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5 ways to get the best from people, according to business leaders

Motivating staff can be a tough challenge. Here's how to ensure your people are giving their very best.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
Reviewed by Min Shin
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Getting great people to join your team is just the starting point. If you're going to achieve excellent results, then you must make sure your staff is happy and productive. 

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So, how can you get the best from your people? Five business leaders give us their top tips. 

1. Make work meaningful

Alex Hibbitt, engineering director at albelli-Photobox Group, says that getting the best from people depends on the seniority of the person you're talking to. 

"I'm a senior leader within the organization and I have a set of managers working for me. I also have some individual contributors working for me, and they have different needs," he says.

Hibbitt gives the example of engineers -- less experienced workers will face different challenges to more senior managers. The key to success is focusing on long-term goals.

"We try and understand what motivates people from a career perspective, whether they want to be an individual contributor, whether they want to be a people leader, or whether they're looking to expand beyond that level over a multi-year timespan. And then we try and tailor what they're doing to meet that goal."

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Hibbitt says it's also important to ensure your people enjoy the journey to their long-term destination.

"Making sure it's fun is really, really important," he says. "Our engineering teams are spread out across Europe. If I think about some of my engineers, making sure that the problems they're focusing on are meaningful to the organization -- but also meaningful to them, and that they're growing within their careers, and that they're working with other high-performing individuals -- is crucial."

2. Connect with people

Cynthia Stoddard, CIO at Adobe, says you get the best from people by connecting with them, talking with them, hearing their voices, and then acting. 

"We do a lot of work on culture, and we advanced that with workshops through the pandemic to understand what people were feeling and how we could take our organization to the next level," she says.

Stoddard says these kinds of initiatives take a lot of effort. However, this investment in time pays dividends and means you start to understand how you can help people work to their best abilities.

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"I spent time in these virtual workshops with groups around the world during the pandemic, just listening to people and hearing what they had to say," she says. "And I think what's really key is to be open and transparent when you're going through that kind of conversation."

Stoddard says ideas will come out of workshops. Good managers then make sure their staff feel their ideas are being heard.

"I will listen to everything. And I think it's important that, when people speak, their voice is heard, they know you listened, and then an action took place," she says. "So, that's what I've tried to do is build that connection all the way to the action taking place. And we make changes based on the ideas of individual contributors, managers, and people around the organization from different regions and areas of the world."

3. Provide personalized feedback

Carter Cousineau, vice president of data and model governance at Thomson Reuters, says getting the best from people means giving great feedback on the things they do -- and that's not always easy.

"There are so many different communication styles," she says. "I could say that about most of the coaching and mentoring that I give to my team, my peers, and vice versa, because I get coaching lessons as well." 

Cousineau says there are various ways of communicating with people and it's important to be aware of those different styles.

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Think about what works for each individual and try to accommodate that personalized approach when you give feedback.

"So, for example, I know the frequency of meetings that my team enjoy, and what times during the day they prefer to meet and why," she says. 

"Whether you're giving feedback twice in one week, or just meeting in one block for an hour, success is all about being flexible."

4. Give people space

Bob Michael, head of data at retailer DFS, says you get the best from your people when they know they can trust your word.

"I try and be honest wherever I can," he says. "You can't always be completely open, but I try to do that as much as I possibly can." 

Michael says openness also extends to the things you ask your staff to do. Don't make them do things they hate and don't step on their toes.

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"I wouldn't ask somebody to do something that I wouldn't necessarily do myself," he says. "The other bit that goes alongside that is trusting what they do. I don't want to micromanage; I'm not interested in micromanaging."

5. Cover all your bases

Adam Warne, CIO at River Island, has a shortcut that helps him to motivate his people -- he uses a guide in US author Daniel H. Pink's book, Drive.

"It basically says that to get the best out of people, you need three things," he says. "First, you need to give them purpose, so you need to tell them why we're doing what we're doing. And I think that a lot of that comes through clear communication." 

Second, says Warne, you need to give your people autonomy: "Give them enough freedom and flexibility to do what it is that they need to do." 

Finally, give people mastery: "You need to help them up their skills and develop what they can do," Warne says. 

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Warne also says any manager who covers those three areas will end up with a very motivated team. As an added extra, he also says it's crucial to give your people kudos when they do great things. 

"As a tech team, even though we've got people all over Europe, we get together online every Friday for half an hour at lunchtime," he says. "We talk about what we've been doing in the business, and we have 10 minutes just sharing thanks, feedback, and praise. I think that goes a long way in terms of creating the right culture."

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