Leadership Skills to Motivate Staff:
From Startups to Expanding SMEs

See also: Motivating Others

Staff motivation is essential to the success of any business. Closely linked to retention rates and employee satisfaction, developing a workplace culture which promotes engagement and motivation throughout the company is a vital leadership skill.

As more and more people become self-employed in the UK, there is reason to believe that the uncertainty of our post-Brexit economy will produce opportunities for both startups and SMEs. To take advantage of this, business owners and CEOs need to show strong leadership skills and, more importantly, understand how they are crucial to the success of the company.

One of these leadership skills is staff motivation. Essential to getting the most from your available resources, for any company working with a limited or restricted budget (startups and SMEs in particular), staff motivation must be high on your list of priorities.

So how can leadership skills improve staff motivation?

First, we have to consider who we are trying to motivate and for what reason. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to staff motivation. Because of this, when I started my electronic cigarette eCommerce business back in 2013, I knew that some understanding of genuine motivation would be critical to the success of my company.

Genuine Motivation

Genuine motivation, in this context, refers to which motivators a certain individual or employee possesses.

This is the real reason that someone wants to work for you or your business and, if harnessed properly, can produce increasingly effective and hard-working staff. If misjudged or nurtured in the wrong way, it can prove to be an expensive mistake (in every sense).

We refer to it as genuine motivation because motivation can manifest in a variety of ways — sometimes not always the healthiest or most productive. For example, when we began selling a particularly innovative product, one member of staff was very excited about its release. But while they had plenty of motivation because of it, they were also making basic mistakes and becoming distracted from other tasks. Equally, using financial incentives as a form of motivation can produce insincere reactions, even if staff have become more productive as a result.

In fact, research suggests you can usually categorise each of your staff members into nine ‘types’ of employee, motivating them accordingly. The lesson we can learn here is that genuine motivation is most easily achieved by understanding the needs of your employees. Without adequate research or experience of their personality and desires, attempts to motivate them can appear fake or insincere; something smaller companies cannot afford to do.

Ultimately, the aim is to achieve a sustainable approach to motivation — one which supports employees for a sustained period of time, not just in short bursts.

The Startup Energy

During the period in which a business has just started to operate, there is often a lot of energy surrounding a company and its employees.

The excitement and passion that is conveyed by the members of management team are useful resources in motivating new recruits. There can be a certain ‘go with the flow’ approach adopted during this period, as human resources strategies may not have been implemented yet.

While this might not fit with our previous ‘theory’ of genuine motivation, it does, in fact, give us an opportunity to improve our definition. Achieving a sustainable motivation strategy for your staff is still the most important objective, but it is one that requires a great commitment and cannot always be accomplished quickly. The lifespan of a business is filled with opportunities to produce short term motivation, giving staff a boost in energy that can be harnessed to produce effective results. Utilising these moments can help to reach the long term, more sustainable, more reliable forms of motivation.

It’s not that the short-term solutions don’t produce genuine motivation; it’s just that they cannot be relied upon in the same way that long-term solutions can. The lifespan in which the motivation is still genuine can be temporary and hard to measure. It would be easy to misjudge when someone’s short-term motivation has expired, which is the difference between them relishing a challenge or stepping back from one.

In both instances, however, the need to understand your staff on a personal level remains pertinent. It is undoubtedly the most important skill required for successful staff motivation.

Motivating Staff as Your Business Grows

As a business grows and the original energy of the startup has faded, staff’s responsibilities become more regular, consistent and repetitive.

At this stage, the consistency of a workforce will be essential in cementing a company’s position within its target market. To make sure this process is successful, staff motivation should be a priority. Maintaining an efficient and reliable team will provide stability to a company’s bottom line, granting an opportunity for growth.

As a business and its workforce begins to expand, it can become more and more difficult to maintain the personal approach to employee motivation that we rely upon.

In my experience, it was important to step back from some of my responsibilities at Electric Tobacconist. It was mad of me to have believed I could be part of every decision, interact daily with every member of staff and maintain two websites. The solution was to give staff more autonomy. This allowed both me and my staff to focus on our strengths. I might be running an e-cigarette business, but some of my staff have an incredible working knowledge of electronic cigarettes, so it makes sense for them to focus on the products and me to focus on aspects I’m best at, like SEO optimisation.

Providing staff with more autonomy can also act as a form of motivation. It can make employees feel more involved in the business, which results in them being more emotionally connected to their work. By empowering them in this way, we can provide our employees with a chance to achieve a sustainable form of motivation that can provide long term benefits to their productivity. This form of intrinsic motivation can also help to increase staff retention rates — something all businesses (regardless of size) want to improve.

So, just remember that the type of motivation required depends on who you are trying to motivate and why you are trying to motivate them. Distinguishing between short-term motivation and long-term motivation is a key skill in this area, as is developing a working understanding of your staff’s emotional, physical and financial needs.

Keep in mind the importance of your limited resources. Maintaining a consistently efficient and reliable team will result in a healthy bottom line and the confidence to take advantage of any opportunities that come your way.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and Running Your Own Business

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and
Running Your Own Business

If you are thinking about running your own business, or already do so, but feel that you need some guidance, then this eBook is for you. It takes you through self-employment in easy steps, helping you to ensure that your business has more chance of success.

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and Running Your Own Business is the guide no new or aspiring entrepreneur can afford to be without!

Based on our popular self-employment and entrepreneurship content.

About the Author

Pascal Culverhouse is the founder and CEO of Electric Tobacconist Ltd. Having worked his way up to becoming the UK’s most popular electronic cigarette retailer, his eCommerce business now sells electronic cigarettes on two continents!