Sharing the Wheel: Creating engaged, motivated employees

Any company too scared to share its steering wheel with staff should start planning its funeral, writes staff performance specialist, ALLISON TONER.

EVERYONE has seen the 'Best Places to Work' results but we haven't heard about the other end of the scale, where staff are desperately unhappy, performing badly and costing the company a fortune.

Maybe a 'Corporate Drivers Licence' could change that.

Learner plates should be worn if you want your staff to:

  • Give absolutely exceptional service;
  • Constantly exceed performance targets;
  • Find fulfillment and passion in their roles;
  • Love making the business even more successful; and
  • Feel personally connected to the vision and mission.

    Work-life balance is just the beginning of employee empowerment and fulfillment. People are flying into self-employment and changing jobs just so they can feel fulfillment and passion even if it means huge pay cuts.

    Corporates need to work with these employee desires and give staff control over their work circumstances. This can be done by sharing the company steering wheel.

    Niche Forecasting believes the difference between an average company and an amazing company comes down to the operation of its steering wheel. In most cases, management control 99% and staff have 1% but the 'management say = you do' approach is ancient - staff are the new drivers.

    Any company too scared to share its steering wheel with staff should start planning its funeral. Amazing CEOs and executives don't let their job titles fool them.

    Ritz Carlton Hotel CEO Horst Schulz knows this. He says to new staff:

    "I am the president, but you are far more important. If I don't turn up for work on Monday no one cares, if you don't, bags don't get carried, food not served, beds not made - the place falls apart. Who runs this place? Not me: you."

    All Ritz Carlton staff have authority to spend up to $2000 fixing a customer problem without managers' approval.

    This hasn't bankrupted them; it has turned them into an organisation with a $1.2 billion operating budget and a benchmark of service which wouldn't have been possible without sharing the steering wheel with their staff.

    Companies can be issued a corporate driver licence when:

  • Staff create your mission and values and feel deeply connected to them;
  • Staff love their KPIs and perform exceptionally;
  • The rewards and recognition are strongly valued by staff;
  • The culture is the kind of work environment staff wanted;
  • Staff are fulfilled in their roles;
  • Talent and innovation is truly tangible and not just spoken about; and
  • Customers feel your unique energy and have amazing experiences with you.

    Few companies achieve these 'licence conditions' which is why so many people are unfulfilled in their jobs. By sharing the steering wheel in the following areas, that situation can be changed.

    Key Performance Indicators

    The purpose of KPIs is to motivate, not depress staff. Clever ones can form part of what makes your company unique.

    Lead your industry by measuring something consumers really care about. If staff don't believe in and passionately strive for their KPIs, you have overlooked how they want to contribute to further success.

    Mission and Values

    If your mission and value statements could be cut and pasted into your competitors', you are not amazing. Amazing companies don't 'fit in' to their industry; they lead it, creating new rules and benchmarks.

    Mission and values are about where the company is heading and staff need to play a huge role in penning that since it is their job to carry it out.


    Culture is intangible and unique to your company. It can be playful, fun, outrageous, caring, quiet or creative. No culture means no employee engagement or commitment.


    Happy staff = happy customers. Selling things before your staff are passionate and fulfilled creates very average experiences - most companies are guilty of this.

    If a celebrity walks into your business your staff will probably pull out all the stops, offer the most amazing service, energy and extras. Imagine giving every person through the door that kind of service - it's only possible through passionate staff.

    Rewards and Recognition

    What is it that your staff want to strive for? The answer is probably different to what you are offering.

    Rewards and recognition that staff don't value is nearly as silly as green tomato sauce.

    Management shouldn't tell, they should ask. Staff don't want security and a pay cheque - they want to be passionate about their role and know they are making a difference.

    Individual Staff Skills, Knowledge and Passions

    Every staff member has a different background, skills, hobbies, experiences and knowledge. If you want your staff to become as passionate about their roles as Steve Irwin was about crocs start by understanding those.

    According to, only one in four people are engaged in their work (ouch) and a survey by found 94% of workers feel their skills are undervalued, not utilised, not growing, not recognised or don't suit their current working environment.

    Valuing Talent and Innovation

    Plenty of companies claim to strongly value talent and innovation, yet internally there are no avenues to support that claim, and externally they hesitate to hire consultants with pizzazz, sticking to experts that follow the rules, and create black and white results. That will never create a sustainable and amazing company.

    At Microsoft, if all your projects succeed you are considered a failure as it means you aren't stretching yourself or the company.

    Further information:

    This article first appeared in Business Community Intelligence, August 2007