Episode 4: Affordable ways to motivate staff

THE HUMAN SOURCE — a podcast for tomorrow’s HR and Payroll professionals.

Given the current economic climate, small businesses may breathe a sigh of relief to hear that money is not the only thing motivating staff to join, stay and/or do their best work for an employer.   

In this episode, our dynamic duo, Steph and Steph, explore what strategies businesses can look to improve, including internal career moves, manager-employee relationships and wellbeing support.

Stephanie Kelly
Chief People Officer at IRIS Software Group

Stephanie Coward
Managing Director at IRIS Software Group

Stephanie Coward 00:06 

Hello everyone, and a very warm welcome to The Human Source. This is a podcast for HR professionals, business owners and leaders who are interested in what’s going on in the world of people and culture. My name is Steph Coward, and I’m joined by my absolutely fabulous colleague, Steph Kelly. Hey, Steph.  

Stephanie Kelly 00:27 

Hi, guys. Thank you very much for listening. I’m excited to be taking part in this podcast as this topic is very close to my heart.  

Stephanie Coward 00:34 

I think it might be also helpful for our listeners, maybe, to get a bit of background on who we both are. Appreciate this sounds like the Steph show. But it might be useful to know what we both do. So over to you, Steph.  

Stephanie Kelly 00:48 

I’m Steph Kelly and I’m Chief People Officer here at IRIS Software. I’ve been with IRIS for four years now, and responsible for all our HR operations globally. What about you Steph? 

Stephanie Coward 01:00 

Yeah, I’m the MD for our HCM business within IRIS. So today, we’re going to be tackling the thorny issue of staff retention. We’re going to have a look at what it is that motivates workers and I know Steph knows a huge amount about this. So, Steph, what are your thoughts on some of the things that we could do better? 

Stephanie Kelly 01:17 

Genuinely, I do wake up almost every day and the top of my mind is always about how we’re going to get amazing staff here at IRIS and once we’ve got these amazing staff, how we’re going to keep them, how we’re going to progress them, how we’re going to make sure that they’re very, very happy working at IRIS. So, we do have some suggestions today, tried and tested and given the current economic climate, small businesses may breathe a sigh of relief to hear that money is not the only thing that motivates staff to join, to stay and to do the best work for their employer.  

Stephanie Coward 01:50 

Yeah, I absolutely agree. I know how difficult it can be in the current environment when there’s a price war. So, one of the things that I’ve talked about in a previous podcast is one of the ways that we can try and differentiate ourselves from the competition is get our employees to feel connected and part of our organisation. I’ve heard a few times recently that people are now looking for experience rather than a financial reward to help motivate them. What do you think, Steph?  

Stephanie Kelly 02:18 

Yeah, amazing question, Steph, how’d you get people to feel part of our business? I think for me, the thing if I had to, like define my job role, yes, I’m Chief People Officer, but my job role really is about creating an amazing culture. So, a business that people want to join, want to work really hard for and want to stay at, so that’s what keeps me awake at night. So, to answer your question, that’s it, we have to create a fantastic culture and at the heart of fantastic culture is really some simple things. One of those is caring deeply about your staff, and having a genuine interest in them, and making sure that you’re doing things that will make them happy. What do you think about that? 

Stephanie Coward 02:57 

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I was having a chat not so long ago to a new group of people who joined the organisation through our graduate scheme. And I was really interested to have a chat with them to say, you know, as new entrants into the workforce, what is it that you look for, you know, what is it when you when you join a company, like IRIS that you’re trying to see? And it was really interested, perhaps nearly all of them said they just wanted to feel valued. They wanted to feel respected, valued and that they wanted to feel that they could see a way for them to progress, not just their career, but actually grow themselves as individuals. And I thought it was really fascinating, because they didn’t actually mention anything financial, in terms of the things that they felt they needed. So, most of it was around, is this an environment where I can continue to grow personally. So, in terms of my own soft skills, my own networks, but also, you know, technical capabilities? Is it a place where I feel these are people that I’m, I want to spend time with, I think, you know, we all know how much time we spend with people at work and if we added it up, it’s probably more than the members of our family. So, I think for people nowadays, particularly new talent entering the workforce, it really is about the ability, you know, that’s feeling part of something, and feeling that you want to socialise with people that when you’re in the office, or you’re in the working environment, these are people you enjoy spending time with. I don’t know what you think about that? 

Stephanie Kelly 04:19 

Completely agrees Steph, completely agree. So, once for me, once you’ve got the foundation of a fantastic culture, and you’re caring about people, you’re creating what you just talked about this amazing family environment. And I often look back at some of the kind of meta surveys about what it is that engages people, and you’ve hit the nail on the head because time and time again, a couple of things come up. One by Gallup there’s a massive correlation about having a best friend at work. If you’ve got a best friend at work, you’re more likely to be motivated and engaged. And the other thing that comes up year after year, and it’s also statistically, difficult word to say, proven to be stable across lots of different countries is the chance to learn and grow. So, people do want, as you were saying, progression at work. And of course, we’ve got to kind of distribution of people who are quite happy just to learn little bits every day and feel that they’re keeping their skills up to date, with super ambitious people that want to, you know, succeed and be the next CEO of the organisation and really concerned about how they’re going to go as fast as possible up the organisation. So, it’s also a little bit about recognising those things, but also recognising within those things people want to do things a little bit differently. 

Stephanie Coward 05:35 

Do you know what, you’ve hit upon something there that I’ve recognised within my own teams, is I think one of the most important things to me is that you’ve got that variety and flexibility for people. I know you and I have recently been talking about career pathways and our career framework here with an IRIS. And I think one of the most important things that we’ve looked at is how do we offer a pathway for everyone? So, how do we offer a pathway for those people who do wish to become more senior in the organisation who want to take on leadership responsibilities? But at the same time, how do we find an equal, and still as exciting a pathway, for those people who rather become more of a subject matter expert, so wants to develop their skills in their area of expertise. And I think in a matrix organisation, as we have today, one of the great things, I think is the ability to offer both of those so that people who are progressing as leaders are the same in terms of value to the organisation as those people progressing in terms of their subject matter expertise. I think one of the tough things, though, isn’t it is to be able to find a way to bring those two things together. What do you think? 

Stephanie Kelly 06:39 

Yeah, absolutely. A word that I’ve been hearing more recently, so, career framework is now turning into a career lattice. So, people, especially post pandemic, are thinking about what they want to do, how they want to live their lives, you know, their whole world was turned upside down and the kinds of things that were considered impossible before like working from home or flexible working or working from Cornwall, if you like us, working in Heathrow Approach here at the moment. So, lots of lots of people are considering what they want to do differently going forward. So, to your point, this kind of lattice career framework where people can do different jobs at different times in their careers, I think that’s also going to be really, really important. 

Stephanie Coward 07:20

Another thing, actually, on the back of that, I recently read an article about, we’re in a time now, where we’ve got a real multi-generational workforce. So, we’re probably at a time in history where you can have three generations of a family in work at the same time. And one of the things I’m always conscientious about is ensuring that the strategies that we have are appropriate for those younger new entrants into the marketplace, but also for those people who either are moving through the middle of their career, or perhaps are more mature in their career. I think one of the challenges that we have in a business, now is making sure that the way we motivate staff and the way we motivate people does address those different generations. Not sure what your thoughts are on how we go about that. 

Stephanie Kelly 08:03  

Yeah, no, that’s really, really interesting. For me, I am always looking at the research, you know, what does Gen Zed want, Gen X, Gen alpha. And I look at those, and I’m really interested in those. But I’m also really interested in not making generalisations. So last night, I saw a TV programmes and I don’t know if you’ve seen it, George Clark’s flipping fast. And it was about these teams of people that had to take these houses, and they had a year to turn the houses over, do them up and make the most profit. And the person was a sixty-year-old lady, and what’s stuck in my head was, “I’m only offered jobs 60 Plus, for people who are on the scrap heap. And I don’t feel like I’m on the scrap heap.” And that really stuck with me all evening. So, for me to answer your question, I’m always thinking that, you know, even though you might be 60, or 20, or 30, or 40, or anything in between, you might have different aspirations than what this generational study says that generally people have in that group. So, what I like doing here at IRIS is having a massive level playing field.  You know, levelling up is something that government talks about, I’m really keen about that as well. But for me, it’s about equality of opportunity, and allowing anyone regardless of their background to access any of our programmes at IRIS and make the best use of talent wherever that talent is. 

Stephanie Coward 09:27 

It really plays into the need to be a diverse organisation, doesn’t it? So I think diversity not just in terms of gender, in terms of ethnicity, but diversity from an age, background, culture, and personality perspectives. I think, different people within your organisation bring so many different things and having the ability to motivate people and have a benefits and rewards capability that is flexible enough to have enough within it to address the needs of those different generations for me, I think really also helps you differentiate yourself as a business. What one thing I’m always conscious of is, there was always lots of talk in the media about the fact that people entering into the workforce now, and actually people, perhaps in their 30s, go into the workforce with an idea that they will have maybe several different careers. And certainly, that they will  work for three or four different companies, perhaps withintheir first 10 years at work. And I know one thing for us is, we’re really keen to show people that, you can have that breadth of career, you can have that diversity, but perhaps here within one organisation. So I know that one of the things we’ve also started to look at a lot is kind of internal mobility. So, once we’ve attracted people into our organisation is that we don’t try and restrict them within a certain pathway, as we talked about before, but we also give them the opportunity to meet or potentially move between two quite different pathways. So, I know from my previous role here with an IRIS, you know, we had people who came from customer services, who moved to professional services, we even had people from professional services move into product and engineering. And I think we found that was a really great way to get a much richer expertise within the business, but also encourage people to see that they could progress their career, they could do something different, they could achieve different objectives, but within the same business, and I think here in a company like IRIS, it’s probably something that we’re able to offer. And I often think if I if we were a smaller business, you know, what could we do maybe to encourage that, and I don’t know what your thoughts are on having kind of opportunities for work shadowing and placements, and you know, cross skilling across different parts of the business. 

Stephanie Kelly 11:49 

Yeah, absolutely. All those things are really important; really up for work shadowing. For me, when you were talking, I was thinking of that kind of one challenge that I see, or I come across in all of these things, which is sometimes people’s confidence. So again, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can help people with their confidence, because it’s not really IRIS holding people back from being the next CEO. You know, some people don’t want to be the next CEO. But also, people sometimes hold themselves back. So a lot of what we do here at IRIS is try and have some inspirational role models, try and have some external speakers, internal speakers, people talking about how they have stopped limiting themselves and preventing themselves from progressing up across the organisation or just trying a different job. I don’t know if you’ve got any top tips on building confidence at work? 

Stephanie Coward 12:45 

 Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things I’d say is, and I heard this, actually, from someone who was doing a talk about, it was actually related to women at work, but I don’t think it just applies to women. I think it applies to all people in the workforce. And it was about being good at networking. And it was about saying that, as well as kind of doing your day to day job, one really important thing is if you want to be able to be more versatile and be more mobile, it’s just to get to know lots of different people, to start interacting with people that you know, you may not normally need to interact with, but kind of going out of your way to understand perhaps what other people do, how other people behave and what sort of things interest them, and how they got into their careers and how they’re doing what they’re doing. So I think you know, that that’s one way of doing it, however, I do think that it’s really important as leaders and managers, though, that we are competent at being able to spot and see the skills of people in our organisation and not pigeonhole people, not kind of sometimes, you know, you hear that the people that shout the loudest are those that get what they want. And I think that, you know, is sometimes true. And perhaps as leaders, we need to be looking at the people who are not shouting, the people who are being quietly getting on with what they’ve been asked to do, and understand and say, well hang on a minute, you know, what are the core competencies of that individual? And how could those competencies perhaps then be transferred into another role? Or into another position? Or even where do we think someone has got competencies that we think perhaps, could be developed? And so looking and identifying potential. I think, for me, all great leaders are able to spot and identify potential in people, and then be able to draw out that potential to help that person really become the best that they can be. 

Stephanie Kelly 14:40 

I think you pick on a really important topic, though, which is the relationship isn’t it between the manager and the employee, and knowing that that has a massive correlation with how happy someone is at work and how long they stay with us. So, I think that’s a really well made point. At IRIS what we do here is we measure what matters, right so, one of the things that we do measure every single month is how engaged our employees are. And interestingly, the tool that we use gives feedback directly back to the manager in an anonymous fashion. So, a manager needs to have I think it’s three or four employees. And then that feedback is anonymized and given to the manager and this tool has allowed managers to see how absolutely pivotal they are in helping their employees succeed, helping their employees be happy. And it is something that I credit. We got the Great Place To Work award here at IRIS. And I really don’t think we could have got that Great Place To Work award if we weren’t measuring this relationship between a manager and an employee, and helping that manager be a better manager and an employee be a better employee?  

Stephanie Coward 15:46 

Yeah absolutely. I think it goes back to the comment we discussed at the start of our podcast, which is around people feeling valued. From my perspective, it’s important to give people the opportunity to be heard. But I think as well as being heard, what’s important is that actions are taken and things do change. Once somebody’s taken the time to then tell us or give us feedback and gift us that information, I think as leaders, it’s imperative that we actually then do something about it, and that our employees can see that there’s been a change. 

Stephanie Kelly 16:18 

Absolutely. In terms of pay, let’s talk about pay: how important would you say pay is in attracting people and motivating them while they’re at work? 

Stephanie Coward 16:29 

Well, I always tell people about pay as being table stakes. So for me, I think people need to have a certain amount of financial rewards, you know, we’ve all got our mortgages to pay , our cars to run, our holidays to go on. So I think, you know, there needs to be a level of reward that is considered to be fair, and quite often I hear that word. When I talk to people about pay and reward, I hear the word fair. I hear that people want to be rewarded for the role that they’re doing. So I think that pay is part of the package. So certainly, you need those table stakes. But then if you’re trying to differentiate yourself from everyone else that is also at the table, then pay isn’t the way to go about it. I always think that when pay is used as a way to keep people in an organisation; so I often hear the word retention associated to a payment. You may hear it as golden handcuffs, but for me, it’s almost like you’re trying to bribe someone to stay within your organisation. And for me, I’d much rather someone stays within the organisation because they feel that they are fairly remunerated, but they feel all the other great things of being valued, of being listened to, of having great opportunity to progress their career, of enjoying come into work and getting up and out in the morning and a smile on their face and wanting to come and liking the company that they share when they’re at work. So for my perspective, yeah, obviously, I think, you know, the pay has to be within the right boundaries. So I know here, you know, we benchmark and look at ourselves against other similar companies, so that people do feel that they are being fairly rewarded. But my view is, that is just one part of the puzzle. And one thing that I’ve seen now, crop up, you know, a lot is not just about benefits, you know, pension benefits, access to electric cars, or salary sacrifice seams with medical benefits and other types of cycle to work schemes. But I think now we’re even going beyond that. Now, we’re going beyond and I go back to this concept of feeling and feeling like you belong and feeling valued. And some of the technologies that are out there now are actually looking at how employees can actually motivate each other. So for those of you who are lovers of Strava, you guys will all know that on Strava you can give your friends kudos points, and you can give them a thumbs up for something that you think they’ve done particularly well, nowadays, our technology can help us do that, too. So different employees can give each other cue dogs can give each other a high five, can give each other recognition for some of the great things that they’ve done. And that recognition then also translates into some kind of reward, you know, be that an afternoon off, trip out with your family, whatever it may be, then I think that’s great as well, because that is about peer reward, rather than what we have, mainly today, which is more of a top down reward. Peer reward, I think is probably equal if not more important to people. 

Stephanie Kelly 19:47 

Excellent. Yeah, I totally agree. I think kind of 10,15 years ago what we were looking at was I think you’re completely right you know pay is a hygiene factor. Yeah, table stakes, etc. And for me what I’ve come across in my career is it’s about fairness as well. So it’s not actual pay, I used to work for the NHS and you know, actual pay was much lower than it is in the tech sector. But as long as you felt that the relativity between you and other people and the amount of work you were doing was fair, you were completely fine with it, because there were other reasons that you are coming to work for every day. In terms of benefits, what I was about to say was, you know, 10, or 15 years ago, the sexy thing was flexible benefits. And you had a pot of money that you could spend on you know, all sorts of things. And again, that’s now a little bit table stakes as well. So you do, you will always have a budget, maybe a small one, maybe a bigger one, to spend on benefits, but the amount of flexibility that you can give to your staff to buy the benefits they want, that will really, really helps. You know, we can see it here, at IRIS, you know, people who are perhaps late 50s, put much more money into their pension. Whereas some of the people who are at the beginning of their career, other things are much more important for them, as well, such as some of our kind of perks at work, those types of things where they can have amazing kind of discounts on all sorts of things at nights out, etc. For me now, one of the most important things is around social responsibility. And ESG, that is really, really important. You know, it’s so important for us as a business because it’s completely the right thing to do. But it’s also really important for all the employees. And I read a really great study, which said that people would take a 10% pay cut to work for a company that they thought was giving back to the wider world around them. What do you think about that? 

Stephanie Coward 21:39 

I mean, wow, that is quite a statistic, isn’t it? And yeah, I agree with you, actually. And I think it’s something that’s been around for quite some time, I think it’s something that, you know, lots of people have a conscience around and want to feel good about working for a business that has great sustainable credentials. And I think over time as the opportunities for businesses to become more part of their community, their local business environment, or anywhere, you know, people feel that what they’re doing is adding value somewhere. So you just gave a great example of when people working in the NHS or people as teachers, and you say to them, you know, why? Why are you doing that, you know, quite often people will tell you, it’s a vocation, it’s something that they just feel passionate about. And I think it’s great now that in the commercial sector, I mean, in the tech sector, there is a way that we can help people to feel that I’m doing this because I really feel that I’m giving something back. So if you can offer those great credentials and opportunities for people, then you can feel a great value in what you do. And you can see how that value then affects people’s day to day lives. 

Steph Kelly 22:54 

Absolutely. And what’s your view on wellbeing? So this is a term that is used lots and lots at the moment. What do you think, is the connection between wellbeing and motivation?  

Steph Coward 23:03 

It’s such a hot topic, isn’t it? Yeah, I think wellbeing is interesting, I think you’ve got to think of wellbeing in its broadest sense, and it will mean different things to different people. And for me, it really goes back to some of the things we’ve been talking about throughout the podcast about really connecting and understanding your employees. So different employees will have different needs around wellbeing, and there is no one size that fits all. So for me, I always feel that it’s important when you connect and understand your team, you are understanding and talking to them about what motivates them and considering wellbeing as part of that. Because for some people, you know, working under pressure really motivates them, helps them get their best, you know, their most creative at those points, whereas for other people, that is really stressful. And for some people that then means that they find issues and problems at work because they feel under pressure. So I think for me, wellbeing is one of those things that is very unique and personal to everybody in your organisation. And my tips would be: get to know your staff, get to know who they are, get to know their personalities, and then the wellbeing element of that will flow and it will become obvious then what kind of wellbeing activities or initiatives would suit you know, that particular person. 

Stephanie Kelly 24:26 

At IRIS we focus on three areas physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, and also financial wellbeing which in this cost-of-living crisis is more and more important to more people and kind of bringing this to a full circle now. We’ve talked about a couple of things. So we’ve talked about having a really engaging culture. We’ve talked about having a genuinely caring environment and you were very eloquent about having a place that was a fun place to work. And we didn’t quite touch on setting clear objectives and letting people get on with their job but I think that is something that’s really important in an engaging environment, and also the chance to learn and grow and progress. Is there anything else that I have forgotten? In summary? 

Stephanie Coward 25:06 

No, I think there’s only one thing that I would add and that is, you know, treating people like grownups. So as people are in the world of work, this is not school, you know, everybody comes to work, you know, are professionals, no matter what it is that they do. So, I always think it’s important to remember that and allow people to take decisions, give people autonomy, allow people to take risk-based decisions. And I think, perhaps most importantly, when things don’t always go right, people know that you’ve got their back and that this is a learning environment. So, for me, I think I probably wrap up by saying that it’s important that people have the freedom and the autonomy to be able to do that. And I think that’s when you get the best out of people. And that’s when people feel most rewarded. 

Stephanie Kelly 25:51 

Excellent. Thank you, Steph.  

Stephanie Coward 25:54 

Great to talk to you, Steph. Look forward to the next one.  

Stephanie Kelly 25:57 

Absolutely, Steph. If you found this valuable don’t forget to subscribe and do follow us on social.