Here’s the good news and the bad news: 100% of the staff you hire will be human beings. That’s right. Human beings. As such, these staff have the ability to contribute significantly to the success of your business. They also have the ability to make you wonder why in the world you would ever have chosen to run a business that requires staff!

One of the challenges of leadership is to find ways to maximize those moments when staff are contributing positively and minimize those moments when you are wishing to once again work alone! Motivating your staff to be star performers is the key. Here are some suggestions about how to accomplish that task.


You have a choice about how you think about the people who work for you. You can see them as an expensive hassle or you can see them as assets. You can expect that they will take advantage of you or you can expect that they will take your business to new heights. It is entirely your choice. Here’s one thing that is certain: whichever view you take, it will become evident to your staff over time. There have been studies that show that most people live up (or down) to the expectations that others have for them. If you want star performers, you have to believe that your staff has the potential for stardom.

Most people want to contribute positively to their workplace. They want to feel good about their accomplishments and they want to feel important. They get up in the morning thinking they will do their best that day. While they may have some limitations in skills or experience, most people can develop professionally beyond where they are at the moment. And they are interested in doing so. In a large national survey done by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Davis, authors of Love ‘em or Lose ‘em, the most often stated reason by staff for staying at jobs was career growth, learning and development. People want to grow and contribute more. You may have some staff that are exceptions to this. But, by far, you cannot go wrong by holding a positive view of staff and expecting that they can and will contribute to your success.


One of the most powerful ways to motivate staff is to give them a voice in decisions. These decisions can range from the very mundane (e.g., would you like me to install an ice maker in the refrigerator?) to the very important (e.g., should we renovate the warehouse?). The most important decisions around which staff should have input are those decisions that directly affect them and their daily work. Changing or improving the work processes related to taking orders, filling orders and stocking inventory should always include their input. They have to live with the reality of those decisions. And because of that, most staff will gladly invest their thinking and creativity in addressing the issues.

Of course, you are not running a democracy. You are running a business. Giving staff a voice does not mean that the majority rules or that you are not in charge. You are asking for their best thinking so that together you can have your best corporate thinking. Their input needs to inform your thinking but it need not override it. At times you do need to follow their advice and they need to see that you can change your mind based on their input. As long as those things occur some of the time, staff will be very happy to express their opinions and will not expect their voices to always carry the day.


A mistake that many businesses make is that they essentially tell their staff to “check your brain at the door”. That is, they ask their staff to come in and do a very specific job and no more than that. There is no requirement or even request to think beyond one’s scope of responsibilities. The key to motivating star performers is that you clearly tell them “the sky is the limit”. You are interested in their fullparticipation – not just in doing their specific job but also in running the company. If they have ideas about future sales opportunities you want to hear them – even if they don’t have the full-time job of selling. If they see an effective marketing tool used by another company you would like to hear about it – even if you are currently not doing that type of marketing. If they visit a website that has features yours does not contain, you want them to suggest a modification to you – even if they have no idea what it would cost. You want their full thinking capacity in your company. Very few people would not be flattered to hear that message. And many of them will respond by taking you up on it.


Having a real relationship with your staff is critical to motivating them. This means that first and foremost that you must know them. The people who work for you are not simply employees; they are a people with lives, interests, loves and responsibilities. It is easy in the day-to-day rush of business to forget how important those work relationships are. It matters to staff if they feel known. It matters to them if you follow up on something they mentioned last week. We all want to believe that we matter to those with whom we spend most of our time. We naturally feel loyal (and, thus, motivated to do our best) to people who know us and care about us.

This isn’t to say that you need to be overly personal with staff. Most people expect that business relationships will have some boundaries that personal relationships do not. You don’t have to be best friends with your staff. You will just get better performance from them if they feel that you are genuinely interested in who they are as people.


Unfortunately, it is very easy to hire staff and then ignore them. Even though most of us would say that it not a good strategy, many staff would tell you that is their experience. If you want motivated star performers, you have to make the personal investment to train them and provide ongoing coaching. Teach your staff new skills every few months. Expect that you will need to spend time with them — working along side of them, praising them for the things you like and coaching for improvement on the things you don’t. Your staff know that you are busy. They will really appreciate the time your give to them. Your presence is important to keeping them motivated.

Many people in small businesses do not have formal staff meetings, largely because they think it is unnecessary and takes up valuable time. Regular staff meetings – even brief ones (30 minutes) twice a month – can make a huge difference in staff motivation. Coming together as a team solidifies staff identity and opens up an easy avenue for communication all around the company – both of which increase motivation. At first you may not know what you would talk about for 30 minutes. But after you have had the staff meetings regularly for a while, you will wonder how you did without them.


Tell your staff regularly that you appreciate their efforts. Say thank you when they have done something well or just done something they didn’t need to do. Praise their efforts even when what they have done is not 100% right or 100% the way you would have done it yourself. When you talk about what you are accomplishing in your company, use “we” rather than “I”. Be reticent to bring credit to yourself and generous in bringing praise to your staff. When staff feels part of something successful, when they believe that they are contributing in a meaningful way to a greater good, they will want to contribute even more.

Ideally you want to capture not only the motivation of your staff, you also want to capture their hearts. You want to engage them in their work and in your company’s work in such a way that they genuinely love what they are doing. Once that happens, star performance starts occurring regularly.

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