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How to get the best from your staff

Employees are a business’s greatest asset, but this is only true when you are getting the best out of them. If not, they are just a cost – eating away at your bottom line.

So, how do you get the best out of your staff? Not a simple question and one that runs the risk of producing the type of fluffy HR speak that drives SME owners barmy. I have attempted to look at the issue more pragmatically, focussing on simple ways to help increase the productivity of your team, making sure that at very least you are getting out of them what you are spending.

Doing this is like building a house: you need to start with the foundations (this is as fluffy as I will get, I promise!). As a starting point, it is imperative that you get the basics right. That means checking that you are paying the right wages and penalty rates under awards, providing the correct amount of leave and ensuring that all other basic rights are being dealt with.

The National Employment Standards provide the legal floor that you need to comply with. Have a look at them to see whether you are doing the right thing. If you are cutting corners, the likelihood is that you will get found out. The Fair Work Ombudsman audits over 30,000 businesses each year to check for compliance and heavy fines can result if you are not meeting your obligations as an employer.

If you are not doing the basic minimum, your staff will soon begin to dissent: “Why should I work hard when I don’t get paid properly?” etc. If you are meeting those obligations, you can begin to worry about what the rest of the house looks like. You might start by looking at your working environment. Is it a pleasant place to work? What does working for you look like compared to your competitors?

This is not about paying more (in fact, money is well down on the list of what motivates staff). Think about your office and the way you treat your team. Make sure that good work is acknowledged and think of non-monetary ways to reward your staff. One major bank in Australia has a club that its top sales staff are invited to join, for example. The desire to be included in this has had a more positive effect on sales than previous increases in commission rates.

The next stage is to put the roof on the house: The crowning moment! To successfully achieve this, you need to consider how you interact with your staff. More authoritarian styles of management are increasingly a thing of the past. The current buzz word is empowerment (sorry, I have broken my fluffy promise). There are really two elements to this.

First, listening to your staff and taking on board their ideas. Given how fast paced business is today, this should be logical. Blink and you could be the next Kodak – listening to what the more junior staff had to say might have led to an earlier realisation of how the digital age would impact their business.

Secondly, trust your staff to make their own decisions and acknowledge their successes. Micro-management is out of the window – staff now want to be seen and heard by their bosses, with the liberty to act independently. Giving them your trust will help them develop and, in turn, enhance their capability. If empowerment is too fluffy a term, think of it as delegation. Ask yourself whether you really do this successfully. Many managers do not and it is a real impediment to growth – you only have one pair of hands, so can’t do everything.

Finally, make sure you maintain your house. Repairs will be needed along the way. Deal with the leaks and cracks when they occur and don’t be tempted to leave them until it is too late.

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