Zeal can be a great motivator yet one third of employees say they have never worked for a boss who is inspirational. Christine Hayhurst gives guidance on how to create a buzzing workplace

There’s been much attention in the media about the changes taking place at Sainsbury. Since the start of the year, seven board directors have left and now there’s talk of a possible takeover. And at Marks & Spencer there have been changes to reduce staff costs and rebuild the brand at the same time. Stuart Rose now has the difficulty of matching staff needs with meeting business requirements.
In both cases, the problem lies in keeping staff happy because without a motivated workforce the retailers are likely to face more problems in the future. However, these two retail giants are not alone. Any organisation will, at some point, have to face the question - how can we galvanise our staff so productivity and performance do not suffer?
The answer is not simple. It’s worth noting, however, that a vast amount of research exists to suggest a link between inspirational leadership and the successful performance of many organisations. Indeed, research by the Chartered Management Institute and the DTI has shown that the most important factor people want in their leaders is inspiration and guidance. But how, in a competitive marketplace, can you make the jump from being someone heading up an organisation to someone seen as inspirational - a person whom people enjoy working for?
First, you need to demonstrate a strong strategic focus. Make sure you concentrate on specific goals rather than adopting a catch-all approach. After all, people are more likely to respond to leaders who let them know what is important. If you can give employees a clear sense of direction and let them know how you aim to achieve business goals, it will go a long way to providing a genuine shared vision which everybody can understand. The Inspired Leadership research revealed that only 43% of employees are told about organisational plans and aspirations. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the non-visionary category.
Many employees also demand leaders with clearly identifiable principles and high ethical standards. Everything you do should be based on openness and respect of colleagues and customers. After all, it is the relationships you can build with others that make them feel valued within the team and in turn can also help turn customers from occasional shoppers to loyal returners.
The ability to appreciate, have confidence in and listen to your staff will also inspire your team. Too many leaders think people want to hear their views and their experiences. So, take time out to listen to others’ ideas and show thanks on a regular basis, because if you can do that your staff will be more inclined to respect your decisions. It’s easy to dismiss ideas that aren’t your own because it takes time to talk to others. But remember that it’s the people on the shopfloor who present a public face for the company. They, to some
extent, run your business every day; they see what customers want and may have some important knowledge that you could be overlooking. Inspiration doesn’t just happen - you need to win respect first and by taking an interest in others’ views you’ll show that their opinion matters too.
And be prepared to change. Nearly all of those surveyed cited the ability to encourage creativity and innovation as a highly desired attribute in their business leaders but only half have leaders who demonstrate this characteristic. If employees don’t see you coming up with ideas they may feel demotivated, perhaps even bored and unlikely to try new ideas themselves.
The nature of your business is fluid so flexibility is essential. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. Sometimes it’s a good idea to be guided by your gut feeling and let others do this too, giving them the support to get on with the job. Let’s face it, everybody makes mistakes from time to time, but it is the way people handle these mistakes and learn from them that really matters if they are to become decision-makers.
And of course, deliver a positive and exciting working environment. One of the key findings from the institute’s research revealed that only 48% thought there was a good buzz at work. Since most of us spend the majority of our time there, take the time to ensure that staff also have fun with what they are doing. A positive atmosphere can be infectious and when people enjoy working they are likely to be more productive.
A third of people claim never to have worked for an inspirational leader. Don’t be a part of that statistic.
n Christine Hayhurst, director of professional affairs, Chartered Management Institute