Getting the Best Out of Your Team

You run a business and you are committed to its success. You have spent considerable time and effort recruiting a quality team with the right attitude, skill set and industry knowledge. So how do you drive this high quality team to achieve the desired results?

“Why doesn’t the team share my passion for the business?” 

A common statement of business owners usually made as they are burning the midnight oil while the team has left for the day. The answer may be complex, but often isn’t. For a start, most employees have no skin in the game. If the business succeeds or fails it is unlikely to have anywhere near the same impact on their lives as yours. So why should they have the same commitment? They probably never will, but that doesn’t mean you can’t motivate them to perform.

Fortunately the days of “big stick motivation” are long gone, as are the days of salary being the primary reason people turn up to work and the “job-for-life” expectations of our parents. In the modern era, the average “Millennial” employee will change jobs at least 15 – 20 times during their career, meaning that they will take promotional opportunities into their own hands by changing jobs – not expecting promotion from within. How do we use such a fickle workforce to advantage? 

Well, bearing in mind that the job turnover above is an average, that means that around 50% will have less jobs over their lifetime, with the expectation that the jobs they remain in for extended periods will be ones where they are fully engaged.

Employee engagement

Is not new, yet around 70% of employees are not engaged in the jobs. The implications of disengaged employees are many:

  • High staff turnover (at a high cost to business)

  • High levels of absenteeism (also at a cost)

  • More mistakes made (at a cost)

  • More accidents (at a cost)

  • Low profitability

  • Low productivity

In fact at the higher end of the disengagement scale, employees can actively sabotage a business.

On the bright side however, businesses that enjoy high employee engagement also enjoy shareholder returns up to twice the average, combined with lower turnover, lower absenteeism, less mistakes and improved productivity. 

There is now irrefutable evidence linking high employee engagement with high performance – and if 70% of employees are not engaged, that can be a clear market differentiation opportunity for any business.


There are some relatively easy tools that can be used to improve employee engagement, but first we should understand what drives engagement as the things that make employees satisfied and engaged are different from the things that make them dissatisfied or disengaged. Environmental factors such as poor salary, poor working conditions, an annoying boss or stupid rules can all drive employees to leave and should all be fixed if they are a problem, but once they are, they will not drive engagement. Conversely motivational factors such as growth opportunities, interesting work, increased responsibility and challenging environments are all drivers of engagement. This is where leaders should focus their attention.

A definition of engagement is “the extent to which people enjoy and believe in what they do and feel valued for doing it”. These right feelings lead to the right behaviours, which in turn can spread across the team. The driver of this process has to be the leader or business owner, as it will never occur on its own. 

Key drivers of engagement and the tools that can be used to deliver them 

1. Measure it

If you don’t know what the engagement level of you team is then conduct a survey. There are many on-line engagement survey options and nem can assist you in delivery of these. Once you have an employee engagement score you can start working on solutions as all surveys will provide some key areas for specific improvement and what can be done to improve engagement. Surveys should be conducted as regular intervals to track scores and as evidence to the team that this is being taken seriously. 

2. Act on survey outcomes

Unless you are a perfect leader, the survey will identify some specific areas for improvement. They may be environmental (e.g. the policy manuals are out-dated and confusing) or motivational (more development training), in any event actioning these will further evidence your commitment to change. Warning: if an issue cannot be actioned for a specific reason, then ensure this is communicated properly to the team detailing why it can’t be changed (e.g. regulatory restrictions) and ensure they understand.

The survey itself is a contributor to engagement, however there are also on-going drivers that will improve results and business performance. 

3. Recruit the right employees at the start

Trying to change the motivation factors of a poor recruit becomes an impossible task, resulting in lost productivity and increased cost in recruiting a replacement. Refer to the nem paper “Employing the Best People”* for a detailed explanation of the recruitment process, designed to minimise the risk of getting it wrong.
* Available upon request.

“Recruit for attitude and train for skill”

- is an old adage when it comes to recruiting. Quality people can be up skilled but poor quality people can destroy a culture.

4. Communicate

We have probably all worked in an environment where communication seemed to be exclusive to the executive team. Engaged employees know where the business wants to be, the strategy behind getting there and have bought into the process. 

In fact highly engaged employees are usually actively involved in the establishment of the strategy. Many nem client engagements involve meetings with the entire team and it always surprises us how much knowledge they possess regarding the issues facing the business and, more importantly, what they believe should be done to fix any problem(s). Good leaders actively seek out the opinions of the work-force as after all, they are the ones dealing with the business at the coal-face.

The employees will welcome the opportunity to contribute, particularly if they receive a welcoming hearing and are active in any solutions proposed. 

5. Be available

Communication works both ways and if the leader is openly available within reason, then this motivates employees to also share ideas. 

6. Empowerment

A feeling of job ownership/commitment to the role, driven by an ability to make decisions and to be accountable. Empowerment goes hand in hand with trust and implies management’s trust in the ability of the employee to make decisions, follow through and achieve results. Empowerment must be earned and not expected, however once earned it should be provided. 

7. Effort

Aligned to Business Strategy. Hand in hand with Communicate, this ensures that the employee has a clear understanding of the job expectations and how they align with the goals of the business. This will require a clear Job Description Document and a clear explanation regarding the impact the role has on the overall business. This also requires regular updates on how the business is tracking. 

Provide a summary or extract of pertinent numbers (e.g. sales results) if there are some confidential aspects that cannot be comfortably shared. 

8. Collaboration & teamwork

One of the key drivers of engagement is the enjoyment of being part of a team. This includes the relationships with their immediate team and across other teams or divisions. Improving teamwork & collaboration can be one of the harder components to get right. Like all engagement-based factors, it requires trust, which has to be earned.

The role of the leader is paramount as their role is to communicate the correct messages to the team so that the expected outcomes are clear and that the team acknowledges accountability for achievement. It also requires each member of the team to be respected and valued, which drills down to recruitment and leadership. High performance teams drive strong engagement and are worth the investment of time. 

9. Opportunity

Most employees look at opportunities for growth from within rather than external and will only move jobs when they see more growth potential elsewhere. It stands to reason that providing an environment where roles are kept fresh and interesting by provision of new learning opportunities and growth potential, removes the need to consider other options. The key here is establishing a culture that recognises and even rewards learning and development. This will involve regular training, encouragement to continue external training/studies and creating specific development plans for each employee, which could include special projects/assignments, training needs, external study and/or succession planning and mentoring. While the accountability rests with the employee to progress the plan, there is a shared responsibility as well. 

10. Recognition 

Towards the end of the list, but in many ways the most important. Most businesses have a recognition scheme of some sort, whether it is tied to an annual appraisal (bonus or salary increase) or even more regular such as group events or employee of the month awards. These have a place and should be continued, although their impact on employee engagement is likely to be minimal. Most employees like to be supported and recognised for the ideas and efforts as they occur and this often needs to be no more that a verbal acknowledgement or a pat on the back for a job well done. This has two clear benefits:

  1. It reinforces the value of the employee and encourages further similar activity, and

  2. It legitimises negative feedback when required.

Good leaders understand the specific needs of each member of the team and what level of support is best suited. Regular communication will assist in identifying these needs and avoid over-doing it. 

11. Community spirit

“Givers get”

- is the old adage and employees respond well to the concept of working for a business that has an altruistic focus. The need for financial return is understood, however once a basic and sustainable performance is achieved, supporting the community by way of monetary donations, charity days, team events or whatever, will further embed an engagement culture. As a hint, involving the team in the decision making process of community involvement provides strong evidence of the type of culture your business stands for.

While there are many benefits and virtually no negatives to having an engaged workforce, one of the primary benefits is that high engagement is contagious - not only to the other employees, but to customers/clients as well. We have no doubt all been to a store or business where the employees are truly engaged. It is a pleasure to be there and they are a delight to do business with. What a great way to improve the performance of your business. 


Author: Gary Ayre, Partner of nem Australasia.
This article is based on research and opinion available in the public domain.