There’s a business myth that the customer comes first. That thinking is absolutely flawed. Instead, once you’ve passed the start-up phase, your team should be your top priority. When you have the right people in your corner and treat them well, they will look after your customers with the same care and skill as you would, leaving you to take your business to its full potential.

How do you make sure your team is firing? It’s a combination of making sure your hiring practices are catching the right candidates and then keeping them engaged so they perform as a team.

Hire beyond a CV

So, there’s a role open in your team: how do you hire someone who not only fits the skills you require but aligns with the culture you’ve already crafted? A good CV is only part of the equation. That means they can do the job, but it doesn’t mean they can be part of the team you’re building. Someone who works hard, someone with a can-do attitude, is far more valuable than someone who merely ticks all the boxes on paper.

Unfortunately, formal interviews rarely give you this information. Sometimes it takes a little more to find out how a candidate handles the heat. For example, once we had an internship open and one of the candidates bombed badly in the interview stage. She pushed for another chance and because of her enthusiasm and initiative we gave her a second go. In the span of a few years she went from scoring the intern position to working her way into a full-time role as a department head.

As a result, our interview process takes place over three sessions so we can get a better idea of the candidates as people. When we hire managers, we have them meet their potential team so our existing staff can see if their management style resonates.

Work as a team

Keeping staff focused on smashing your business’ overall goals requires cohesion and motivation, and the best way to attack both is to celebrate wins as a team. This means being able to show progress, rewarding people who have done well and pulling everyone together to say, ‘thank you and keep up the good work’.

Doing this regularly sustains motivation. On Mondays, each division’s team meeting allows staff to review the past week, summarising where we’re headed and how we’re tracking while highlighting recent success. This allows us to attribute our progress to team members in a transparent manner.

On a larger scale, we celebrate big wins with a lot of noise. When we gain a new client, we

strike a Chinese gong we have in the office; when clients’ campaigns earn new leads or bring in sales we ring a cowbell. Public celebration brings people together: if you’ve got your head down at work and a gong or a bell goes off and there’s a standing ovation in the office,of course you’ll stop to celebrate that win. It’s unifying.

It’s also important to play together as a team. If you’re going to spend 40+ hours at work with your colleagues, you’d better get along with them. It’s not just about having a ping-pong table in the break room, it’s making time for fun. Every Friday afternoon we carve out time for us, whether it’s having lunch together or hitting the laser tag arena.

This extends to team rewards. A few years ago, when the team smashed its goals, I took everyone to Bali for a week. It cost a lot of money, and I’m not saying an office vacation is the right move for every business, but I realised I couldn’t afford not to offer an impressive reward. Rewards are an investment; they reinforce high performance and they keep people motivated. Let’s not forget they lead to impressive retention rates too.

Training for battle

As Australia’s fastest-growing digital marketing agency, we are in an evolving industry plagued by cowboys and a national skills shortage. Being unable to grow our team fast enough was a bottleneck to growth.

We needed to bring in newbies who haven’t learned the wrong way to do things, and turn them into world-class digital marketers. So we created King Kong University and were just named Australia’s Most Innovative digital marketing agency (AFR Most Innovative Companies 2019) for our online training academy. King Kong Academy directly impacts 100% of our staff, which in turn pays massive dividends to our clients. The team loves that they’re able to add so much value to their clients.

You might not want to create your own online training system, but you definitely need to invest in creating ongoing training for all your staff. We have found it to be one of the most powerful attractions to great talent, and it has meant that clients receive a high standard even as we grow (fast).

Engage their potential

Business owners often mistake rewards for engagement. Truly engaged staff, however, don’t need financial or material bonuses to feel valued. (Definitely offer these if you can afford to, though, because your team deserves it.)

Engagement comes from team members being able to see how they will grow with your business, whether that’s continued learning through the kind of skills they’ll learn, experiences they’ll have or people they’ll meet. Investing in their careers – giving them more responsibility, honing their leadership and management skills or providing opportunities for further education – shows them a bright future with your business and that gives them plenty of reasons to stick with you as you expand.

Check in with your team members on a regular basis so you understand what motivates them and how you can support their journey. If you invest in them, you’ll see them reach their potential and grow with the business.

The secret to staffing your business for success is not about the talent you hire, it’s about how you make the team work. When you can unify your staff behind the culture and goals of your business and keep them engaged and motivated, you’ll see your business hit peak performance too.