I often mention that employees, children and dogs should be treated the same. By that I mean consistently. Once my audience has digested that, I ask the killer question “which do you treat best?”

It’s usually your dog.  After all, you religiously walk it, feed and water it twice a day, and play with it. You lavish attention on it, praise it whenever it does the least thing that is useful or good for you, and generally treat your dog as though it was the most important thing in your life.

My audience can find this a little harder to digest, because they know what is coming. It’s obvious. We complain, as business owners, that our people do not have the same motivation, drive, and willingness to go the extra mile that we have. But we also usually treat them like they are strangers. We do not involve them fully in our plans and thoughts, because they may gain some advantage over us or go elsewhere and take this information to a competitor, or even worse, start-up themselves and take our customers. It’s a common worry. And it’s justified. Especially if you treat your employees (I call them colleagues for a reason) like they are going to do that sort of thing.

If they do not feel trusted, valued, and respected, they probably will leave at some point. Wouldn’t you? Perhaps you did – perhaps that’s why you started your business.

Incentive schemes have their place, but it is a limited one in this day and age. People are not solely motivated by money – they want meaning from their work and to know that they make a difference. You cannot get the best out of your people unless you know what they want for their life. They are entering into a transaction with you. They are swapping a big chunk of their waking hours in exchange for what exactly? You need to know what they value to make up for that. It’s unlikely to be just money. It may be status, but what does that mean? Does it simply mean a title, or does it mean something more meaningful – respect, being heard, and being able to do their best? The recent RSA/Etsy study showed that most employed people do not feel that they can do their best and utilise their full capabilities in their work. Remember who’s paying for all those hours that they are with you. Why wouldn’t you want them to do their best and utilise their full capabilities on your behalf, and hopefully on theirs?

Sadly simple recipes for success abound, but only seemingly work once, and then only for the writer of the latest book proposing it. You have got to do some hard work. You’ve got to find out exactly what is important and what they’re good at, and what they don’t like so that you can get the best out of them. You have to find out their personal objectives for working for you and how that fits into what they want for their life. It doesn’t take forever – you can do it in an hour at an appraisal, and we have ways of helping you do that. It’s very worthwhile, because then you can get that doglike devotion, that person doing their best for you because that means doing their best for themselves and their family as well, and a change in business performance at absolutely no extra cost.

So why not treat your employees (and maybe even your children) like your best friend. Your dog.