22 December 2015

Motivate, Engage and Retain: How to set 2016 off on the right path.

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Every year around this time there are reams of articles written about the year in review or how to avoid the mistakes of the past. The world abounds in Top 10 Lists. For me, this time of year isn’t really about introspection, but about focusing on the New Year to come and what we can do to make sure the New Year is bigger, and better, than the current one.

Staff engagement and retention is always at the top of most HR managers’ minds. Having to replace staff after an exodus around late January/early February is both time consuming and costly. The idea of seeing the same faces at next year’s Christmas party motivates me to sit down and plan out a system to re-engage everyone after the holiday period, when Christmas – and the next break – seems so far away.

Keeping your staff motivated is about creating in them a sense of belonging and ownership. Here are a few key tips – you didn’t think this wasn’t going to contain a list did you – that can help you to motivate, engage and retain your staff to set 2016 off on the right path.

Top tips to motivate, engage and retain your staff:

Listen:

Staff work on the front line of the business. Processes put in place a decade ago may work well, but when a staff member works up the courage to highlight an area that needs to be improved – and provides you with an idea on how it can be done – listen to them. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to adopt the idea, but staff who show initiative should be applauded. The habit of “we’ve always done it this way,” can be hard to break, but ignoring an idea from an employee who has put the time and effort into looking into why it might work is not going to motivate anyone to do anything but the bare minimum.

Empower decision making:

Back in the dark ages of the late 1990’s I worked for an Australian telecommunication company. While I was there I undertook a training programme called “It’s your company.” The point of the training was to create buy-in from staff to make decisions that both helped the customer and the company. The training set very clear parameters as to what I could do on my own and what needed to be authorised by management. By having the knowledge and power to do most things on my own I became really invested in “doing it right.” There were no mistakes, so long as I worked within the guidelines provided, but we still had to be able to justify why we had made certain decisions if we were asked. Not long after the Sydney Olympics, I went to work at another telecommunications company. The new role gave me zero scope to use my initiative and I had to ask permission to do the most basic of things. I spent 12 months in that company and hated every minute of it. Show your staff that you trust them. Train them well and then let them do their job. It’s why you hired them in the first place.

Acknowledge achievements:

When a staff member goes above and beyond to secure a deal or satisfy a customer it needs to be acknowledged. I’m not talking about holding a ticker-tape parade in the office or setting off party poppers. What I mean by acknowledge the achievement could be as simple as saying “Great job.” I’ve had managers in my time who, when a target was surpassed or a goal achieved simply moved the goal posts. Instead of saying congratulations on achieving the target, the response has been “well next month I want X amount more.” Not only is it frustrating, it’s demoralising. If a staff member feels they have no chance of winning, they’re not even going to try.

Competitions are fun:

It may sound silly, but competitions are fun. Whether it’s a competition for a bottle of wine or a trip overseas, everyone likes to win. Back in my call centre days we – as staff members – were tasked with coming up with an idea to create Team Spirit. I remember at the time wondering why the Team Leader wasn’t tasked with that job, but each team member put on their thinking caps and came up with a variety of ideas that we pitched to the Team Leader one Friday afternoon.  I came up with a KPI based Board Game. I called it “The Hunt for the Pirates KPI,” don’t ask me why I thought that was a good name. I went to the local $2 shop and spent about $30 to buy random nick knacks and an urn, wrapped everything in bright coloured paper and whenever anyone landed on the Treasure Chest on the game board they got to have a go at the lucky dip. By the time the game ended a month later the entire team area was covered in little gnomes, sparkly things and random statues that had comprised the pirate’s treasure. On top of that, the Team’s KPI had increased beyond anything I expected. Bringing a bit of light-hearted competition into the office always helps to create a sense of fun and achievement.

Make goals reachable:

If you set goals that can’t be reached, you’re setting your team up for failure. It’s really that simple. Goals that make the team stretch are fine, but ones that are going to take a miracle to get near aren’t worth the time you’ve taken to come up with them. A goal that can’t be achieved or seems impossible is more likely to demoralise your team, rather than inspire them.

Lead from the top:

Leadership is more than just turning up on time. Actually, leaders should turn up on time too. Staff learn what is acceptable and what isn’t by observation. If a Leader turns up whenever they feel like it and then attempts to enforce start times, you’re not going to be taken seriously. Be the leader you always wanted when you were a team member. We’ve all had managers that drove us mental by doing one thing, while enforcing arbitrary rules they themselves didn’t follow. Set the example. You worked hard to get to the point where you were made a leader, just because you’ve attained a position of authority is no reason to slack off now. Staff who are treated like minions will act them.

Credit where it is due:
Finally, make sure you give credit where it is due. I don’t mean a compliment on a job well done here. I mean, if a staff member comes up with an idea to re-engage customers or increase sales and performance give them the credit for their idea. There’s nothing more demoralising than working hard on an idea, presenting it to a manager only to have the manager claim the idea as their own when it turns out to be successful. Once a manager starts claiming every initiative as their own, without acknowledging the staff member – or members – who came up with the idea, that manager will soon find themselves with a team who keep all their ideas to themselves while polishing their resumes and logging into their long dormant Seek account.


Motivating, engaging and retaining your staff is a job front-line managers and leaders need to work on throughout the year, not just at the beginning of a new year when it’s easy to be inspired to bring about change. As leaders in the corporate world, we hire adults. Our staff are our best assets and we need to treat them like they are or we’ll end up spending most of 2016 in the interview room. 


Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

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