When you start a new business, you have to work from the ground up. No matter your support network, or how much experience you have within a certain sector, making decisions with your own business for the first time is a frightening, yet uplifting feeling. If your business started off small, then you’ll no doubt understand the nerves involved.
In the UK, many small independent businesses are run primarily by families. This increases the close-knit nature of working for a company with only a few staff members. The personal feeling that you don’t get from larger, more corporate institutions, is listed as one of the main reasons people prefer to work at small businesses. I can see why! When Electric Tobacconist LTD was founded, it was my first experience of business without my family being involved, so it wasn’t long before the staff became like a surrogate support network to me.
Keeping staff motivation high seems natural in this environment. With everyone working closely together, there really is a sense of unity and shared experience; learning new things, watching the company grow and enjoying successes (and failures!). These are all great ways to motivate your staff, but what worked best was developing personal bonds with them. This allowed staff to connect with the business in more than just a financial or physical way. This emotional link meant the growth of the business was even more important to them.
The benefits of financial incentives upon employees’ motivation have long been questioned, no more so than in the seminal work of Daniel Pink’s book Drive. The traditional approaches of the “carrot on a stick” brigade did not sing to me as a sustainable strategy for motivation. With an aim to becoming a major e-cigarette supplier, longevity was what was most appealing for the business. By setting an example for your employees and appearing more as a colleague than as a boss, staff remained highly motivated and the business began to grow.
Motivation became a byproduct of the style of management, staff’s emotional connection to the business and the fact we were moving from strength to strength at a rapid rate. Looking back, it must have felt like that longevity was achievable, but with growth came a new set of challenges.
If You Love it, Let it Grow
Everyone was caught up in the high-speed nature of a successful start-up. As business boomed, the personal connections on which everything was based began to deflate. With more staff and a larger office space, it began to get much harder to motivate everyone the way we had done before. Motivation is essential to your staff’s productivity. Letting it be reduced is not an option, as it can easily prevent growth during critical periods.
As we know, it’s when you most need your employees that you find out which of them have become demotivated. It’s easy to develop a warped perception of your staff’s feelings towards their workplace responsibilities. Simple problems become magnified under pressure, and something that could have been solved weeks before is suddenly a major issue.
Anyone who manages staff must realize that it is their responsibility to prevent this from occurring. My measure of strong leadership is not by the number of hours your work, or how “committed” you are, but by how you motivate people. An essential part of that leadership responsibility is to understand the needs of your team. My approach to staff motivation needed to be upscaled.
The NASA meets Phil Knight of Nike Approach
One thing that I struggled with was giving staff more autonomy. My urge to maintain the environment of a small business, where I could micro-manage everything, was strong. Relinquishing myself of that mentality was essential to success. Empowering staff with greater autonomy helped motivation levels get back to the highs we were used to. Having recently read Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog, it turns out he also employs this strategy for staff motivation!
Still acutely aware of the negative effects of motivating staff through financial stimulation, a more hybrid approach was developed. Every member of my staff knows our ultimate goal, so they all understand what they are working towards. The famous anecdote about President John F. Kennedy visiting the NASA space center in 1962 explains our approach perfectly. When he interrupted his tour to ask a man carrying a broom “What are you doing?”, the janitor responded: “well Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon”.
Combine increased autonomy (at every level), a shared understanding of the business aims, as well as a personal approach to management, and once that feels comfortable, introduce financial incentives. Step back from the obvious responsibilities of running a business and focus on making sure your staff are driven and motivated 100% of the time. This will provide your company with much more worth than any overbearing, workaholic boss can offer.
Author Bio: Pascal Culverhouse is the founder and CEO of Electric Tobacconist LTD. Started from scratch in 2013, Electric Tobacconist now operates on an international scale, providing quality e-cigarette products to both the UK and the US.