16/03/2011

By Martin Hellawell, managing director of IT provider Softcat

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to stimulate your business to grow is to stop thinking about growth and start thinking about whether or not your staff are fulfilled and enjoying themselves.

Before we look at how to create a lively, exhilarating workplace, I want to stress that it’s something that’s worth doing, despite the cost and the feeling that work is just supposed to be about, well, work. At Softcat we’ve learned from experience that getting our employees to enjoy themselves makes sense from a business perspective. In our last employee satisfaction survey, our staff rated our company morale at 9.7 out of 10. I believe that’s a big part of the reason that, despite the recession, we achieve consistent year-on-year revenue and profit growth.

Dissatisfied employees might put in the hours, but if their hearts aren’t in it, not only will you notice it in their performance and their indifference towards your customers, but eventually they will leave your organisation, you will have to replace them with more dissatisfied employees, and the cycle will continue.

So, how do you avoid that? How do you create a lively, exhilarating workplace? Here are five tips:


1. Get the little things right

If you want your staff to feel appreciated, a little thought and imagination goes a long way. At Softcat, our senior managers catapult sweets and chocolates across the office, and we offer staff a shirt ironing service — most of us need help with that! We also give our employees half-day holidays on their birthdays, and take them out for lunch to celebrate with any directors they choose to bring along.


2. Communicate

We find that communication plays a huge role in inspiring employees to perform. Publish league tables and performance tables so that everyone can see them. It’s also a good idea to hold weekly staff meetings to introduce new staff and talk about business results, deals you have won, and other new developments. It helps to have everyone on the same page, and to follow up with management and team meetings.

And see to it that individuals’ good performance, no matter how small, is recognised. As an organisation we try hard to spot exemplary behaviour, and to make sure it receives praise.


3. Enable career progression

People are more enthusiastic about their work if they can see they have real opportunities to advance in their careers. So, if you can help them achieve that, make sure they know about it. Go out of your way to promote from within, and create opportunities for your employees to assume greater responsibility — new offices, new business units and so on.

Employees can see that you are taking them seriously if you offer them structured training. Appoint a training and development manager — someone who is there to guide them — and offer them support in attaining qualifications that are relevant to their work.


4. Incentivise hard work

There are plenty of ways to encourage employees to go the extra mile. One thing you can try is to reward excellent performance with lunches in exclusive restaurants or holidays in exotic locations. In recent years we have organised trips to Fiji, Rio de Janeiro and the Galapagos Islands.

Another thing that works well is to put forward high-performing employees for a regular prize draw. We have a box of 100 envelopes, each containing a prize ranging from £100 to £10,000.

Naturally, pay and benefits like healthcare insurance are also important incentives. For employees in sales positions, having a good commission structure will ensure that your staff feel their efforts will be rewarded. It’s also important to show your staff that they can earn more by achieving their targets.


5. Promote team spirit

The most effective culture is one built around teams. We don’t encourage flying solo at Softcat; instead we create teams of salespeople who pull together and work towards shared goals. This dynamic works well: everyone wants to do well for the company.

There’s no better way to bring about genuine team spirit than to let people choose who they work with. Try letting people decide which team to join, rather than telling them where to go, and let team leaders recruit their own teams. To help employees make the right choices about the teams they join, it’s a good idea to get them working at an early stage alongside people who might later be managing them.

Let employees know that you value their input. We give our staff the right to vote on company-wide decisions, and find that having some democracy in our organisation is a good thing: our managers tend to listen to their teams rather than just telling them what to do.

The strongest teams are those who also choose to socialise with each other, so it pays to organise entertainment for your employees, and to allow them to organise their own team-building activities.

A business that gets all of these things right is likely to notice a difference in its culture. For many organisations, the only way to stand out from the competition is to offer great service. And to have satisfied loyal customers, first you must have satisfied loyal employees. That’s certainly the starting point for us.