC is down to them.
“When hiring people, I look for two things, both crucial for success. Firstly, I want them to have a relentless desire to create a brilliant experience for both the customer and the merchant. Secondly, I want them to come into work and love what they do. I also feel it’s important to create a sense of ownership within all of our teams, and I listen to their feedback and ideas as to how we can do and be better.”
Greg Taylor, Group VP (APAC) New Relic: “I have held a number of management and leadership roles for the past 15 years, and as Group Vice President of a San Francisco-based digital intelligence leader, I have learned a lot about leading, and bringing out the best in a team.
“As a student growing up in Northern California, and playing American Football, my passion for leadership started early. In the position of quarterback, I learned that you’re not just a leader on the field – it’s an all-encompassing role that requires just as much leadership off the field as it does on.
“In the professional business world today, I’ve seen that the same notion can apply with coaching team members and being involved in their big-picture experiences at New Relic. I strongly believe in the power of teamwork and that’s what I try to instil in my team by empowering them to not only become leaders in their own right, but also by giving them ownership, challenging tasks and letting each one of them know that they are an important part of the business and together we can and will achieve great things.
“Establishing an inclusive culture is key to bringing out the best in every member of any team. I want people to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions, and in my experience, the teams that I’ve led were all highly motivated by the sense of togetherness, teamwork, and belonging to the company.”
Andrew Barnes, Co-founder & CEO, GO1: “We’ve built a team of people passionate about making adult education more accessible. Having an important mission at the heart of our company has been critical to creating a team motivated to achieve it.”
Mark Fletcher, CEO, Cohort Go: “Communicating the company’s goals and values in a consistent, engaging and effective way is key to bringing out the best in your people.
“At present, we have a very decentralised workforce – about 30 people spread across 10 countries. While it’s challenging to ensure everyone is working toward the same goal and embodying the company values on a day-to-day basis, I believe having regular meetings to bring out everyone’s key wins and discuss how to approach difficult situations as a team, really helps our people to put the company’s values into action and feel like we are all on this journey together.
Nailing the hiring process is also very important. While skills and experience are important, cultural fit and sharing the company values sit right on top of my priority list when looking for new people to join the team.”
Tony Ward, Country Manager ANZ, Dropbox: “In order to get the best out of their workforce, leaders need to give their employees high levels of trust and empowerment. They should also look at how they encourage and reward outputs such as creative and breakthrough thinking because these attributes are becoming increasingly important as we continue to migrate from labour intensive work to knowledge-based work
Anthony Sochan, Partner, Think and Grow: “Being in the business of helping clients build high calibre teams, we’re aware of the challenges entrepreneurs encounter when moving into a role where they’re required to lead and manage for the first time. A common mistake is equating being a successful manager to being a successful leader when there’s a clear distinction between the two.
“Good leadership involves providing direction and being really clued-in to your subject. A good manager, however, is someone who gets the best out of their workforce by ensuring KPIs and milestones are set and that everything is in place to ensure the team can reach its goals. It comes down to clear communications, clear goals, and setting out the pathway in such a way that others can follow.”
Steven Marks, Founder & Global CEO, Guzman y Gomez: “We commenced with just one store in Newtown in 2006 and have since grown a thriving franchisee family across Australia, Singapore and Japan. The secret has been a tight knit community with a shared entrepreneurial spirit, a passion for Mexican food, and a refusal to ever compromise on quality. When we’re recruiting franchisees we start with these common beliefs as they are crucial for delivering future success. Our crew share our values and are trained in building successful businesses. If you find a workforce that believes in your vision, the rest will fall into place.”
James Brennan, BlueJeans, Managing Director (APAC): “Collaboration has become a bit of a buzzword recently, but the businesses that are doing it effectively, and with the right tools, are examples of the workplaces of the future: A team of happy, empowered and productive people who work on their own terms and get results.
“Management can achieve this by getting back to the basics of building an effective company culture by encouraging their teams to stop hiding behind emails and meet their colleagues, partners, customers or prospects face-to-face. The rise of the international business and remote and flexible working should be no excuse for not meeting face-to-face, with the availability of high quality video meeting platforms and workplace collaboration tools it’s easier than ever.
“I’d also encourage management to ask themselves if their office design encourages collaboration. Agile teams need meeting rooms where teams can brainstorm, show multimedia presentations and collaborate with other teams, partners or customers, no matter if they are in the building, home lounge room, or on the other side of the world.”
Robert Read, CEO, MedAdvisor: “MedAdvisor has a strong purpose which is to relentlessly innovate to improve access and convenience to healthcare to help people feel better. This is a galvanising proposition for many of our people as they understand the frustration that can be caused by information not being easily accessible or having to wait for what appears to be routine processes such as getting a script renewed or filled. Remembering to take medications and managing scripts can be hard, especially if you are caring for someone. Collaborating so we can help our customers and users is critical. We have worked hard to ensure that employees have a common vision and values. Plus, we have processes to support their performance. Feedback is a constant process at MedAdvisor and this goes both ways, manager to employee and vice versa. This is augmented by more formal processes and development plans to ensure people are reaching their potential.”
Greg Bader, CEO, Rent.com.au: “We’re a startup that’s doing something good (we’re helping people), that’s changing the status quo and that’s nimble – and each of each these factors is a motivator for our people. By giving everyone a voice and ensuring everyone has an interest in what we are doing, my role becomes much simpler. We have lots of smart passionate people, so we look at our choices logically, make a decision and then get on with it.
“I think it is very important that everyone knows why we are doing something and has a right to question something if it does not make sense to them (in fact, I have always seen that as an individual’s obligation – if you don’t understand why/what, find out). We have lots of avenues for sharing (online, meets, social etc), it means our team is all on the same page, we don’t need to argue around priorities because we all know why we are doing things in a certain way or at a certain time.”
About “Let’s Talk…”
This exciting new, weekly initiative provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.