Interview with Kriss Akabusi

As a torch bearer for the enthusiastic, retired Olympic athlete and motivational speaker Kriss Akabusi, urges employers to find out what makes staff tick and to break down barriers in the workplace says Nick Golding

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When the name Kriss Akabusi is mentioned, most of us will recall an Olympic champion, while others will be reminded of television programmes such as Record Breakers or The Big Breakfast. Today, however, Akabusi has managed to channel his seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm into motivation, and he appears to be a handy character to have occasionally wandering through the office, especially if staff are feeling particularly deflated. Akabusi set up his corporate communications and training firm, The Akabusi Company, ten years ago.

Since then, he has spent much of his time visiting organisations and delivering speeches designed to help to inspire employees in the workplace, which is he never tires from doing. "I wouldn’t say it was tiring. It’s just like anything else. If you are passionate about it, and it is grounded in your values it empowers you rather than sucks from you," Akabusi explains. When it comes to motivating a group of workers, he is adamant that by offering benefits such as team days out and excursions, social barriers can be broken down and employees will begin to feel differently about their work. "Team excursions are benefits employers can offer staff that will help to eliminate this silent mentality that exists in some offices, whereby the sales team is isolated from the accounts team. "The problem is they forget they are all part of a team, and need to work together," he says.

This silent mentality often manifests itself in emailing as opposed to human interaction, which needs to be addressed. While it is easy to cure through socialising outside of work, it is also easy to fall back in to via the odd lazy email. "When you have a team day out, you will find that employees mingle with colleagues as people, not someone behind a desk but an actual human being. "Employers need to encourage staff to not email a ‘sorry I’m late’ [message] but to knock on the door and tell a colleague. It really doesn’t take much on both sides," Akabusi explains.

While team activities can help to encourage bonding among staff, employees also need to be acknowledged individually. Akabusi believes recognition is a key benefit and a huge influence on employee motivation. Yet, recognising what staff achieve is just the first step, because if managers want to effectively motivate staff with a recognition scheme they need to understand what makes employees tick. "What do people see as reward? Most of us see money as the principal reward, but not all of us. Some people want to get off work early on a Friday afternoon, and to them that is more valuable than an extra £10 in their pay packet," explains Akabusi.

Employers should ensure that they are offering employees the type of reward that will be valued. Staff will be more motivated if the reward is of interest to them. Providing employees with a choice of rewards as opposed to taking a one-size-fits-all approach can also help to serve a wide audience with diverse needs. Once employers have taken the time to investigate and understand the needs of staff, they can start to reap the rewards. "It is vitally important that employers find the buttons of their employees. Once you have found their buttons and you press them, you have got a motivated workforce," says Akabusi.


Famous for his sporting achievements, most notably gold medals in the 1990 European Championships and in the 1991 Tokyo Olympics, Kriss Akabusi has also enjoyed a career as a presenter on television programmes such as The Big Breakfast and Record Breakers. Akabusi received an MBE in 1992 in The Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List to recognise his significant contribution to British athletics. Ten years ago, Akabusi set up corporate communications and training firm, The Akabusi Company, of which he is chief executive officer. Akabusi is also an accredited personal coach, after qualifying at the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara. He advises individuals on personal lifestyle issues, such as a career path change.