Employee engagement and staff training can be the secret to a stronger business, says Xero Australia Managing Director Trent Innes. They can help companies provide the best customer experience, which creates fiercely loyal advocates.

What customers want

In a keynote speech to delegates at Xerocon, opens in new window, the cloud accounting software vendor’s annual conference sponsored by NAB, Innes said the bulk of what businesses did for their customers was taken for granted.

“People expect 99 per cent of what you do for them, but give them a little bit extra and that’s what they remember,” Innes said.

“Doing that is never about machines or technologies. It’s always about people – your team – empowering them and striving to get the best out of them.”

Here are Innes’ tips for creating a workplace culture where employees going above and beyond – supplying that one per cent more – is the norm.

Know your purpose

Being able to define your company’s purpose beyond business drivers – what it stands for and the impact it aims to have in the community – is vital. 

“People want to work for more than money,” Innes says.

“Good employees, especially those from the next generation – millennials and Gen Ys – want to feel they’re working for a purpose and making a contribution.”

Importance of business ethics

Having clearly articulated values is important. Innes suggests displaying them on the wall to reinforce the ethos of the organisation to employees and customers.

Xero’s stated values include encouraging ownership, embracing challenge and championing change but, interestingly, not honesty and integrity.

“Those should be a given – honesty and integrity aren’t a one-per-cent thing; they’re something customers can, and should, expect from any business they deal with,” Innes says.

Hiring the right staff

People can learn to do just about anything but a few things can’t be taught. One of them is attitude – which is why hiring employees who have a good one is vital.

“Businesses are often good at hiring people for their skills and knowledge, but these can fade over time,” Innes says. “Attitude is binary – you either have it or you don’t.”

Don’t rule out candidates who are light on relevant experience but make up for it with enthusiasm, Innes advises. He also suggests that you offer graduate employees assignments they can really get their teeth into, not the dull duties others don’t want.

“Give them exciting work to do and they’ll pay you back in spades.”

Empower your team

If you have great values, hire smartly and value employee engagement, you don’t need to crack the whip or have long lists of rules. Keep your hierarchy flat, empower your employees and trust they’ll do the right thing, Innes says.

“People are smart; if you treat them like idiots they’ll act like idiots.

“The majority of people want to do the right thing – rules are for the minority who aren’t like this.”

Pursue incremental improvement

The prospect of trying to achieve a significant productivity or performance gain can be daunting. However, chipping away each and every day can yield far more impressive results than ambitious one-off initiatives.

“People think they can’t improve 10 per cent in a month – it’s too hard so they’re discouraged from trying – but asking them to aim for one per cent a day is easy,” Innes says.

“The power of incremental improvement is massive.”


Smarter, faster, better… there’s no room for complacency in today’s fast-moving digital economy. Businesses have two options – innovate or face being disrupted by a more agile competitor.

Successful enterprises resolve to avoid the latter scenario by remaining open to new ideas and different ways of doing things, and understand the importance of staff training.

“Disruption is a victim word,” Innes says.

“All the way through history, circumstances have changed and humans have found a way to come out the other side. Businesses that deliver the extra one per cent are innovating every day.”

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