How to have a happy workforce & greater productivity – without spending a cent


There comes a tipping point in every business’s lifecycle where the challenges that keep the business owner awake at night move from new client acquisition and product delivery, and become focused on staff productivity and motivation. Aside from the fact that you want to protect your investments of time, training and culture you’ve poured into your startup team, and the capital investment you’ve put into your high-value employees, your business can only remain profitable and relevant on the backbone of your employees.

Unfortunately, the adage ‘their salary should be enough to motivate them’ is no longer relevant, and I doubt it was accurate even when it was first coined. Especially if your business is not a purely manual operation and requires some cognitive creativity. According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, “The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table: Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Once you do that, it turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”

Here are some practical and very achievable things you can implement in your business to keep your team happy, motivated and increase productivity – and most of them will cost you nothing.

1. Autonomy tips

Autonomy speaks to independence and the ability to work without governance. It implies that the business believes the person or team is responsible and capable enough to do a job without someone breathing over their shoulder. Ironically, when autonomy is offered, team members often end up working longer hours than if they were confined to strict office hours.

  1. Remote or home office. The option to work from home is highly attractive to employees and supports the ‘autonomy’ win Pink mentions. With ample technology to support this, like Skype for comms and meetings, and BOS for clarity on time tracking and project management, this is more feasible than you might think. Consider whether even one day per week is acceptable, if you’re not comfortable with full-time options.
  2. Offer flexible hours. By allowing employees more flexibility in what hours they work, employees can better manage their time around all obligations. Some companies even opt for flexible work weeks in which employees work four longer days and take a three-day weekend every week. If this is too liberal, consider that flexible hours could even mean allowing employees to make up hours lost to personal appointments or errands, so they do not need to take time off to accomplish these things. We’re not saying throw free time about like confetti, but rather use it to reward desired outcomes and spark motivation. This is easier to track and manage if you use a time-tracking app such as Harvest, or a combined production and time-tracking ERP system such as BOS.
  3. Make your ideas theirs. People hate being told what to do. Instead of telling people what you want done ask them in a way that makes them feel like they came up with the idea. “I’d like you to do it this way,” turns into, “Do you think it’s a good idea if we do it this way?”

2. Mastery tips

In her book ‘Mastery is a Mindset’ Carol Dweck states that the kind of mindset we have can determine whether or not we succeed at what we do. “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment and productivity. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

These tips applaud the evidence of attempted and gained mastery.

  1. Be generous with praise. Give it away whenever it’s due – it’s free and everyone wants it. Plus, praise from the CEO goes a lot farther than you might think in winning hearts and minds and improving productivity.
  2. Support outcomes, not just hours worked. High productivity doesn’t always come in eight-hour segments. Reward productive employees for getting their work done efficiently with the option of leaving the office whenever their task or project is complete.
  3. Give recognition and (small) rewards. Reward and recognition can come in many forms: Give a shout out to someone in a company meeting; run a team contest and keep track of the results on a whiteboard so that everyone can see and share the progress. Tangible awards for productivity don’t have to break the bank; try things like dinner, a day off, trophies, spa services, and plaques.
  4. Ask and listen: Ask your team what other benefits may be useful. Ask them if they have everything they need to do their job well. Pay attention to the emotional tension and atmosphere of your workplace, and discuss ways to improve work/life balance with your team from time to time.

3. Purpose tips

Purpose ignites passion and productivity and produces results that are usually over and above what we could produce without it. In Dan Pink’s blog Is purpose really an effective motivator studies showed that, when people were exposed to a purpose that was greater than themselves, they produced more than double the desired outcome than the control group who had no shared purpose.

  1. Tell stories. Storytelling is a great way to awaken purpose and vision in the hearts of your team. Share the company’s history, purpose, setbacks, victories and your goals for the business with your team. This ensures a continuity of legacy and culture from your oldest employees through to the newbies and stirs motivation and purpose. Spend time on this – storytelling is a powerful motivator. So toss your PowerPoint presentation out and learn to tell a good story instead. See Forbes’s top 5 CEO storytellers or the Harvard Business School: Happy Tales.
  2. Celebrate and grieve together. When your company does well, celebrate as a company. This is a great opportunity to let your team know that you’re thankful for their hard work. Show them that if they help your business succeed you will go out of your way to support and celebrate their success. If there is a disappointment, share that too. If you expect high performance, your team deserves to know where the company stands. Be honest and transparent.

The final tip falls outside of Pink’s categories but reinforces a culture of ownership and staff engagement. This one phrase should become part of your management culture, simply due to the great response in your team’s happiness, and commitment to success, that it produces.

4. Ask, “How can I help?”

This may seem like something that’s beneath a CEO, or that you’re too busy to do, but this one thing wins hearts and minds like nothing else. Get out of your office, stop at a different department every day, and ask one person, “How can I help?”. End every meeting with, “How can I help?”. By offering a part of yourself and your time to your team, you confront your own ego in a constructive way. In return, your team will respond with a willingness to go the extra mile for you, and will offer of themselves for the company’s greater success.

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