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The 9 Motivators Small Business Owners Must Understand to Scale Through Their People In 2021

Author - Mike Jones

'The 9 motivators small business owners need to understand to scale through their people in 2021'

Let's be honest. If you're in business, you're in the business of people. Even if you're not a service-based business, chances are you still need people to help you get things done.

Small business owners tend to go through some predictable stages.

At the start-up phase, they are often solo. Driven by passion, their batteries are highly charged. They have a crystal clear vision and can taste the fruits of their labour to follow. They're going to create an incredible business that improves peoples lives, be their own boss and have a fantastic work-life balance.

For many, the challenge comes in the following two stages of growth and scale. As the saying goes, 'what got you here won't get you there. The pure hard work approach used to get a small business off the ground doesn't work in growth and scale stages. In fact, it will slow down business growth.

Think of the gears of a car. You wouldn't even consider cruising along the main road at 30mph in first gear. It would sound like your car was going to explode and cause some severe damage to the car after not too long (as well as make everyone look at you). You would, of course, shift up through the gears as the car picked up speed, but you still have to start in gear one.

It's exactly the same in your small business. Hard work and doing everything yourself is gear one. It's required, but if you try to stay in that gear as the speed picks up, you're going to encounter some serious problems.

As soon as your business gets to gears 3 and 4 (growth and scale), you'll need to utilise people. To utilise people, you need to understand them, and they need to understand themselves. This is why it's common practice for businesses to implement profiling tools such as DISC and Myers Briggs (also known as 16 personalities).

Profiling tools are excellent for increasing self-awareness in people and for helping leaders better understand their people.

I was first introduced to motivational mapping by Steve Jones. At the time we were in the foundation stages of Better Happy. Sometimes felt highly energised by the work I was doing, sometimes I felt tired and flat, but I didn't know why. The insights I gained from learning my motivators gave me great insight into what I energised and didn't. This, in turn, helped me become more strict with my time and what to delegate so I could maintain higher levels of productivity.

The problem many small business owners find with profiles is they're complex and difficult to refer back to quickly in the often hectic atmosphere of a small business.

Listening to this feedback, again and again, we created a refined process that simply tells business owners and their people:

1 - What are their strengths (what are they good at)

2 - What are they motivated by (what energises them)

By having these bits of insight into your people on a visible, simple one-page document, you create an asset that can be utilised daily.

For motivation, we use the Motivational Mapping tool created by James Sale. James created the tool implementing a combination of insights from 'Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs', 'Edgar Schein's Career Anchors' and the 'Enneagram'.

Through this research, James discovered the nine key motivators of work that tell business owners and their employees what does and doesn't energise them. At Better Happy, we help businesses implement this tool then track motivation levels throughout the year, again enabling them to:

  • Support optimal levels of productivity

  • Not waste money on incentives not relevant to their people

  • Choose the best people for different jobs

  • Spot and address issues early

  • Reduce employee turnover

  • Turn employee development into a two-way process

The motivational profiles allow us to understand three important things:

  • What are the top and lowest motivators of my people

  • How extreme are they in these motivators

  • How fulfilled do they currently feel in these motivators

So what are the 9 motivators that we and all of our people have in differing levels:

From the image above, you can see all motivators fall across three categories:

Relationship - Very past perspective and people orientated. People heavy in this category tend to be very efficient.

Achievement - Very present perspective thing orientated people. People heavy in this category tend to be very effective.

Growth - Very future perspective ideas orientated. People heavy in this category tend to be very holistic.

It's worth noting that people can be balanced across the three as well as extreme in one or two. When we profile people you find out how they are balanced across the categories and how extreme they are in their motivators. You can see an image of mine below:

How balanced I am across the categories (very typical of entrepreneurs to be heavy in growth)

My balance of motivators at the time of this profile. Anything 30 above is extreme. Anything 10 or below indicates extremely averse (may clash with people who are strong in this motivator) p.s. this doesn't mean i'm not friendly

Of the three categories, the only one that really costs money to fulfil is achievement. This can be eye-opening for small business owners who often can't offer pay rises and believe this is a significant barrier to employee retention and productivity.

So let's briefly explore the individual motivators.


Defender Seeks security, stability and predictability. Without people with this motivator, the world would be in chaos. They like to keep things in order and working smoothly. They're often resistant to change but will embrace it if you clearly explain why and help them understand the how. Generally, business owners aren't defenders, but employees are. When this is understood, it can be very yin and yang. Having defenders in a business can encourage a business owner to think through their new ideas instead of just implementing them on a whim. Defenders also often love more repetitive work and process that business owners usually despise.

Friend Seeks belonging, friendship and fulfilling relationships. People strong in the motivator get a big kick from being in a team. They're more likely to join your business because of your personality and the culture you've created than the money offer. They're good with people and an asset to your team. To keep these people motivated, you'll need to make sure they're getting their dose of people and fun. Don't promote them to an office job away from the team. Rewarding these people with socials, get-togethers, and team games will go further than other incentives.

Star Seeks recognition, respect and social esteem. People strong in this motivator like to be heard, they're extroverts, and they're not shy. They like to know they're doing an excellent job by being recognised. I've noticed Star isn't very common in the UK. Perhaps it's something to do with our British politeness. This person can stand out in a team to the point of other peoples frustration. But when you understand they are a star, they can be a real asset to a business. All of that PR and marketing you don't want to do... this is your person. They'll sing and dance about their work and your business, they'll talk on camera, and they'll apply for awards.


Director Seeks power and influence as well as control over people and resources. People that have director strong in their profile love to command a team. They feel a real sense of fulfilment from being in charge, coordinating and making things happen effectively. If they're in a role where they don't get to do this at all, they'll feel flat. The beauty of this in business is that often business owners want to lead people but not manage them. Having a helpful director in the team means you have someone that is energised by managing. As mentioned previously, the profiles within the motivators within the achievement category usually cost money to fulfil. Fulfilling the Director motivator will often require promotion.

Builder Seeks money, material satisfaction and above-average living. People are often embarrassed when they see this in their profile, but there's nothing wrong with it. Some people are motivated by money and materials. Some aren't. These are the people that will feel highly energised at the prospect of more money. So when you have builders in your team, you know the way to motivate them is with finances. This might mean a commission structure or even just showing them financial increases alongside their career progression. Interestingly, business owners often think this is the primary motivational factor for most employees when the data and experience show us it isn't. If everyone were highly motivated by money, we'd have no NHS, no charities and no volunteers.

Expert Seeks knowledge, mastery and specialisation. People with the expert motivation strong in their profile love to learn. An obvious way to motivate experts is to place them on courses. In the new technological age of speed, businesses often have to pick up and learn quickly. When the business owner takes on the load of all of this learning, it pulls them away from leading the business. If you have experts on your team, they are the perfect people to do this for you. Set them onto learning something new, and they'll come back as pros ready to implement what they've learnt into your business. It's probably going to cost to keep these people motivated (course costs), but the cost of those courses can be considerably less than the cost of replacing them and only add value to your business.


Creator Seeks innovation, identification with new, expressing creative potential. Almost the opposite to defenders, someone with creator strong in their profile likes looking at new ways of doing things. They have a creative energy that needs to be fulfilled. If you put someone with creator strong in their profile into a role where the work is repetitive and predictable, you're not going to get the best out of them, and they probably won't stick around long. But, like every other motivator, people with creator can be a real asset. Putting them into roles or opportunities where they can be creative is a no brainer. Perhaps there are some parts of your business that feel a bit stale that you don't want to think about? This might be an area you can pass on to someone with creator strong in their profile to motivate them more.


Seeks freedom, independence and the ability to make their own decisions. This motivator is commonly quite strong in business owners. Wanting to create your own freedom and work on your own terms are compelling reasons to start a business. This is why so many business owners become demotivated a few years into business when they feel the business relies on them and feel trapped. So this is very important for you, the business owner, to understand. But what if some of your employees have this strong in their profile? Think about flexible working options as well as outcome-based working. Work with them to set objectives and timeframes but give them the freedom to go about this in their own way to keep them highly motivated.


Seeks meaning, making a difference and providing worthwhile things. From my experience, this is a very common motivator in the UK. Many studies show that millennials (now the majority of the working-age population) would rather not work than work for a company they don't feel aligned to. They would also take a pay cut to work for a company they felt more aligned to that provided more meaningful work. I'm not going to suggest that pay isn't important, but it's often equally important to people that they know the work they are doing is meaningful. To motivate people with the searcher motivator strong in their profile, make sure to show them how their work is connected to the bigger picture. Also, consider signing your organisation up to a giving scheme such as B1G1 or supporting a local charity to make whatever work you are doing even more meaningful. As a business owner, you're likely to have this high in your motivators, so actively seek feedback and recognition from your clients.

How does your team stack up?

Understanding the motivators of you and your team is an easy process to implement. First, we'll provide you and each of your people with a questionnaire. This creates a motivational profile for each individual and your team as a whole. These profiles will tell you:

  • What motivators are most important

  • What motivators are least important

  • How extreme those motivators are

We then run a session to help you and your team understand these motivators and create action plans for moving forwards.

Some people have very extreme motivators that need to be fulfilled. Otherwise, they're miserable. On the other hand, some people are more balanced and can act as bridges between the more extreme people.

The key question is this. How much time, money, and stress is not knowing the motivations of you and your team costing you?

How many resignations could you have avoided just by tracking and knowing how to improve motivation levels?

How much productivity are you missing out on by not knowing how to motivate your team appropriately?

How much capital is your business missing out on through lost productivity?

How much of your own productivity are you missing out on because you're spending too much time feeling flat and not energised?

Motivation is the energy that drives success in life and business. The sooner you master it, the better your life, your employees lives and your business.

Want to implement motivational profiling into your business?

Why not book a call no pressure strategy call with us? Complete the score card below then book a call with us here

Want to find out how well you business is set up to scale through your people? Take five minutes to find out your score below:

About Mike: Mike loves all things health, happiness and business. He believes that businesses are the key to making the world a better place. Mike built his first business from the ground up and although it was successful he suffered burn out and depression along the way. Learning from all of those lessons and recognising that many other small business owners were suffering the same led Mike to Co-found Better Happy.

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