Working for a startup can be an intense and exciting experience, but it certainly comes with its own set of challenges. We’ve put together some of our top tips to help you keep your team engaged and motivated on the road to success.
How do startups motivate employees?
Working for a startup can often seem worlds apart from life at an established company. Plans and priorities can change with the wind. There are rarely clear processes for, well, anything. And a lot of the time, as the Founder, you’re learning at the same as your employees.
That learning curve will affect everyone on the team, with failures guaranteed. And that’s OK. By embracing change, celebrating those failures, and encouraging your team members to have a voice, you can smash it out of the park.
The uncertainty of startup life is also what makes it so brilliant. It brings with it a wealth of flexibility and opportunity. As the head of a business that has to roll with the punches, you have the chance (and responsibility) to create an ideal working culture by living and breathing the values that you cherish most.
So, here are some of the ways you can keep your team on the ball whilst having a ball…
1. Hire passionate people
Startup teams are usually pretty small, so every member of your team will play an important role in the company. That means you need employees who are passionate about the success of your business and are happy to go the extra mile, when needed.
The needs of the business will ebb and flow, which requires a team who enjoy mucking in when the pressure’s on and who are happy to work irregular working hours occasionally. Make sure you bring this up in interviews so you can be honest about what life will be like at your startup from the outset.
You need employees who are passionate about the success of your business and happy to go the extra mile
2. Lead by example
As the Founder (or Co-Founder), it’s your dream that has got your startup to where it is so far, and that’s something to be nurtured.
Don’t be afraid to show your passion and enthusiasm for your work. Engage your team in open discussions about their thoughts and let them play an active part in the exciting adventure you’ve started.
Working with someone who’s passionate about their work is inspiring and infectious. Be that beacon of positive energy and enthusiasm to inspire your employees to get stuck in.
3. Encourage constant communication
It might sound like a cliche, but communication really is king (or queen). Having honest, open conversations with your team will do wonders for learning, idea sharing and overcoming challenges and setbacks together.
Share your plans and ideas, and ask your team for feedback. Organise regular informal catch-ups, welcome suggestions and highlight successes that have come from team ideas.
Keeping those conversations flowing is key, whether they’re in person, on video calls or using online chats. They help stimulate fresh ideas, offer a sounding board of different perspectives, and they’ll keep the whole team feeling part of business discussions.
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4. Empower your team
It’s become a bit of a buzzword, but ‘empowering’ your team is one of the single greatest things you can do as a leader. You’ve hired each individual for a reason, so show you have faith in them by giving them the autonomy to do their job well.
New employees may need a little guidance to start with but then, once they’re onboard and settled in, it’s time to let them get on with it. Let them know you’re there to support and offer guidance whenever they need it, but make it clear you’re not there to micro-manage them.
To help your employees’ professional development, have a clear company mission (that everyone is aware of) and set achievable goals. Then provide regular constructive feedback and offer praise where it’s due.
By clearly showing trust and confidence in your employees, they’re much more likely to take ownership of their work and actively contribute to the success of the business.
Show your employees you have faith in them by giving them the autonomy to do their job well
5. Create a safe space to get involved
A crucial part of empowering your team is creating a safe space. That involves developing a working environment in which they feel comfortable voicing their ideas, opinions and concerns without fear of blame or ridicule.
One of the best ways to do this is by promoting innovation and celebrating failures. Make it known that you accept failure as a valuable part of the learning process. Encourage your team to test new ideas and challenge the status quo.
A no-blame culture allows everyone to focus on ‘what next’ rather than ‘what happened’, which can be the difference between launching a good product and launching a great one. Analyse failures, learn from them and move on.
Make it known that you accept failure as a valuable part of the learning process
6. Pay a fair salary
The reality of a startup is that budgets are often limited and you might not be able to offer the fattest salaries to your team at the beginning. It’s important to pay fairly but research has shown that it’s not all about the salary. There are plenty of other ways to help you attract superstar employees and keep them motivated.
That said, salary will always be one of the major factors that contributes to employee motivation, so it’s important you recognise a fair market value for your team’s talent. An employee who’s worrying about paying their bills and surviving won’t be passionately dedicated and engaged with your business plans.
Regularly review salaries and have honest discussions with team members in one-to-one meetings to help manage expectations and highlight where you might need to adjust pay.
“I’ve been lucky to have had some amazing people join my team over the years and I’ve always tried my best to keep them motivated – but it’s not easy. On the one hand, you’re trying to juggle their immediate needs – decent pay, good opportunities, great benefits, etc – and on the other you’re trying to scale quick enough that you can meet their long term aspirations too.
I was the lowest paid member of staff from day one of my business, right the way through to selling the business. My theory was that I would rather reinvest the money I would’ve paid myself into growing the business quicker, thus maximising the rewards in the longer term for both me and the staff.”
– Eddie Whittingham, FounderRead more
7. Invest in team time
Feeling like you’re part of a team can be one of the most powerful emotional perks a business can offer. Many employees will stay longer working for a company because of the people, so give your team a chance to get to know each other and bond outside of a working environment.
Helping your team to get to know each other in social settings can work wonders for them working together. It opens up dialogue, encourages the exchange of ideas and makes constructive feedback between team members much easier to deliver.
Find excuses for your team to socialise. Take them out to lunch when you hit business milestones, celebrate team birthdays with cake, and/or set some budget aside for social events.
Most importantly, ask the team what activities they’d like to do as a team and go from there. After all, nobody wants a David Brent boss forcing the team to have fun.
Give your team a chance to get to know each other outside of a working environment
8. Offer genuine flexibility
Now, more than ever, employees want a working culture that offers them flexibility and promotes a healthy work-life balance. With remote working part of everyday professional life, there’s no excuse not to offer flexible working to your team.
Whether it’s flexitime, compressed hours, remote working or job sharing, offering flexibility that caters to your employees’ individual circumstances is a huge motivator.
Taking a flexible approach establishes a give and take environment that employees will naturally feel more invested in and, therefore, be much more inclined to go the extra mile when needed.
Flexibility that caters to your employees’ individual circumstances is a huge motivator
9. Get to know your team
Take time to get to know your team on an individual basis. Learn what motivates them and how they work best. That way you can support them effectively and create an environment they enjoy working in.
Are they happy working on urgent tasks at the last minute, or do they need time to plan their work? Do they prefer to focus in a quiet environment, or does background music help them work? Find out answers to these types of questions and use them to create the right culture.
Also, find out your team’s personal passions and interests. You’ll be amazed at how someone’s hobby or side gig might feed into business goals, inspire new products or services, or provide inspiration for team socials.
10. Offer other incentives that won’t break the bank
In addition to all of the above, here are some other inexpensive ways motivate your employees and bring a little extra joy to the team:
- A paid day off for their birthday
- A monthly/quarterly team lunch to celebrate success
- Early finish on Fridays
While companies are based remotely for the most part, here are some great COVID-friendly ways to give your employees a treat:
- Organise a team lunch on Zoom and treat them to a Deliveroo meal for it.
- Offer to pay for online counselling to help any employees struggling with mental health.
- Treat team members to a digital meditation subscription, like Headspace or Calm.
Check out our other articles for more tips, tricks and advice to help your startup succeed.
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