What inspires your staff? What keeps them working for you with enthusiasm and energy, pushing towards that bottom line? What makes a self-motivated workforce that's innovative and creative? What will make people stay with a company and help it grow?
It seems there's no easy answer to these questions. It's not something you can do with a couple of staff fun days or HR exercises, and it can't be easily manipulated. Inspiring your staff takes time, effort and consistency. It's about creating a culture that inspires self-motivation as well as providing the security to develop and innovate.
Yes, a good salary, benefits package and training opportunities can certainly contribute towards a productive workforce, but that's not going to turn your staff into an inspired team or make them stay with you in the long term. In a survey carried out by talent retention specialists Learnpurple, salary came only ninth in a list of reasons why people stayed in their jobs - after leadership, communication and treating people as individuals.
Jane Sunley, managing director of Learnpurple, says creating a motivated workforce is less about monetary rewards and more to do with management styles. "Inspiring your staff depends on whether they are managed rationally or emotionally. Some managers believe people need to be totally controlled and spoon-fed, and that's the pay-related, rational style of command-and-control management that's still very common in the hospitality industry.
"Then there are managers who believe people are basically good at what they do and that given the choice they will make the right decision. That requires a leap of faith, to let people get on with their jobs in an environment that will enable them to innovate and perform - as well as make mistakes without fear of a witch hunt. You then produce an entrepreneurial environment, which a lot of corporate companies want but don't have the culture to create."
While there is no easy fix, there are plenty of ways to begin creating the right culture. Trust and belief in your staff is crucial, as is letting go and trusting that your employees have the ability to do their jobs.
Walk the talk
Consistency is important, too. "If you want to be an inspiration to your staff, you must walk the talk," says Sunley. "Be an example of what you want from others. Don't blow your top if you have a bad day. If things go wrong, deal with it; and always be energetic even if you don't feel like it."
Peter Tyrie, managing director of the Eton Collection, with 220 staff in hotels in London, Edinburgh and Leeds, says he combines security, interesting work and salary to motivate his staff. Staff at Tyrie's hotels are trained to multi-task, so jobs aren't delegated up into specific roles. Thus, a receptionist must also carry out the duties of a concierge, cook or housekeeper and may even have gardening duties. They are also empowered to find solutions to most customer problems or queries.
The company pays 20% over the norm, and a clear career progression is offered for all staff. "We have a porter who came through laundry, and now he's an accountant. That's a great career move," Tyrie says.
More than any other factor, communication is an essential tool for creating a motivated culture. Sunley advises putting in a system of regular staff appraisals and stresses that it's crucial to clearly articulate what the objectives of the business are. People need to know how they contribute to the company and how they make a difference.
Staff also need to feel that their opinions and suggestions are valued. When Kwik-Fit Insurance asked its call centre staff to suggest innovations that would help make their lives easier, they came back with three unusual requests. They asked for cups with lids on so they could drink tea and coffee at their computer terminals (they had previously been forced to leave their desks for drinks, thus losing working time); a "concierge", who would organise jobs such as dry cleaning, phoning the doctor or dentist and other personal chores; and time off in hourly blocks instead of whole days. After the staff were granted these small but significant requests profit doubled in 12 months.
At the smoothie company Innocent Drinks, a significant effort is made to communicate with staff. There are meetings for all 222 employees each week; a catch-up every three months followed by a social event; and "360° assessments" every six months, when all employees assess themselves and are assessed by their manager and by their peers.
"Yes, it's time-consuming, but it's important," says people person - they don't use the term "human resources" at Innocent - Bronte Blomhoj. "The reason we do it every six months is that, if people aren't happy, a year is a long time to wait. We re-evaluate our people's job description every six months, because the main reason people leave a job is because they feel undervalued or bored."
Innocent is a company cited by many as a model for staff inspiration and innovative culture. Set up by Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, the business has expanded from Reed's bedroom to offices around Europe and multimillion-pound sales in just seven years. Blomhoj believes that it's partly this success which generates inspiration for its staff and leads to low staff turnover.
"Inspiration comes from having a big vision and inspiring leaders with a goal. Everyone needs to know where they are going, in terms of their own jobs, but also on the whole. We want to be the biggest drinks company in Europe, and everyone here knows that. That's inspiring," she says.
In addition, though, Innocent thinks hard about how it treats its staff. Its offices are open-plan with trees and AstroTurf floors. In addition to the usual company benefits and bonuses, employees get free breakfast; a team weekend away each year; a baby bonus scheme of £2,000 (proof of delivery required); and an Innocent scholarship fund of £1,000 that members of the team bid for to fund personal projects like climbing a mountain, taking a course or recording a demo.
Like Innocent, the UK arm of the Golden Tulip hotel group is growing at a significant rate, with seven hotels and 400 employees so far. Four more hotels scheduled to open within the next 18 months will add another 200 employees. With this in mind, the company's HR director Alice Ackroyd launched an employee brand, Tulipworks, last year.
"We knew we needed to work on employee benefits, policies and procedures as a growing company, because if we couldn't take our employees with us as we grew, we wouldn't have the potential for future growth," she explains.
Tulipworks introduced benefits such as a day off for birthdays; childcare voucher schemes; money-off vouchers to be used for car insurance, family attractions and other preferential offers; and a charity scheme. Employees were then asked to take part in a survey to tell management how they would like the benefits to be improved, and it got a 95% response rate.
They then set up an HR programme based on Ken Blanchard's Gung Ho! book (see panel, above). Simply put, it outlines a staff-motivation strategy based on promoting understanding of how employees' jobs are worthwhile to the business, setting out clear goals, allowing people to do their jobs freely, and celebrating success.
An employee opinion survey taken earlier this year proved that the scheme had worked. More than 90% of employees responded favourably to the question "Are you committed to the job?", which was 14 percentage points above the UK norm, while 89% felt their work contributed to the success of the company, and 91% said they thought the company was customer-focused.
Donald McGannon, the US entrepreneur, said that "leadership is action, not position". So who can be an inspirational leader? Anybody, argues Sunley, it doesn't have to be the person at the top, and very different styles of management can produce the same effects.
"There's no formula, really," she says. "Take hotelier Michael Shepherd: he was general manager of an African hotel when a terrorist bomb went off which showered 300 people with glass, killing many. Michael went straight into calm mode and dealt with the situation, and that was very inspiring. And yet he's a very different character from someone like Gordon Ramsay, who is also inspiring to many."
"It doesn't come with a title and it's not born in you. If people just started following these steps and were energetic about it, they would become more inspiring."
Creating an inspirational culture
Trust and let go Believe in people's abilities and let them do their jobs. Allow them a level of autonomy that is appropriate for their role, motivation and expertise.
Be an example Keep consistent at work, keep appointments, and if things go wrong, keep it to yourself and deal with it. Exemplify the behaviour you would like to see in others, and act in line with your values.
Allow mistakes to be made Promote innovation by allowing your staff to make mistakes without retribution. As Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, said: "It's not about what went wrong, but how we get it right the next time."
Measure output, not input Look at the results, not always at how they were achieved. People may have completely different styles but still reach the same goals.
Communicate Talk to your staff regularly about their needs and your needs, and set up a system of regular appraisals. Articulate what the business's objective is and how people fit in with it. People need to feel they are contibuting to something important.
Treat people as individuals Regularly appraise your staff's performance. Find out what they want and what makes them tick. There are systems which can do this, or get your teams to do what you do at the top.
Celebrate success Always celebrate success and significant achievements, or just say thank you. It's easy to forget to say it in the midst of a busy day, but it does reinforce the fact that each employee matters. For many people, genuine praise is more important than financial rewards.
More inspirational ideas
Fish Fish, a training programme based on the experience of fishmongers in Seattle's Pike Place Market, encourages the development of good customer service skills by enhancing employee satisfaction. The programme teaches ways to make work fun, based on studies which show that there is a strong link between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. Jumeirah Carlton Tower and Jurys Doyle hotels have both used the programme with significant results.
Gung Ho! A programme based on the principles championed by leadership specialist Ken Blanchard in his book Gung Ho!, it involves three key elements which ensure employees understand how their skills help drive the business and how their key goals impact on its success. Staff are empowered to deliver and are rewarded for progress and achievement. Following the programme, 90% of Golden Tulip UK employees said they were committed to the job, 89% felt their work contributed toward the success of the company, and 91% said they thought the company was customer-focused.
Trips Many hotels and restaurants take their staff on trips to suppliers, wine tastings, etc, to inspire and educate their staff. Niles Axing, general manager of the Grand hotel in Stockholm, organises trips to London for his staff on a regular basis.
"We don't have much opportunity for benchmarking in Stockholm, as we are the premier five-star hotel in Sweden. Our staff costs are enormous in Sweden, so we need to invest in them and help them understand the goals. So, I bring the staff over to London once a year to stay at top London hotels. They are inspired by the service, by the standards and the style. When I said to our doorman that he had to stand outside the hotel at all times, even in winter, he didn't really understand why. Now, having seen it in London, he is totally committed."
Gemba Kaizen days The Gemba day philosophy comes from Japan, where they use the principles to improve working practices and gain a greater understanding of their business. It involves a one-day working experience, in which managers take on another role in the business.
About 10 of Jumeirah Carlton Tower's management team, from spa manager to marketing executive, took on hotel positions for a day, such as commis chef, steward and shift engineer.
General manager Derek Picot was a driver for the day. "The idea was to get down to the coal face and experience the issues our colleagues face on a day-to-day basis," he explains. "I did a couple of airport pick-ups and it was a big learning curve. I had always thought it was a very nice job, but it's actually more stressful than I thought. I learnt some valuable lessons on how best to utilise our drivers.
"It helped all of us to understand the experiences our colleagues go through. We were all delighted and surprised to get this insight. I think we all thought it was a PR exercise, but it is much more important than that."
"As we all know, success is achieved through people - and, importantly, holding on to those people. We need to continually review how we inspire and motivate, as all our needs and desires are constantly evolving.
"At Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, we try to individualise recognition and find out what people like and reward them with it. We also work closely with suppliers to organise trips to their home base, including Champagne, Cuba, the Kronenbourg brewery in Strasbourg, and Arran Aromatics. We communicate regularly with staff to let them know how the hotel is doing and hold sessions where staff can ask the CEO questions.
"I've been lucky enough to work for two companies that have had leaders who inspire and motivate - Malmaison with Ken McCulloch, and now Robert Cook, and Selfridges with Vittorio Radiche. These types of leaders tend to attract like-minded people in key areas who, in turn, inspire and motivate the people who work for them. This is particularly noticeable in the people-development area."