Studies show that staff are far more productive when they feel enthusiastic and motivated.

And, I’m willing to bet most of your staff spend less than half their time at work being genuinely productive… I speak from experience NOT from any judgement.

I’m also willing to bet, this is as frustrating to you as it is to me… but here’s the thing, you and I are usually the major cause of the problem.

Now, it never ceases to amaze me how we can find business lessons in the strangest of places.

I was reflecting on this very subject recently when Lady G and I were watching the Great British Menu. For those who don’t know this programme, it’s a competition involving professional chefs from all over the UK who each cook four unique dishes of food. These dishes are then judged, first by a fellow chef then again by a group of food critics.

The prize? Four chefs go to the final and get to cook one course each in a 4-course dinner for 60 guests at a special banquet!

So, what’s the lesson in this you may wonder?

The initial reaction from the judge is not what you might expect… there’s no immediate criticism, no, “What the f*ck were you thinking!”… no shouting, no screaming, no bollockings!

Instead, after the chef cooks one of their dishes, they then sit down with the judge and they share the dish together.

As they eat, the judge simply asks the chef if he or she is happy with what they’ve produced… questions like, “is that the flavour you were hoping for from this sauce?” or “happy with the texture of your sweetbreads?”

Imagine doing this with your staff.

It doesn’t take long for even the least aware member of staff to realise that you’re actually alluding to a concern you have and pointing out a potential problem without having to scream and shout about it.

The disarming nature of the question encourages the staff member to actually think about their answer and quickly realise there’s room for improvement.

But then, the Judge ends with a really great question … “what score (out of 10) would you give yourself for this (dish)?”, and this is genius in its simplicity.

You see, by asking the staff member to score themselves you’re really asking… “Is this your best work?” or “Could you have done even better?”

The score your staff member chooses can often reveal a lot about them.

Awarding themselves a justifiably high score will show confidence whilst a justifiable low score will show they are aware of the low standard of their work and therefore give you the opportunity to ask what they could do to improve that score.

Of course, they could give themselves an unjustifiably high score… which would be sign of overconfidence or arrogance. This would require you to point out the areas of improvement needed and why.

Or, they might give themselves an unjustifiable low score which would indicate either humility or lack of confidence. This would require you to point out their great work and encourage them to build on that.

What a great way to help our people feel enthusiastic and motivated, to encourage them to want to work well and to align their goals with those of our businesses?

So, what else can we do to develop our people?


It’s a myth that people are only motivated by money… in reality, it’s based on giving people an appropriate combination of rewards such as career progression, responsibility, influence, recognition, security, challenges and feedback.

And remember that what motivates you and me, doesn’t necessarily motivate your staff!

Manipulating and bullying people simply does not work. It leaves them demotivated. The key to successful motivation is not only their attitude but yours.

Try treating employees as partners in the business, keep them informed, ask for their views, provide a comfortable working environment, the right training and equipment for the job.

Build up an atmosphere of trust and teamwork, not defensiveness and fear. A company run on fear is a miserable place to work, full of people who avoid making decisions in case they are wrong.

Avoid blame — and acknowledge that mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process but encourage people to ask for help when difficulties arise.

Keep communication open and honest. Hold regular brief meetings to plan work, establish goals and discuss any special events and deadlines. Share any news and problems and give employees credit publicly for their achievements.

Take an interest in people’s lives and be prepared to chat about the things your employees are interested in. Listen actively to whatever people have to say.


Let them know what is expected of them. The objectives you identify for the company need to be turned into practical, achievable goals for the individuals working in it. If employees can see how their success contributes to the big picture, they will feel motivated and enjoy being part of the team.

Agree realistic but challenging goals that directly benefit the business. Ensure they can influence and monitor the results they are being asked to achieve then celebrate their achievements.

Give everyone a chance at success. For example, a book-keeper is more likely to stop debtors taking liberties if he or she has responsibility for bringing the figures down. The book-keeper also needs to know why this matters so much. If employees understand problems, they often come up with solutions themselves.


Most employers find it all too easy to complain about employees’ mistakes. If you’re going to criticise, do so in ways that’ll help them improve. But more importantly, try to praise their achievements ten times as often as you point out errors!

Let your employees know how they are doing but remember, the objective is to improve performance, help learning and build their motivation and self-esteem. Any feedback that doesn’t contribute to these goals is counterproductive.

Respond quickly and be clear on the issue. Allow time to do it properly and show real feelings. Be delighted or disappointed. Don’t save up praise or criticism for reviews, or for when you lose your temper.

Don’t make it personal. Describe the consequences of an action, rather than criticise the person. Keep your praise and negativity entirely separate. Never end with negativity. Once the message has sunk in, encourage the employee to think through with you how to get better results.


You can never win an argument with an employee. The loser will become demotivated, and that is not in your interests as an employer.

If disagreements arise, limit the damage. Carefully, separate facts from opinions and emphasise the areas where you agree.

Listen while they talk and acknowledge their opinions even if they are at odds with your own.

Try putting yourself in their shoes.

Give people room to save face, especially after criticism, failure or disappointment. Riding roughshod over them simply leads to poor morale, low productivity and high staff turnover.


Handled badly, pay can be a terrible demotivator at every level in your business. Be aware that every pay packet sends a message and employees are sensitive to its nuances. If you pay less than the competition, expect to have demotivated employees. And if you give rises only when people threaten to quit, you are rewarding disloyalty. Also, avoid paying higher rates to attract new employees, current employees will resent it.

Be careful with year-end profit as a target for bonuses. Employees may not see a direct link between their efforts and their bonuses as the delay may be too long.

People know the profit figure may be altered for tax reasons and only a few employees will believe their efforts can influence the result.

The most visible or obvious part of any remuneration package is salary which can be made up of several elements including basic pay, commission, bonuses, profit-related pay and share dividends. That said, many of the most motivated people are also some of the lowest paid (e.g. nurses and teachers)

Many employees appreciate company contributions to pension, insurance or healthcare schemes and it’s often much cheaper for companies to offer access to group schemes like pensions than it would be for employees to purchase individual rights

Company cars are always a popular perk for many employees despite increasing taxation on cars and fuel.

Consider staff discounts on your products or services.

Subsidised meals and accommodation can be attractive benefits to many staff.

Rewarding staff through company events and days out can be very effective. You can use them to reward specific achievements, like achieving quarterly sales targets. It is a particularly useful way of rewarding groups of people and helps build team spirit at the same time.

For many employee’s money and benefits are not the main motivator. Doing something worthwhile or working for a worthwhile cause is all the motivation they need.


You need to know which individual employees are ambitious and which are likely to be content to stay in the same jobs. Identify which employees have the capacity and desire to learn new skills.

Take every opportunity to make people’s jobs more satisfying. Increasing the variety of tasks employees undertake makes work more stimulating.

Give employees the chance to shoulder more responsibility and increases their sense of involvement. Swap people around so they can try each other’s jobs and appreciate each other’s roles. This develops versatility and team spirit.

You risk losing talented employees if they are under-used, frustrated or bored. Find out what they want by asking them what you could do to make their jobs more rewarding. Ask employees the key question: ‘If you could improve just one thing about your work situation, what would it be?’

Whatever you do to attract, retain and develop your people, remember this, they are your most valuable asset. Happy staff means happy customers. Happy customers mean more sales. More sales means improving profits. Improving profits means happier business owners.

So, if you want to be happy, look after your people!