Productivity

The rod or the carrot? How to motivate staff the right way

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Yvette Chegwidden holds a red-hot poker to the feet of three business leaders to find out how they motivate their staff.

These experts have to say about motivating their staff and keeping them happy. See how Luke Managan, Shelley Barrett, and Barry Porter motivate their staff across various industries.

What do they find more effective, the "carrot" (the promise of reward), or the "stick" (the thread of undesirable consequence)? Read on to see their thoughts.

carrots

Luke Managan - Chef and Restaurateur

Early exposure to senior chefs hurling pots, plates, and cuss words is every cook’s baptism by fire into the world of haute cuisine. Fortunately for the 600-odd staff he manages worldwide, super chef Luke Mangan didn’t carry forth those fear tactics into his 11-restaurant global empire.

“My entire apprenticeship was like that,” he laughs. “And when I was first starting out I might have thrown the odd plate, but it was mostly out of frustration. When I opened my first restaurant I had a million dollars on the line and the pressure was huge.” That was in 1999 with the launch of Salt in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. Now, although he’s reluctant to admit it, he’s a cuddly, kindly carrot touter, and rewards management with all-expenses-paid food and wine cruises.

“We have a great time. There’s a lot of drinking and bonding.” But what happens when the hangover wears off and it’s back to the gaping maw of the sweltering kitchen? “I have a very relaxed style with staff. They know they can come to me with their problems but I always ask them to come to me with the solution as well,” Mangan says.

“I’m always there for support but I pretty much let my managers run their own departments. It seems to work because I have head chefs who’ve been with me for many years. And surely they would have left if they didn’t like it.”

Shelley Barrett - CEO, ModelCo Cosmetics 

How does a woman who’s never worked for anyone else know how to be a great boss and motivator? ModelCo CEO Shelley Barrett seems to have taken to business with the same enthusiasm she brought to the catwalk. In 2002, she convinced an aerosol manufacturer to launch her tanning products in a can. Now, Barrett is running a multi-million dollar global cosmetics empire with 1800 stores across 11 countries.

But what is she like to work for? Does she aspire to be the rod-wielding Thatcher of the beauty game, or a mild-mannered mum who darns her workers’ socks in between power breakfasts and pedicures? “I don’t crack the whip. I take more of a mentoring approach based on each individual personality,” Barrett explains. 

Another of her key tools is to find the right staff to start with, and to make sure they’re allowed to let their creativity shine and have their ideas heard and very possibly implemented. That and a free gym and yoga studio at work. “We’re just about to open a new office so I’ve added these to promote a healthy lifestyle for everyone,” she says.

Barry Porter - CEO, Nubian Water Systems

After almost three decades of managing and motivating staff, Porter has taken the old cliché “There’s no I in teamwork, but there is an M and E” and turned it into a positive thing. His approach is to make it all about the employees’ needs, wants and desires. Well, sort of. They still have to come to work.

“People need a challenging and rewarding environment. I’ve always found the best results come from creating a culture where people have control over what they do. I delegate as much as possible and give staff the opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone. And it works,” he says. “You notice it particularly because we are a small company of only 20. There is a buzz around the office and people are always willing to go the extra mile. 

“Behaviour is always the biggest indicator — if you see people collaborating and coming up with solutions, you know that they are motivated.” Porter is greatly influenced by The Motivation to Work author Frederick Herzberg. “Herzberg was the first guy who talked about different motivating factors. His theory is that money is not a motivator — but it can demotivate.” 

Many employees might disagree, but there’s method in the madness. “People become motivated when they’re given the opportunity to do things that stretch them within a supportive but challenging environment,” Porter explains.

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