Fourteen Surprising Secrets to Amazing Employee Motivation

Falakonians during our last Big Bang event.

Falakonians during our last Big Bang event.

For some business owners and managers, the biggest problem they face is employee motivation.  And let me tell you, it’s something you have to work hard on, and continue to work hard on.  But when you get in right, it REALLY pays off.

In my opinion, it’s definitely worth the time and effort to have happy and motivated people working for you.  For one thing, it’s the right thing to do.  Further, when you have happy, motivated people working for you they become more productive, meaning more work output and thus more sales and profits.  Also, they’ll end up treating your customers much better, leading to better customer service and customer experiences, which leads to more repeat business and more business through word of mouth, and thus more sales and more profits.  So really, having motivated staff is good business.

And the opposite is true.  When you have demotivated staff working for you, they can do a lot of damage.  My wife recently told me how she went to a store in the Aali mall, and heard an employee speaking loudly on the phone about how they are being mistreated and underpaid.  Ask yourself, are you 100% sure that your staff is not doing that?

About 10 years ago I went into a relative’s business, and within the first 5 minutes one staff member was talking badly about my relative.  When I told him I was related to the owner his face reddened and he try to squirm out the awkward situation he had just put himself into.  It was shameful really!  Whatever you do, don’t assume that your staff won’t talk badly about you with others – even customers – if you’re not working hard on keeping them happy.

Right, time to share some powerful secrets!  Ready? Here goes, 14 secrets to keeping your staff motivated:

1) Hire right:

Everything starts with hiring the right person to begin with.  Entrepreneurs and business owners (even corporate managers) are so busy sometimes that they won’t give this step the proper attention it deserves.  Hiring the wrong person will cost you dearly.  It will cost you in terms of effort and time waisted, but it’ll also have a capital cost.  It’s estimated that the cost of mis-hiring costs an employer 10 times the employee’s annual salary.

So, what should you look for?  Look for people who are already self-motivated.  The last thing you want to do is hire a depressed, emotional energy vampire.  You do this by conducting a very thorough interview.  If the candidate has a sad sense about him or her, don’t hire them!  Also, look out for victim-type explanations or justifications about their previous job.  Things like “you know I tried to do this and that, but they didn’t let me.”  “Oh, I’ve been really unlucky in the past, all the employers I’ve had were bad…”  Make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for in an employee so that you recognise it when you see  it.

2) Train!

I’m still surprised by how many people don’t take training seriously.  Not only will investing in good training allow your employees to do their job better, but it will make them feel important.  They get a feeling of “the owner/company is really taking the time to train me!  It means they value me.  Yay!  I’m going to work hard at this new job!”  Get my point?  Ideally, you should have a job description or profile, as well as a training or operations manual.

3)  Give them a special name:

I hate the words “employee” and “staff.”  They’re dry and implies and emotional disconnection between people and their jobs.  At Falak Enterprises we call employees “Team Members”.  It might sound really corny, trite even, but it works.    And we go further than that.  All Falak Enterprises employees are called Falakonians.  I got the idea from, where they call their staff Zapponians.  At Chili’s, employees are called Chilli Heads.

In one of his audio programmes, Anthony Robins says that human beings have 6 needs.  One of which is the need to belong.  You can give your employees a stronger sense of connection if they feel that they are part of an exclusive club.  In one of my Team meetings someone was saying how challenging a task was, and my response was “hey, were Falakonians!  We can do this!”  Again, I know it sounds really corny, and you probably consider yourself way too professional to do this, but trust me it works.  And it’s lots of fun too!  They’ll love you for it!

4) Treat everyone with dignity and respect:

I get shocked when I see nice, decent people’s personalities transform when they talk to their staff.  I guess it’s part of the Arab and Asian culture to treat staff almost like servants.  If you don’t like anyone shouting and yelling at you, then don’t do it with your staff.  It’s that simple.  Little things like smiling, saying please and thank you make all the difference.  Remember that your staff will get their cues from you (whether you like it or not, and whether you mean it or not) and if you’re nasty, unkind, distanced or mean, they’ll do the same with each other.  And more worryingly, they’ll do it with your customers!

Treat them like decent human beings.  With dignity and respect.  When in doubt, but yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would like to be treated.

5) Explain the reason why:

You’ve probably been in your business/industry for a long time, and you know it inside out, and things are extremely obvious to you.  But don’t assume that it’s the same for your staff.  When you go through the training, or give instructions, explain why things need to get done.  Your staff are much more likely to do it if they know why it needs to be done, otherwise they might be tempted to skip it.  So from now onwards add something like “the reason for this is…” or “I need this done, because…”  They’ll feel much more aligned with what you are doing.

6) Be loyal first:

Here’s a principal I try to live by (and you may have heard me mention once or twice); whatever you want from someone, give it first.  So if you want loyalty from your staff, show them loyalty first.  Is there a problem someone has that you can help out with?  Maybe one of your Team Members just needs someone to listen to them?  You could offer some advice.  Whenever possible, I try to show loyalty to my Team Members before expecting any loyalty from them.  Whatever you do, don’t take their loyalty for granted.

Do you visit them in hospital when they are sick?  Do you ask about their kids and family?  Do you give them slack if they are going through a hard time? Do you even know if they’re going though a hard time?  Remember, loyalty must be earned!

7) Communicate:

This is another biggy, and a lot of people get this wrong.  Remember, the foundation of a good relationship is good communication.  Entrepreneurs  – and again, managers in general – are often so busy that they make all kinds of plans, but neglect to tell their staff about them.  They’ll even do special marketing campaigns and promotions and not tell their staff!  It’s crazy!

Hold regular staff meetings, and also communicate by email and video broadcast.  I particularly like video because that way I can communicate with lots of people without having to arrange large meetings, which are logistically not easy to set up (that’s not to say you shouldn’t do them from time to time).

At Falak, I have a short, standing only daily huddle with my Executive Team.  They in turn have daily huddles with their subordinates.  That way, any significant news travels up and down the company in a maximum of 24 hours.  I also have 2 weekly meetings with my executive Team where we discuss things in more detail.  Each Falak location Team Leader has a weekly meeting with their Team in which all aspects of the business are discussed, and where some training is conducted as well.

In addition, I have a monthly dinner with my Leadership Team, where each time a different person chooses the venue.  This way I get to know them better, outside the work environment.  We sometimes talk about business, and sometimes we don’t.  Also, I have a monthly lunch with a random selection of our front line Team Members, without their immediate managers.  That way they can talk freely if they feel they want to share something with me directly.  These monthly lunches have proven to be invaluable in running my business.

Finally, I encourage all Team Members to email me directly if they have any issues or problems that they feel they want to communicate with me directly.

8 ) Take a personal interest in their lives:

Do you know your employees’ hobbies and interests?  What do you know about their families?  Where do they live?  For expats, do you know which state or province they come from?  Show an interest in what’s happening in their personal lives – without being too nosey.  If you feel they don’t want to open up too much, then don’t be pushy.  At least your being open and approachable from your side.

9) Fire the bad ones – fast!

I’ve made the mistake more than once of keeping bad apples too long.  If you have people that are bad at their job, lazy, mean, or rude, fire them!  If you don’t, it will affect staff morale throughout the company.  if you have a bad apple in the group, speak with this person and give them honest but respectful feedback.  Be specific in the feedback that you’re giving them.

Give them the chance to rectify their behaviour and/or performance.  Coach them.  Remember they might have worked in a completely different work environment/culture and they may only have been behaving in a way that was considered normal in their previous work place.  Explain what they did wrong and what you expect from them in the future.  If they improve good, if not, out they go.  But whatever you do, don’t let a toxic person stay too long in your company, no matter how good they are at what they do.

I learnt this lesson the hard way.  I can think of at least three people whom I should have given the boot much earlier than I did.  I now know better.

10)  Set expectations and make procedures clear:

It can be really demoralising if you did something wrong and you didn’t even know that it was wrong, because no one told you.  When you have a new employee, some sort of orientation programme – or the very least an orientation chat – explaining how things are done in your company, and what your expectations are, is in order.  A rule book would be great.  That way, everyone knows what they can, and cannot do.  Whatever you do, don’t admonish someone for doing something that you didn’t clarify your expectations about.

If there are no written procedures, and you punish people as you go along, you’ll have some pretty demotivated people working for you.  They won’t do their job properly and won’t tell you if they did something wrong.  It’ll also demotivate them, and they’ll be open to other job offers from other companies.

11) Hold special events:

Most companies have an annual event, if they have any events at all.  I make a point of having a quarterly event for our Team.  One of them is our Big Bang event.  During our Big Bang, we close all our locations, and dedicate two full days to our Team.  We bring in outside experts to conduct training for our Team Members, and have lots of games and fun.  The effect on Team morale is magical.

12) Recognition and rewards:

If someone did something well, make sure to recognise them for it.  And let the rest of your employees know about it.  Don’t underestimate the incredible power of a thank you card, or looking someone in the eye and saying “Well done!  Thank you,” or “good job.”  Whenever I sign an overtime cheque for a Team Member, I make sure to add a small Post-it note thanking the Falakonian for their extra effort.

We have quarterly targets for our Team Members, and when they hit the targets we celebrate and recognise everyone for their effort, and hand award certificates.  The certificate might not cost much, but they show your employees that you care about them.

At the Big Bang I give out custom-made awards to members of my Leadership Team whom I think deserve them.  We humans have an innate need to be recognised for our efforts.  We crave acknowledgment, so go ahead and give your staff the acknowledgment they need.

13) Empower them:

Let your staff make day-to-day decisions on their own without referring back to you.  When you empower them it says “I respect you and trust you enough to make decisions.  I value you.”  If you don’t it says “I think you’re not trust worthy enough, or not intelligent enough to make decisions.”

I once had a problem in a Japanese restaurant in a hotel, which the waitress could not solve.  She had to call her manager.  The manager was also not empowered to make the decision.  She had to call the Food and Beverage Manager on his mobile, who finally made a decision.  They made me wait 20 minutes.  I was really annoyed.  Empowering your staff is not only good for their motivation, but it’s also good customer service.

At the Ritz-Carlton, employees can spend up to $2,000 per day, per customer to solve a problem.  At Falak, Falakonians are empowered to spend up to a month’s worth of membership (at either DBC or Zen-Do) without referring to anyone.

Be warned, before empowering you must make sure to train well, and have terms, conditions and policies clearly explained.

14) Use and enforce your mission and values:

I’m a believer in mission and values, but paradoxically, as a consultant I often advice clients against them, because I know they won’t reinforce them.  If you have a mission that is not reinforced on a regular basis it will backfire and make your employees cynical, “We aim to be the leading service provider of ________ in our industry, yeah right!  You can’t even take good care of your staff!” their thinking might go.

If you’re going to have a mission statement and values, reinforce them daily, or at the very least weekly.  If not, dump the mission and values.  There’s nothing worse than having a framed statement  hanging on the wall that no one believes in.  You know, contradictory to what you hear in business school or from some experts, it’s okay not to have a mission statement.

But my Situation is different…

I can almost hear someone’s brain saying “yeah, but my situation is different, because________.”  Let me tell you, your situation is not different.  These things work in any business.  Also, their not just done in big corporations.  I used to do most of this stuff when I had just two people working for me.

I highly recommend the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, it’s a great reference point on how to communicate better with people, and to motivate others.  It’s a great classic.  You can listen to a radio interview I did on the book here, and see a book review I did here.

Well, that’s all for now my friend.  Go forth and implement!  If you’ve not done so already, remember to sign up for my FREE, weekly marketing and entrepreneurship course at  When you signed up you’ll also get email alerts whenever I write a business post like this one.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and talk to you soon.

3 Responses to Fourteen Surprising Secrets to Amazing Employee Motivation

  1. Younis A.Rahim 28 July 2010 at 12:16 am #

    great article..

  2. Ahmed Balharith 26 August 2010 at 10:42 am #

    I enjoyed reading your great article; please allow me to read between the lines and stress more important keys that should be ingredient for more motivated employees and successful business.

    First, I wish I work for you in such amazing business with great themes and truly treating every single employee in the company as team member. There are lots of manager building on this words “team work” but shining on their office wall without real action or doing it in reality.

    I believe “TRUST” is another important key. Hence, building trust in the workplace is by working together. There are no magic tactics or other simple solutions. Trust cannot be created by excessive wages, great company picnics or wonderful working conditions; it can only be generated through teamwork, honesty and fairness.

    I can see all these elements are applied in your firm and really can see it in their faces.
    Wish you all the best and future success.

  3. aaparker 20 September 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    These tips are really great!

    The entire column as a whole makes me as a Manager want to be creative and simultaneously true to the intent with the ‘devices’ that should be a part of making things work in a call center.

    I respectfully wonder about sections 6 & 8:

    Is the ‘personal’ element necessarily the best way to show loyalty and take an interest? Is it possible that with insight and creativity these same goals can be accomplished totally within the frame of the work environment. Is is true that you would be setting a better tone and context to the agreed upon purpose for why you are working together. Would it be more likely to produce results that were coherent with the agreed upon reason that the Manager had accepted their position? Ultimately, would it also bring to the company a more repeatable process for accomplishing the communication and loyalty because it was framed within the context of those resources and elements that were available beyond the personal?

    These questions are posed to anyone that may have an opinion. Responses will be honored with gratitude and attention. Thanks for this article! We plan to implement some of the tips ASAP.

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