30 September 2021

Incentivising and retaining your employees


Talent Management & HR,

Expansion & Improvement

Your team is one of the most important assets in your owner-managed business. Looking after your people and keeping them on board should be one of your top priorities as an owner. But recent news stories in the media have shown how some fast-growth businesses can lose their way and end up disengaging with their hard-working employees.

Tara Mellett looks at the key ways to incentivise your people, and how a clear and transparent approach to your core values sits at the heart of a great company culture.


Keeping your staff and customers happy

We all know the importance that your people play in business success, but what’s less clear is how you go about creating a company culture that incentivises your employees to stick around.

The recent Brewdog story is a good example of this. When I first came across Brewdog, I thought it was a proper startup story, with two young guys starting a business from their garage. But when things grow really fast, you can lose sight of your initial vision. If your staff aren’t happy then your customers aren’t happy either. Human nature tells you that and it’s so important to bear this fundamental truth in mind as an owner-manager.

There’s a growing awareness of nurturing your staff’s wellbeing, especially since the Covid pandemic hit. Your staff’s mental health is so important and it’s been put under the microscope over the pandemic. We’ve all suffered to some degree and that’s brought the whole issue of wellbeing and mental health in the workplace into stark contrast.

As a business community, we’re coping but the pressures of the past year or so are having an impact on people and their state of mind. As a business owner, you need to recognise this and do more to look after your staff.


Finding the right ways to incentivise your team

The usual monetary rewards are there as part of any benefit’s package. But you also need a more holistic approach to motivating and incentivising your staff.

Where do you start?

  • Work/life balance – top of my list when it comes to incentivising staff is a good work/life balance. You need flexible working but it’s not a one-size-fits-all methodology. You need certain people in the office at certain times but people also need the space to prioritise things other than work.
  • Flexibility in the workplace – flexibility is another element that’s vital to have on your list. This means thinking about hybrid working and giving staff more control over how and where they work, as well as having a system that ensures you have the right people in the office, at home or working out at clients’ premises.
  • Trust in your staff – trust sits at the heart of a flexible approach. You need to trust your employees that they’ll do what’s needed to get the job done. Trust is earned, but it’s a two-way street. Give your team their own responsibilities and the freedom to prove their capabilities.
  • A balance between performance-tracking and support – full remote or hybrid working could be seen as a privilege for some staff, so you do need to trial people, look at productivity and track how well people are coping. You also need to provide support for those people that are struggling.
  • Understand the changing priorities of the workforce – everyone needs to work hard: that’s a given. But times have changed and our priorities have evolved as new generations have come into the workplace. You can expect your employees to do overtime and work hard, but you also need to meet your team’s changing expectations around the role that work plays in their lives.

Making this new approach work in practice

Any kind of change takes time to bed in and take effect. But by rethinking the ways you motivate, support and encourage your staff, you soon start to see some success.

Thinking about the way you resource a project is a good place to start. It’s sensible to have at least a 10% buffer for unforeseen circumstances, so staff don’t get overworked and have no let up. You can’t be at full capacity all the time. People will move on to new roles and jobs will overrun, so you need that flexibility built in there to elevate those pressure points,

Your employees need to know that you care about them and that you can see when they’re near breaking point. That means having good communications and being transparent as a leader. Acknowledging achievements and recognising when people have been working above and beyond goes a long way to getting this caring message across.


Listening to feedback from staff

Getting feedback from staff on how you’re performing as leaders and managers is also vital – you need to get that feedback and actually respond to it too.

The Brewdog story highlights the problems that arise when you’re not listening to, and acting on, feedback from staff and ex-staff. When your staff are describing a ‘culture of fear’ that’s clearly extremely bad news. According to reports, staff at Brewdog were being told to bypass customs just to ensure that US orders arrived on time. That kind of toxic behaviour puts the staff and the company in a dangerous position and harms your integrity as a brand.

It’s also worth remembering that your staff will rarely be as motivated (and as well-rewarded) as you, the founder. You need to see how people view you as a firm and how bought-in they are to your dream and vision. The only way to do that is to define your values and culture and to communicate these as clearly as possible.


Choosing benefits that align with your employees lives

If you want your team to be bought-in, the rewards you offer have to be tied to your employees’ lifestyles and to the type of culture you’re aiming to promote.

Things like gym memberships, perks with popular brands, profit shares and employee share options all help your staff to feel like they’re being looked after. And these incentives need to be central to your hiring and retention strategies.

In a working environment, the medical, dental, cycle-to-work schemes etc. have to tie into the core values of the company. You need the right working environment too, where everything works and you have the right infrastructure.

There are no ‘jobs for life’ for most millennials and Gen Z employees, so your staff likely won’t be with your company forever. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing, but it does mean that you need to motivate, train, develop and support them to get the best out of them. If employees see the opportunity for progression, they are far more likely to stick with you.

In an ideal scenario, what you want to achieve is parallel growth between the business and the employee’s own development. That’s the goal to aim for.


Putting your company values front and centre

When it comes to your company values, you have to lead by example. These values should also be part of your onboarding for staff and then reinforced daily.

At Haines Watts, we recently revisited our core values as a company, and that’s meant making sure we name our values clearly, know what they are and how we live by them. That really does bring people together. It’s important to handpick a management team who share those values, so you have the right people interviewing staff, living the values and ensuring that each new employee has that same drive.

You can inadvertently set negative values if you don’t live by the positive values you believe in, in the business, as whatever you put out will get replicated. If you’re portraying negative values of getting things done at all costs – whatever the impact – the message gets out that this is OK, when, in your heart, you know it is definitely not a good or sustainable culture for the company.


A culture that’s more in tune with modern sensibilities

As a business community, we’re more in tune with what’s important now, when it comes to work/life balance and mental health. Results are great and profit margins are important but behind all of that is your staff and the people that work for you. You’ll never reach your business goals if your team is not fully engaged – so, a focus on creating the ideal culture is vital.

At Haines Watts Slough, we’re business owners ourselves. We’ve been through similar challenges, have faced the issues of incentivisation and staff retention and have put things in place that work and have the desired outcome. And we’ve done the same for our clients.

Getting a company review from an independent third-party adviser helps you see where changes are needed, and where you can do better. Covid made us all stop and take a step back, but it also helped us to review what our key goals should be – we were forced to. Let's think about what we’ve learned and refrain from slipping back into the old ways.

We can sit down with you to reassess your values, your culture and your working methods and, by doing so, how you create a company culture that’s fit for the future success of the business.


If you want to improve your company culture and employee incentives, do get in touch with us.