People or product? Employees or customers? Of all the priorities competing for your focus, Glenn realised there’s only one area that will transform your business. 

People, product and customers. These were the areas of my business that vied for my attention as CEO. All of them are important. But, eventually, I realised that when you get the people right, they get the product right for you. And, unless you’re going to service all your customers personally, your employees need to look after them. Which makes people the number one focus of your role. 

As CEO, only you have the power to make your business behave differently. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share the five most important things you can do to develop the power of your workforce.

1 – Teach your people how the business makes money 

You’ll never get your people to make decisions anything like the ones you make if they don’t have the same knowledge and information that you have. So, treat your employees as stakeholders – teach them private equity, teach them about profit and loss. 

Educating your people about how your business actually works is something almost no one ever does. It’s a major opportunity for your business to unleash the most amazing entrepreneurial potential in your employees. It excites them and ignites their passion and the quality of their decision-making rockets. Which can only be good for your business.

2 – Spend most of your time communicating and listening 

Explain decisions patiently and thoroughly. Default completely to openness. Make secrets extraordinarily rare and board papers and packs as public as you possibly can. 

Practicing honesty and transparency to the greatest extent possible is critically important because it’s how you build trust. As someone once said, “trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback” so make this an absolute priority and build trust in your workforce at almost any cost. 

Your employees can handle indecision, they can handle you not knowing what will happen, and they can handle uncertainty. They can handle everything except you lying to them or keeping things from them. 

This will be really hard for your executive team and HR. Standard business practice is to keep employees largely in the dark so don’t for a second underestimate the scale of this task.

3 – Build a culture of constant gratitude and recognition 

Start today. Think about your team and find someone to unexpectedly call or send a text to. Tell them what you see in them, why you value them and why you’re grateful for what they do. 

Then make it a habit and spread the habit through your exec team. And then through your layers of management. 

I can guarantee that there’s no bonus scheme, no commission system and no share package that will motivate your people faster or better than this. And you need no money and no technology. Just a little time and thought.

The old idea that salary is for work and recognition is only for exceptional performance is completely wrong. Financial rewards are poor motivators for most people. Thanks, visibility, being seen and being appreciated are massively more powerful. 

A good indicator that you’re getting this right is that you’re often asking for the permanent pile of thank you cards and stamps on your desk to be topped up.

4 –  Staff retention is a complete red herring

Stop reporting staff churn in your board pack and put thoughts like that completely out of your mind. 

Abandon any type of golden handcuffs or programme that attempts to tie people to jobs. Think instead about making your business an amazing place to be from. 

When I was CEO at Reward Gateway, there was a company in our market that wasn’t a direct competitor but sold to the same clients. 

They regularly offered jobs to our staff without even interviewing them. 

But I wasn’t annoyed with them – I was immensely proud of that fact.

Because instead of focusing on staff retention, we’d made our company into a learning environment where our people got the most amazing experience. Do this in your business, and you’ll find that nothing will serve your business, your customer and ultimately, your investor better. 

Forget about employee loyalty because a job is not a dog – it’s not for life; it’s just for now. People are not disloyal because they leave. You’re not disloyal for not still being with your first employer. 

Instead, value people for what they do for your organisation and how they move it on. Not how long they stay. Take this approach, and you’ll find staff retention becomes a non-issue for all the right reasons. 

5 – Don’t think that a great place to work is an easy place to work

A great place to work is challenging, rewarding, full of highs and lows, and full of success and excitement. It’s absolutely not a place for the many people who would like a nice, stable, well-paid job with little change. That’s what the public sector is for.

To build a great culture, you need to spend the majority of your time building, nurturing, editing and tweaking your teams. You’re going to spend a lot of time hiring, a lot of time talking and communicating. A lot of time listening and a good amount of time telling people that their time with you has come to an end. 

You are editor in chief of your organisation.  

Because creating an environment where people can do their best work means you’ll often need to remove people from your business. 

And not because they’ve done something wrong – they’re the easy ones. To create an exceptional organisation you need to remove people who’ve done nothing wrong. Often these are people who’ve done great work, but they’re simply no longer the person that fits the job you have for them to do next. 

I find that’s one of the hardest things for managers and leaders to accept and get right, but it’s one of the most essential.

You’re the only person who can fuel change

Whatever structure you have, whatever leadership team incentives you’ve employed, whatever equity you’ve shared around, no one will run and own that business like you. No one will see around the corners and make the tough, counterintuitive calls that you will make. 

These are the marks of great leaders, and they are the actions that make great businesses. I hope you can see the potential for these five recommendations to revolutionise your business. And mark you out as a visionary leader capable of leading transformational change.


Glenn Elliott

Glenn Elliott

Glenn is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of CEO experience. He sold his last business, Reward Gateway, to PE three times. His skills are in product, engineering, sales and marketing, and his passions are leadership, company culture, employee engagement and social justice. In 2018, he wrote the Amazon HR Bestseller, Build it: A Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement.
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