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The unsexy brand you need to model your business on 

29th September 2023

“My job is to create a company of learners. I like to ask my people and myself, ‘When’s the last time you did something for the first time?’” 

That’s a quote from a CEO who built one of the most innovative and robust company cultures in the world. 

No, not Google, Tesla or Uber. It’s former WD40 CEO Garry Ridge. 

For 35 years, Ridge worked for the company, and spent 25 years as its CEO before retiring in August 2022. In that time, he ensured the company never rested on its laurels as the ubiquitous oil and lubricant brand and expanded its sales across the world – something that’s incredibly important for a company that sells only one product.  

More importantly, he created a company culture that prioritises innovation, growth and constant learning. 

When he retired – after 25 years as CEO, remember – he did so with his organisation’s employee engagement score at 93%. An almost unheard-of number, especially after such longevity, where you’d normally expect some form of stagnation. 

And they sell oil in a can! 

So what’s the secret? 

The ‘Work Tribe’ philosophy 

WD40’s ‘Work Tribe’ philosophy reinforces the company as a close-knit ‘tribe’ that works towards common goals.  

It creates an inclusive approach that nurtures not only a strong sense of belonging among its employees, but also a shared purpose. 

The ‘Work Tribe’ philosophy also creates a nurturing and trusting environment. Ridge told the Harvard Business Review that employees are encouraged to take chances and try new things, even if it results in failure – or rather ‘learning moments’.  

“Learning moments can be positive or negative,” he said. “But they are never bad, so long as they are shared for the benefit of all.” 

Collaborative culture 

That level of transparency and knowledge-sharing creates a collaborative environment where employees are empowered to work autonomously. When one person or team’s failure is not painted as a bad outcome, but as an opportunity for the whole business to grow, everyone is given licence to try new things. 

As Ridge asks, “when’s the last time you did something for the first time?” 

That mindset allows everyone, from the most junior employee to the team leader with the most responsibility to try something new every day. 

Which is why we shouldn’t be surprised that WD40 has a 93% employee engagement score, or that 98% of its employees said they would recommend their company to a family or friend. 

The point here isn’t that WD40 is a great company doing great things (though it is). The point is that no matter what your business does – and no matter what size it is – you can create that sort of culture with some thought and effort. 

And, if you’re prepared to put in that effort, it can take a lot less time than you think, too. 


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Three tools you need to make your business as innovative as Google

30th August 2023

It’s hard to underestimate the power of human creativity – especially when coupled with a dose of healthy obsession.  

As an entrepreneur I know that there’s no better feeling than waking up in the morning energised to implement my vision and grow my business. 

We now understand that personal fulfilment is key to giving employees that same drive I have. It also ultimately leads to better retention of top talent – something we all know requires so much more than just hybrid working and generous perks. What’s needed is a culture of allowing employees to pursue their own interests within their jobs. 

Take Google’s famous ‘20% rule’, where employees are encouraged to spend what amounts to one full day per week working on side projects – that is, working on the areas of their business that truly interest them. This policy has led directly to the creation of truly game-changing products like Gmail, AdSense and Google News. 

This is what energises me. I love helping my team to innovate and watching them channel their enthusiasm and passion into their work lives. 

What Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, understood was a fundamental part of human nature – and a central tenet of Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us’. Humans desire Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

When these conditions are met, not only will you have a much more engaged team that wouldn’t dream of quitting – never mind ‘quiet quitting’ – but you’ll also get the best out of the enthusiastic and creative people that you hired in the first place.  

Let’s understand them in more detail: 


At its core, Autonomy is the right to have a say in your own destiny. 

Yes, you might have to roll up your sleeves and put in a shift but it’s important to feel as if you’re doing it on your own terms.  

As a leader, however, there are some pitfalls to avoid: 

From a management point of view, Autonomy should never mean ‘set and forget’. It doesn’t mean you ask your team to work without clarity or direction. Nor does it mean employees are left entirely to work on their own visions: goals need to be set for the benefit of the business, but they should be negotiated with employees – not set down from on-high.  

Set goals together, check in frequently, and ensure employees are able to work on their own terms. 


In this context, Mastery is the opportunity to get better at new skills 

No matter how free your team feels they are, human nature remains the same. Not only do we want to feel free, but we also want to get better at our hobbies and interests. 

Do you play golf? How about a musical instrument? Or maybe you like to cook? Either way, that feeling of progress and getting slightly better at something every day is an essential part of human nature – even if you’re not being paid to do it. 

The same thing is true even when we are getting paid to do it. We spend tens of hours a week working on our jobs, and we want to constantly develop skills and progress.  

The key takeaway here is to make sure your employees are continuously given the chance to develop their skills and learn. It’s that – more than salaries and promotions – that keeps talent sticking around longer. 


Purpose feels like a buzzword of the moment, but getting it right is crucial. 

In the context of this blog, it means being given the chance to work on something truly transformational. In a wider context it’s important for a business to have a positive impact on the world – but tackling that is beyond the scope of this blog post! 

For your employees, it doesn’t matter how much freedom they have or how much personal and professional growth they can achieve if they don’t also feel like there’s a broader reason for showing up to do their job they aren’t going to be truly fulfilled. 

Purpose doesn’t mean solving the big social issues of our day single-handedly. But it does mean addressing them in your own way and leaving the world a better place than you found it. We all want to feel like we’re doing that. 

What it looks like in practice 

Let’s go back to Google’s ‘20% rule’ to finish. 

Think about it one last time. Employees are given one full day a week to spend working on a side project related to their job. That includes the Autonomy to decide which project to pick – which in turn leads to Purpose, because you know the problem you’re trying to solve with this project. And that leads to the opportunity for Mastery, the chance to get better at a new skill developed throughout the project. 

The creativity that Google unleashed with this policy has directly led to outcomes which have changed the world. 

In my view, the results speak for themselves! 

Read more about creating a team of superheroes using the Clarity and Freedom matrix


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The Clarity and Freedom Matrix: Why thinking like a conductor will unleash excellence

27th July 2023
The Clarity / Freedom matrix - with high clarity and high freedom, you create engagement

Prioritising employee engagement has never been more important. But making sure your team has clear goals needs to be balanced with giving them the freedom they need to thrive.

When I first started managing teams I understood some of the basic principles: don’t micromanage, be clear in your goals, and trust both your team’s and your own instincts. 

But it wasn’t until I started thinking about how these concepts all fitted together that my business really started to thrive. 

When I started to visualise the ‘Clarity and Freedom Matrix’, it was a transformative moment that has guided me towards a more productive and engaged team. 

Simply put, there is a delicate balance between clarity and freedom and you can’t have one without the other. As a leader, the culture you create and the directions you give will be followed by the business. Like the conductor of an orchestra, everyone playing in harmony. But if you set the wrong tone and you’ll end up listening to a terrible mess! 

Here’s what happens if you get the balance wrong: 

No Clarity, No Freedom: The Zombie Concerto 

This is the worst piece of music you can create. 

There’s nothing worse than the disengagement and indifference created by a group of employees who meander through their work day like lost souls in purgatory: they watch the clock and collect their payslips without any purpose to their work lives. 

Without clarity, employees cannot align their actions with organisational goals; without freedom, they cannot contribute their unique talents; and without a leader willing to give them both, they lack any opportunity to do better. 

As a conductor, try to avoid this off-key result at all costs! 

Clarity without Freedom: The Dance of the Drones 

Congratulations, you’ve managed to set clear goals for your team. You’ve done your job and perfectly orchestrated a great performance… unfortunately it’s a uniquely uninspired one! 

Any leader that offers clarity but restricts freedom will find every note meticulously played, but won’t get any of the passion that leads to a good performance.  

What’s worse is that, over time, your team will become robotic and obedient. This means they’ll never be able to think on their feet or solve problems without you. And this is not the path to employee engagement.  

It also means you and your business fail to gain any of your employees’ unique skills, talent and expertise. Freedom is vital for your team to thrive, but the person who really loses out in this scenario is the leader who doesn’t harness the full power of their team. 

Freedom without Clarity: Chaos in the Choir 

In this movement of the symphony, all sense of purpose is lost in the noise. 

Here, your team is given all the liberty they need to express themselves and pursue their own goals – but no clear path to a defined outcome.  

Every team member does their own thing without any clear expectations or shared purpose, which sees collaboration collapse and productivity peter out – leaving your business bereft. 

Clarity with Freedom: The Superhero Symphony 

This is the land we want to reach, when we’ve given our teams great clarity as well as the freedom to go with it. And here every team is filled with Superheroes. 

Each member harnesses their unique powers and unleashes their true potential towards conquering all of the challenges your business faces. 

They possess a deep understanding of their roles, goals, and expectations and have the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. 

In this scenario, they become an unstoppable force, driving innovation, creativity, and above all exceptional results – a piece of music you’ll listen to over and over again. 

Grab your baton 

Remember that balancing clarity and freedom is a delicate one and requires copious amounts of trust along the way.  

But, like me, I hope the matrix has shown you how an attentive conductor can bring the best out of their orchestra by creating the conditions for success.

Read more about building a great workplace culture by giving your teams the chance to reflect, reassess and reset.


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Dealing with Imposter Syndrome: Why you should embrace the inner Imposter

13th July 2023
A manager at work talking to his team

We all know that outside of our comfort zone is where the magic happens.

Once we step outside the realm of the comfortable, we reach the land of personal and professional growth. First is the fear zone, then the learning zone and finally the growth zone – where we witness the magic.

But to me, this discussion misses one significant element, and it’s usually known as Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome, they say, is a bad thing – as if you must learn how to overcome imposter syndrome. But to me it’s not a hurdle. It’s a challenging companion on the journey: you don’t get rid of it, you accept it for what it is.

As tennis legend Billie Jean King said: ‘pressure is a privilege’, but so too is Imposter Syndrome. It is a privilege reserved for the brave few who venture outside of their comfort zone in search of self-discovery.

A slide from my keynote address on Imposter Syndrome

The Fear Zone: The journey begins

The first step on the journey to the unknown is into the fear zone. It’s natural to feel fear first when stepping outside of the comfort zone. 

We may feel as if we’ve left The Shire in search of the fires of Mordor, and we can’t turn back now. But it isn’t long before we find ourselves accompanied by an unexpected companion: the persistent feeling of Imposter Syndrome. 

The urge is to try to fight it, to overcome imposter syndrome anxiety, or to tell ourselves that it shouldn’t be there. But you can’t rationalise it away. Instead, accept that your journey will be enriched by your new trusty companion. Allow your Imposter to challenge you and unlock your hidden potential. 

The Learning Zone: Arm yourself with knowledge

Once we’ve accepted our new friend for the journey, we have to understand what it’s challenging us to do.

Imposter Syndrome is a natural reaction to being outside of our comfort zone and it manifests when we feel we aren’t equipped to do the job we’re being asked to do.

It’s a cliche but, under pressure, growth happens in unexpected ways. Like a plant growing around a fence, we find new ways to reach our goals. 

This is where we learn not just about ourselves, but also about the problem we’re trying to face. We don’t suddenly become a new person who isn’t an imposter. We learn that we have tools at our disposal that help us reach our goals if we use them correctly. 

Imposter Syndrome forces us to learn how to use those tools, and to equip ourselves with the ones we need to continue our journey. The better qualified we are to deal with the challenges we’re about to face, the less of an ‘imposter’ we actually are. And the more likely we are to succeed.

The Growth Zone: Harness the power of growth

Finally, we move into the growth zone.

Having finally embraced discomfort and fear, and armed ourselves with the tools we need to succeed, we can now venture forward to unlock our true potential and achieve our goals.

The key now is to understand that – as in any ‘quest’ – there will be challenges, doubts, and unexpected twists. When these happen, our trusty companion will challenge us again, but we are now equipped to deal with it.

When we reach this final zone, instead of agreeing with our Imposter, we accept that it has the right to ask us difficult questions. But we accept too that we are now equipped to answer them. 

Treat your Imposter not as a hurdle, but as the inner voice asking if you’re well enough prepared to achieve your task – and then it’s your job to make sure you have the right tools to hand.

Read more about dealing with adversity and the power of failure.


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‘Return to office’: why collaboration and flexibility aren’t opposites

12th June 2023

Companies around the world are balancing the needs of their employees with the needs of their businesses. They want to offer flexible working, but they also want to foster collaboration – or worse, justify expensive office overheads.

We tell ourselves this is a problem created by Covid, and use phrases like ‘return to the office’.

But the problem is much deeper than that. 

It’s partly about the entry of Gen Z and Millennials into the workforce. Younger people who see the futility of compartmentalising their time between eight hours in the office during the weekdays and then squeezing their lives into the evenings and weekends.

But it’s also about human nature. Humans don’t want to be told what to do – they want to have a say.

What’s the problem?

The phrase ‘work-life balance’ is used a lot in this context. But if you’ve followed my story or read my book, you’ll know that I don’t believe in doing what everyone else does.

And I don’t want that for you either!

So how do you do it differently? It’s about understanding the problem and creating a culture that solves it.

When I see businesses struggle to attract their staff to workplaces, I always see a business that’s trying to answer the wrong question.

There are big businesses out there renaming their offices ‘studios’ or ‘collaboration centres’ in an attempt to effectively rebrand their workspaces. But the issue wasn’t ever the name given to the office! The issues was that the staff wanted a say in their own destiny – to have a say in where, when and how they completed the tasks they’ve been given.

Culture is the silver bullet

The answer lies in culture.

Do your managers command their staff to do their jobs? Or do they negotiate deliverables instead?

Do they set tasks, deadlines and methods from above? Or do they ask their teams how they’d best approach the problem? The key is always to get buy-in from your direct reports. As a CEO I know that starts with me, but if I know that managers all across my business are operating this way, I know that my culture is the right one.

And ultimately if your culture is right, your people will figure out the best way to get the task done.

If that involves office collaboration, they’ll make it happen. 

But if you want to bring people back into the office, just remember what problem you’re trying to solve.


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It Will All Come Out in the Greenwash

19th May 2023

This is a guest post from Cloudfm’s Head of ESG, Katrina Christopoulos. Listen to more of her expert thoughts on sustainability and greenwashing on the Doing The Opposite podcast. 

I like to think of greenwash as a variety of beautiful green fabrics, but once washed not all of them remain green – that’s how you expose the intruders!   

Fundamentally, greenwash is an attempt to make a product or service look sustainable or ethical, when in fact it isn’t and may even be causing harm.   

Having worked more than 15 years in the sustainability field I have seen a lot of it. Earlier in my career it was rarely called out, but now it seems greenwash examples are being shared by the hour!  

This can be a bit of a problem. Personally, I feel there is a line to be drawn between trying to do the right thing but failing and being outright dishonest. Some companies are genuinely trying to create a beautiful green fabric out of a dye that just doesn’t stick, but some are purposefully pulling the green wool over consumers eyes to deceitfully profiteer.  

But when companies and individuals have good intentions, it is important they aren’t afraid to try and fail because that is of course how we learn and, in the end, get it right. But as the exposure of greenwash increases, so too does the fear of being called out for it. Unfortunately, this is leading to what is termed green hushing, where companies are keeping their sustainability initiatives close to their chest for fear of scrutiny. That may stop them from receiving negative press, but it also means that others lose the chance to learn from their mistakes or gain inspiration from their successes. 

That said, there are many instances where greenwash is just out-and-out poor form and really inhibits us as consumers and businesses to do the right thing, so it needs calling out. And unfortunately this is now so prevalent it even has sub-categories to help define the type of greenwash, here are a few examples of the most common types: 

Green labelling

This is where a product is marketed as sustainable/ethical but using misleading images or terms like natural or biodegradable to give the sense of sustainability when in fact it isn’t.   

Take this story from 2020 when it was uncovered that wood logged illegally from protected forests in the Carpathians had been sold on to companies including IKEA which likely used it in children’s furniture. The provenance of the wood had been rubber stamped by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is supposed to guarantee the timber is ethically sourced. 

So IKEA customers had no idea that the furniture they thought was ethically sourced was in fact a piece of the protected Carpathian forest!   

The FSC is also criticised for its ‘FSC Mix’ label. Consumers see this label on, for example, a pack of tissue paper, and the presence of the FSC logo is easily mistaken as a sign that this paper is sustainably sourced. But if that logo also says ‘mix’ then there can be a lot of non-FSC wood in the product. Personally, I just don’t feel that is made clear enough. It is far from the only example of labelling that requires consumers to read between the lines, which makes it hard for individuals to do the right thing. 


This leads us nicely onto ‘greenshifting’, where companies shift the environmental damage they are causing onto the consumer, effectively blaming them to take the heat off their own responsibilities.  

I am all for focusing on what you can do as an individual to push change, but if a company is providing a service or product it is largely their responsibility to find a more sustainable way to do it.  As consumers we of course need to provide the demand for sustainable items, but the power to change those products is not in the consumer’s hands.  

Let’s take the airline industry as an example. When you book a flight, your airline might ask you to pay a token extra to offset the emissions of your flight.  

Leaving to one side the fact that offsets come with a whole range of greenwash issues that may not even offset the carbon they claim to, the burden of pollution fundamentally should not be passed on to the consumer. We simply shouldn’t ask consumers to pay in order to pollute.  

Even if airline offsets do put money into projects that succeed in sequestering carbon, one thing this programme does not do is reduce the carbon emissions of the flight itself. All they do is put money elsewhere to a project that hopefully sequesters carbon. But unfortunately the odds are it doesn’t.  

The airline industry should be investing in better planes and fuel to actually reduce emissions in its core product. If they do this, then flight costs may well rise. But the consumers taking the flights will naturally end up paying more, thus playing their part in the end. But those consumers should not be to blame for the carbon intensity of a flight. Nor should they be guilted into paying to offset their carbon – this should be built into the cost in the first place. 


This happens when a company will showcase a particularly green product while still producing a host of other damaging products or services which it fails to highlight.   

A good example would be big banks. If you look on their websites they will be trumpeting their net-zero plans and how they are investing in renewables, yet many are still financing fossil fuel projects on the quiet.   

The oil companies themselves are also very verbal about their decarbonization yet one of their most heralded ways to reduce their emissions is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Similar to airline offsets, I feel CCS is not just a distraction but a permit to carry on burning fossil fuels. It is very expensive and ultimately the jury is out in terms of whether it removes anywhere near the amount of carbon it is supposed to. Funds would be better spent in many other, more cost effective, ways to reduce carbon emissions at the pace required. 

These aren’t the only greenwash sub categories, but they are the key ones. And ultimately I want the overall message here to be to ‘read between the lines’: don’t accept the claims at face value and, as a consumer, push companies to change by growing the demand for truly sustainable products.   

Here’s one final thought to leave you with. 

Think of greenwash like you do food labelling. Glossy packets tell you how your product is ‘low in fat’ but hide the vast amount of sugar in the product, which is ultimately bad if not worse for your health. We need to be aware that some things are not as they seem and, just as with our bodies, a little bit of research can help us make the right choice for a healthier planet. 

Hear more from Kat in conversation with Jeff on the Doing The Opposite Podcast.


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Reflect, Reassess, Reset – the Three Rs that show businesses must think differently 

13th April 2023

Over the last two years, we’ve experienced an important new phenomenon in the world of business. You might have heard of it – The Great Resignation! 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that people are now looking for something new and different. Employees no longer want to be tied into a job they don’t love. They want to have some say in their own destinies and control their own lives. 

And now they’re willing to do something about it. 

Reflect, Reassess, Reset 

Last week, I was privileged to deliver a masterclass on recruitment and retention to a group of CEOs at Vistage Malta. 

Now, this was my first time in Malta, so I’m no expert on the business landscape across that beautiful island. But I can tell you that they have many of the same problems that the rest of us have. And one of those is the Great Resignation. 

All over the world, Gen Z, Gen Y, and Millennials are showing us something that we should have already known: that using the ‘command and control’ method of running a business is a terrible idea.  

In fact, it always was a terrible idea. 

So why are we seeing this phenomenon today? Why not 10 years ago?  

The cliched answer is the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s actually one very specific thing about the pandemic that I believe has led us here. 

Lockdown didn’t just offer them the opportunity to reflect – it forced them to. 

It required people all over the world to reassess their priorities and values. This in turn led to resignations, job moves, and straight-up career changes. 

No matter which way you spin it, that’s a sad indictment of the status quo: when they finally had the chance to reflect, people chose to do things differently. 

Now we’re faced with a choice, where people don’t want what they had before the pandemic. So do we do what we’ve always done? Or should we business leaders now choose to do things differently, too? 

Space To Think 

The irony is that quiet reflection is actually one of the most valuable tools we have for our own mental wellbeing, especially in a work context. 

During the pandemic, I was lucky enough to be able to watch the sunset every night from my balcony. Over lockdown, it became a non-negotiable part of my day: I’d watch the sun set over the sea and reflect on how to steer my business through the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

It gave me the space to reflect and forced me to tackle the situation head on. And it helped me a great deal. 

Since then, I’ve been a huge advocate not just of giving my team space to think, but actively requiring it from them. 

Recently, I took the Cloudfm senior leadership team to a working strategy retreat in Portugal. It was a hugely productive week, but one of the most important parts was building in space for reflection. 

After a week of intense meetings in the Algarve, I mandated that everyone had to spend two full hours on the final morning sitting on the beach. 

They were fully paid for those hours, and it was compulsory work time. But beyond that there were no rules. The only stipulation was that they sat on the beach, listened to the waves crash into the shore, and reflect. On anything – work, life, what they wanted for lunch… anything! 

Later, when we regrouped and wrapped up our final strategy session, every single person came back with a new perspective on the work we had done. And everyone remarked on how valuable that time had been.  

And I should add, none of them chose to resign! 

Reflection should not be a luxury 

What I’ve learned is that not everyone has the luxury of getting the time to just sit and think now that life has seemingly gone back to normal, and we’ve decided to go back to doing what we’ve always done.  

People might have demanding jobs that require them to spin plates and fight fires all day, then they might have to go home and look after themselves and their family members in the evening.  

As someone who runs a business, I’m all too aware of how this impacts my colleagues. And I know flexibility – especially in terms of working hours – is not just key to dealing with stress in the workplace, but also to growing productivity across the business. 

Just imagine how powerful it can be to give employees one hour a week to reflect, learn, and work out what they want from their lives. People don’t leave jobs that nourish them. They leave their jobs when they realise they’re not being nourished. 

As a business leader, I want to make sure that people are fundamentally happy. It’s human nature to be restless and to strive to be better. But if employees are fundamentally happy they’ll want to achieve their goals with you, not in spite of you. 

Yes, Covid gave people time to reflect, but it didn’t create the bad conditions in the first place.  

If we build cultures that put the human being first, we shouldn’t be afraid of giving people the space to reflect. And as a leader, you might find it becomes one of the most powerful tools in your kit. 

Read more about why your goal shouldn’t be to create the ‘most successful company’, it should be to create the ‘most desirable to work at’.


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The Way You Make Me Feel – Why Traditional Interviews Aren’t Fit For Purpose

31st March 2023
International Speaker Jeff Dewing giving a masterclass on recruitment to a group of CEOs in Malta

This blog first appeared in The Foundation for Human Resources in Malta, where I had the pleasure of delivering a masterclass on this topic to a group of CEOs and HR Directors last week. 

The world has changed, whether we like it or not – and it’s time for businesses to change with it. 

It has taken the entry of Millennials and Gen Z into the workforce to show us what we should have already known for years: that the key to recruitment and retention is to ask people what they want from their jobs, not tell them. 

But at least one old adage remains true: “People join a company, and they leave a boss”. 

And you don’t have to be a genius to see that there’s been a lot of ‘leaving’ going on of late, as the Great Resignation continues. 

It’s human nature to join a new business full of optimism and bright ideas about how you’re going to make a difference. How demotivating it must be to come up against a bad line manager. 

‘Bad’ is subjective, of course, and what makes a manager the wrong one depends on the person he or she is managing. But it’s clear that anyone who owns a company should make sure their managers are actively helping their teams succeed. 

And that’s about empowering people. 

What gets you out of bed?

In fact, studies at major universities such as Duke, and – as quoted by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – MIT, have shown that empowering your people is much more important than offering them more money.  

According to Pink, people who are offered a performance-related bonus will only actually do better if the task is purely physical. Once it takes any amount of actual knowledge or brain-power, the promise of a bonus actually makes them perform worse. 

What really motivates people, Pink says, is autonomy, mastery (defined as the urge to become more skilled at something) and purpose. Not cold, hard cash. 

It turns out people want to have a say in their future, and a purpose to aim for. And along the way, they want to grow and feel challenged. 

Pink published Drive in 2009, just after the Great Financial Crash, but this concept remains as true as ever in 2023 – just after the Great Resignation. 

If it wasn’t clear more than a decade ago, then it definitely is now: the status quo isn’t working. It’s time to think differently. 

The problem with interviews 

Where I believe people begin to get retention wrong is that they see it as something that begins after a new employee has settled into their role. 

To me, it begins the second that an employee meets you for the first time – at their first interview.  

At Cloudfm, we don’t think traditional interviews are fit for purpose. And that’s why we no longer do them. Instead, our process involves bringing prospective talent into our offices to meet our people, experience a typical work day, and take part in a series of group tasks to gauge whether they’re a good fit for us – and whether we’re a good fit for them. 

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and an interview is as much a referendum on the company as it is on the candidate. 

Instead, making sure you get the right person at the interview stage is what sets you up for an ongoing retention and loyalty process. And the interview process is crucial, because it builds the foundation for the rest of the experience. 

Culture is key 

But I don’t want to give you the impression that this is a quick fix to help you retain all of your best talent in a landscape where more people move jobs than ever before.  

Because there’s really no point doing any of the above without putting in place the culture to back it up. 

As I said earlier, people want to control or at least influence their destinies more than anything else. They want autonomy in their jobs and purpose in their lives. So your entire culture must rest on empowering your people to have autonomy and freedom 

And how do you do that? Well, it comes back to those line managers again.  

I delve into this more in my masterclass, “The Way You Make Me Feel: Recruitment and Retention on Steroids”, but the key here is the distinction between a manager and a coach. 

Simply put, a manager marks your homework, while a coach helps you get the best grade possible. 

Ultimately, you want your line managers to be ‘coaches’, not ‘managers’. You want them to empower their teams to do their best work through mentorship, not come in at the end and tell them whether they did a good job or not. 

Empowering your people

But as a CEO, I also know that the buck stops with me. Empowering staff is something that needs to happen from the top down. After all, my Heads of Department will only be able to give autonomy, mastery, and purpose to their teams if I’m able to do it for them. 

And that’s about setting a culture where they themselves feel empowered to be coaches, not managers, and to have the courage to put their teams first. 

Ultimately, when faced with a big decision, you want every one of your employees to stop thinking ‘but what if i fall’, and instead start saying ‘but what if I fly’. And when that happens, you know your culture is right. 

The world has changed, but the guiding principles should have been clear all along. As Maya Angelou famously said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If you’d like to book Jeff as a keynote speaker or to give a masterclass to your business, get in touch on our contact page.


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Why is failure so important to entrepreneurship?

7th March 2023
A road sign indicating the wrong path

This post celebrates failure.  

Or rather, it celebrates the rewards of failure. 

Now, I’ve written about the benefits of ‘failing fast’ before. But after recording my latest podcast with Professor John Mullins, I felt I needed to revisit this topic. Because, believe it or not, failure is an important part of being an entrepreneur. 

John is Associate Professor of Management Practice in Marketing and Entrepreneurship at London Business School, so he’s pretty well-placed to talk about entrepreneurship. And he does so brilliantly – just listen for yourself or watch the video below! 

But he’s an entrepreneur, too. He has real-world experience, so to speak, and he has the battle scars to prove it. 

After leaving his job at US retailer GAP, he launched his own chain of pasta stores in the US. At its height, John had around 12 locations. It was only when the big-name supermarkets started to make their own similar products that his business started to fail. 

It’s his warts-and-all experience as well as his understanding of the theory of business and marketing that helps John connect with his students in his current world of academia. 

But as Oscar Wilde said: ‘Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes’. 

You either win, or you learn

When standing on that cliff-edge about to make a big business decision, we’re hard-wired to think ‘what if I fall’, not ‘what if I fly’. We’re told to mitigate the negatives, not emphasise the possibilities. 

And that might have something to do with the word fail – a word we’ve banned from our business. 

To me, you can never actually ‘fail’. You can either win, or learn. 

That was effectively the subject of my previous blog post on this topic. That failure can be a source of insight and can tell you exactly what you did wrong. 

The faster you fail as an entrepreneur, the quicker you learn. And the sooner you learn, the sooner you succeed. Whether that’s applying learnings in your current business or avoiding old mistakes in your next one. 

John’s new book, ‘Break the Rules!: The Six Counter-Conventional Mindsets of Entrepreneurs That Can Help Anyone Change the World’, shows how entrepreneurs seek out learning opportunities. They resist the risk-averse nature of corporate organisations and figure out new ways to succeed.  

The Power of Saying Yes

These days we hear a lot about the power of saying ‘no’. And in the context of mental health, that can be really powerful advice. But sometimes in business we also need to talk about the power of saying ‘yes’ – because that’s what entrepreneurs do time and time again. 

When new business opportunities arrive, they say yes. It’s only later when they get home do they think ‘wow, how am I going to deliver this?’  

I’ve always said entrepreneurs bite off more than they can chew, and then they very quickly learn how to chew it. They grasp the opportunity in front of them and then they create a vision for how to succeed. 

And as John says on the podcast, that’s a mindset that’s rife among successful entrepreneurs – but not among large businesses. As John puts it, corporations will tell you to ‘stick to your knitting’. 

Now, there’s probably nothing wrong with staying in your lane when you’re a huge global household name measuring turnover in the billions. But if you never try anything new, you’ll never get more than you already have. 

For entrepreneurs, nothing beats trying it out for yourself. John’s story reminds us that no matter how much you’ve picked up from books, YouTube or even articles like this one, there’s no substitute for experience.  

Or, as Oscar Wilde would call them, mistakes. 

Because the real world is where the ‘aha’ moments take place, where you realise that there’s a better way.  

Failure is the fuel of entrepreneurship: so say yes to new opportunities, chalk up the learning experiences, and reap the rewards of making mistakes. 

Listen to more of season 3 of my Doing the Opposite: Business Disruptors podcast, as new episodes are released every fortnight. 

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