Five Great Lessons From Business Leaders

Pam MacDonald

Remember the plans you had for this year? As you survey the wreckage, now is as good a time as any to apply the lessons we can learn from great leaders. Broadspring CEO Pam Macdonald shares five low- or no-cost ways to maintain morale among your people.

As with every other business leader, the plans you had for 2020 have been disrupted, and probably abandoned. If you’ve been flat out setting up employees to work from home and monitor workflow, you’ve probably encountered a very common challenge: how do you keep your staff engaged and motivated, when you can’t have them in the office?

This stuff matters. In fact, employee engagement is the key that unlocks discretionary effort – that magical ‘lift off’ your business gets when your employees do the right things without needing to be asked or told.

Yes, this has been a remarkably hard year – for many business leaders the hardest they’ve ever faced. Even so, it’s a delight to be able to share with you five simple (and low- or no-cost) actions you can take right now. They are all ones I have had the privilege of witnessing first hand among my clients.


Are you missing the opportunity to ‘manage by walking around,’ that personal and human connection you get from engaging with members of your team? While it’s true that arriving unannounced on the doorsteps of your employees would spook rather more than inspire, that doesn’t mean you can’t get much of the same result from that simple, old-fashioned business tool: the phone call. Rather than Zoom or Teams – which your people may be spending a lot of time doing, and not necessarily enjoying all that much – just pick up the phone, make an unscheduled brief call and you can easily regain some of that lost connection.

EXPERT TIP: Schedule making the calls in your diary so that they happen. But don’t schedule them with your employee. That way it’s a nice surprise. Admittedly, if it’s the first time you’ve done this, they may be a little surprised, but if you make it clear it’s not about performance or even about work, but just about how they’re travelling and how they’re coping with the strange new demands life is making on them and their family, they’ll really, really appreciate it.


Did you, like many business owners, give up on Friday afternoon drinks over concerns about your people driving or travelling home afterwards? Now that your staff are working from home, there are no such concerns! How about a team video conference that runs for 30 minutes? And of course, an alcoholic drink isn’t compulsory and needn’t be an expectation. And you can probably already guess who on your team is likely to be the one who brings some creativity and fun to this event, whether it's a ‘Question of the Week,’ or even a little Trivia Contest, that gets the chat going and brings back into the working-from-home life a little of the social interaction that used to happen in the lunchroom.

EXPERT TIP: You set the tone. People have different levels of comfort with such things, and some are more reserved or private than others. Ensure that everyone can feel comfortable and that there’s no pressure on anyone to be more ‘out there’ than they want to be.


My colleague Steve got a little parcel of biscuits the other day, right out of the blue, from one of the places where he spends time. ‘It was a delightful surprise,’ he says: ‘it was just lovely to know that Rebecca considered me a part of the team and was thinking of me, stuck at home.’ One of my clients sent cupcakes to every team member to be eaten during the monthly all staff video conference – they took a picture of all the screens showing staff with their cupcake. Another sent a small wine tasting pack ahead of their Friday afternoon drinks.

By the way, you yourself may not think that such a thing would really appeal to you. Well, guess what? It’s not about you! Try it and you’ll be amazed how pleased your people are that you’ve shown you really do value them and are thinking about how they’re travelling.

EXPERT TIP: The care pack you send out can be practical – perhaps a small hand sanitiser and a mask with your company logo on it. Or it can be a way for your business to support another business by you buying their product and them delivering it or arranging delivery – and you may be surprised at how low cost this really is, particularly for the positive payoff it has on staff morale.


One CEO acted on a comment from one of her team who said that the monthly thanks yous and recognition meetings felt a bit “naff” when everyone was in the office, but actually have high appeal after several months of working from home. That company now has a monthly team video conference where the CEO calls out and thanks specific team members for good results, or persistence to get something done, or a win. Consider what activities may have more relevance and meaning to staff who are not seeing each other regularly.

EXPERT TIP: Remember the uplift to morale when staff feel appreciated and hear about the success of others. In recognising your highest performers, what you’re really doing is sending a clear signal about what gets your attention. All the evidence (and this may surprise you) indicates that recognition is at least as powerful a motivator as financial reward such as bonuses.


Make sure your staff have support programs in place such as employee assistance programs or mentoring. These can be low cost ways to ensure that staff feel supported while their privacy is maintained. It can be a great way to have concerns addressed before they begin to have a negative impact on performance and work, and is especially important when many people are feeling isolated from the support network that often comes from being onsite and part of a team.

EXPERT TIP: You don’t need to do a detailed calculation to work out how much it costs to recruit and train a new person – even assuming they turn out to be the right one. A support program works out to be a very small fraction of that cost. Besides, you do care about your people, don’t you? You’re not the only one that’s found 2020 a long, hard and tiring year.

Finally, don’t forget yourself in all this. Taking these five steps outlined here could turn out to be the most cost-effective things you can do for your business, and you really can make a big difference for your staff morale and business output.

But what about yourself? Do you have a trusted advisor you can speak to openly, honestly and on these and other matters? You need to be supported too in order to effectively lead your team and your business. I or another member of the NCP are always happy to have a confidential, no commitment phone discussion on any of the challenges you’re facing.

Give Pam Macdonald a call on 0438 843970 or email her:

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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