Six entrepreneurs on how to motivate staff towards success, even when crunch time hits

Richard Branson

Richard Branson threw water at fellow entrepreneur Mark Cuban after a misunderstanding.

Apple founder Steve Jobs once said his model for business success was The Beatles: four guys who kept each others’ negative tendencies in check to create something bigger than the sum of their parts.

As company founders stare down the end-of-year crunch, many are likely be considering how to make sure their teams operate in a way that ensures maximum output, even when some staff members are stressed or under pressure.

Entrepreneurs consistently tell SmartCompany that finding quality talent is just the beginning: supporting them, driving them and empowering them to act in ways that are true to the brand is the real skill.

From the simple act of listening to creating an expectation of leadership, here are six entrepreneurs on the strategies they use to motivate staff. 

Sue Ismiel, Nad’s

Sue Ismiel, Nad's founder

Help teams focus on innovation

“I thrive on creating things. We instil this spirit within the organisation, encouraging people to innovate. Even with things like finance, [we’re] asking, ‘how can we can provide reports that provide things that we don’t already do?’

“We reward those who come up with innovative ideas and there’s always something in it for them.

“Not every person knows how to innovate. If they did everyone would own their business. But it’s up to the top person [at the company] to develop them, to show them what the consequences are if there is no innovation, and you really need to be on top of it.”

Hayley Markham, Code Camp

Hayley Markham

Make sure staff feel heard

“I always take great interest in the welfare of those I manage. After all, you spend such a huge amount of time with your co-workers that it becomes easy to spot any shift in attitude that could be explained by problems in their work lives or their personal lives. Everyone’s different so I always focus on making sure that not only do my staff not get to the point of wanting to leave, but that the work environment I provide is one which they enjoy being part of.

“I constantly check in with each of them to ensure that their ideas and opinions are being heard and that they are reaching the goals they have set for themselves. Challenging staff and giving them the support they need to succeed has a very positive impact on not only our business, but our staff’s drive and their satisfaction levels. If I notice any of my employees becoming even remotely disengaged from myself or their workload, I head straight to that person to work out a solution.”

Richard Branson, Virgin

Celebrate the good times instead of powering through achievements

Being happy isn’t having everything in your life be perfect. Maybe it’s about stringing together all the little things.

“When I think back over the moments that made me smile in business, it’s not the IPOs, the end of year profit, or the awards. It’s celebrating the launches, milestones and special moments with staff along the way.”

Julie Stevanja, Stylerunner

Encourage reflection beyond everyday frustrations

“When we first started, one of the things we did was we started a gratitude session every single morning and now we do it on Friday afternoons …

“We simply say, ‘just take a minute to be grateful for something. What is it you’re grateful for?’

“We often get caught up in those little things every day that might be the train was late or the train was so full and we come in with this feeling of frustration but really, aren’t we grateful that we have a train to get us to work?’”

Jaimes Leggat, M&C Saatchi

Jaimes Leggett M&C Saatchi

Focus on building leaders

“I think if you create an environment where people can be the best version of themselves, you are more likely than not to get the best work out.

“You’ve got to have the talent present and give them an environment where they can prosper. You can’t force people, there’s no formula.

“In the future, I fundamentally believe that business success will be about the quality of their people [but] talent is a big challenge …

“They need to be leaders and galvanise people on a journey. They need to have a dogmatic focus and drive; it’s hard, and you need to keep going. Then, they need to have curiosity about themselves and their improvement and the world.”

Collis Ta’eed, Envato

Envato founders Cyan and Collis Ta'eed

Envato founders Cyan and Collis Ta’eed

Share profits with staff — even if they have recently left you

“A big component of Envato is that we run our business by our value set, and one of those is that people should have a fair go. In that sense, profit sharing should recognise the people who were in the business and who may have left us.”

“If we can mail a cheque to the new offices of an ex-employee, they’ll have an even nicer view of us.”

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