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So much has been said about the importance of the team for the success of a startup that you can quote on the dozen pages — let’s cut the crap. Let’s consider another aspect: how to properly motivate your team? After all, working on a startup is not a sprint, but rather a marathon, where the morale of the team determines whether you will reach the desired finish at the end of the path. Motivating the team to achieve the set goals is one of the most important tasks of the leader.
We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.
It is widely believed that the ability to motivate is a whole talent, like an ear for music. Saying that there are nature-born leaders, who are capable of burning people’s hearts and leading them to a bright future through the unregulated 24/7 schedule. While others have to content with social packages and mastermind different hr-jams. Of course, it doesn’t work that way; the team’s motivation is not an innate gift or magic, but a daily managing task of the leader. And as in any other task, systematic work, consistency and competent organization of the process play a key role here. Today, we are going to scrutinize the system of team motivation, so you can see for yourself: everyone can inspire and lead the team towards the goal. Anyone who is ready to work on it!
All possible ways of team motivation are divided into two categories — material and non-material. Financial bonuses, events and certificates, a percentage from sales, social package and corporate fitness — all these are ways of material motivation. Many organizations still consider it as the main one and the most effective. But more and more researchers and HR experts believe that a person’s decision to work somewhere is influenced by inner motivation, and material incentives are more of a bonus. In particular, a study by the British recruiting company HAYS for 2020 states that when a specialist makes a decision to quit, salary increases no longer play an important role for him. Next, we will look at non-material ways that work with inner motivation; in addition, they are suitable for startups where the team is small and the resources aren’t that large.
Learning and development. Self-development is a crucial value both for Generation Y (those, who were born in 1984–1998) and Generation Z (1998 — present). Working in a startup, especially at the early stages, gives a lot of experience and knowledge but you can always provide more possibilities for staff to learn. For instance, invite the team to take part in various conferences and seminars, arrange a barter and free teaching together with partners from EdTech, build up a whole mentorship program in your organization.
Career growth. In a startup, the career growth path shouldn’t take years: if your team performs efficiently, you can promote them and vest with new authorities even now. For ambitious and motivated people, it is important to have rapid career growth, albeit in a small company but this is a crucial motivation boost.
Taking part in the decision-making process. When personnel feel their influence on achieving and developing the whole company, then the startup growth becomes their personal goal. Also, there is developing additional motivation to do everything possible, and the impossible: after all, the product becomes your “brainchild” too. So be sure to give your employees a voice, discuss the product with them, brainstorm and listen to their opinions.
Creating atmosphere. For many employees, the miraculous atmosphere of startups is almost the main motivation. While your company hasn’t yet become a serious organization with KPIs, hierarchy and bureaucracy, you are quite capable of creating a dream job for your employees, the journey which you’re willing to begin every morning!
Honesty and respect. These are the cornerstones of working with a team, and without them, there will be no possible result in startups: good products don’t appear in a toxic atmosphere. Respect, being aware of your promises, sincere concern for the needs of employees can replace many bonuses, and if they are not there, no “jams” will compensate them.
Gamification. This option is for creative one’s: work with gaming elements — it is now a whole trend, which more and more organizations are starting to use. IN the gaming process, people are doing their best and are pretty motivated to achieve the goal: come up with challenges, start a tournament between teams, develop levels and bonuses… But be careful not to get too obsessed, so the gaming process won’t turn into a harsh competition between the teams and employees.
Feedback. Constructive, fair and timely feedback is a powerful tool for motivating and training employees. No matter how busy you are, you need to find time for this tool. Be sure to read special literature, because correctly assessing the employees’ work is a whole art.
A journey of a thousand Li begins with a single step (an old Chinese proverb by Lao-Tzu, a Chinese philosopher — Startup Jedi), and the same goes with the appropriate work organization for a team, which starts with small daily actions, and which eventually have to become team’s daily habits. So what daily steps will help the leader to motivate the team for new achievements?
Praise. There is nothing as simple and inspiring as a kind word. Celebrate the achievements and good decisions of employees, so they will feel that their work is appreciated and noticed. But don’t overdo it: praise sincerely and to the point, the flow of enthusiastic compliments for no reason looks fake and won’t lead to anything worthwhile.
Gratitude. Another simple but pretty effective way to motivate your employees — express gratitude more often: for their initiative, timely assists and simply for the possibility to work together.
Acknowledging merits. In startups, a conflict reason #1 is that the employee considers that his job is underestimated and depreciated. And when the organization grows, then small discontent turns into serious conflicts or even judicial claims. In order not to go this back-alley path, start recognizing the merits of your employees right now. The reward for achievements, encourage initiatives, publicly mention the contribution to the work of certain specialists from the team.
Setting an example. You should remember this one viral meme from the Internet with the difference between boss and leader. It is as it is: a true leader motivates others by the “do as I do” principle. He works the most, he’s most passionate about everyone, assesses himself more rigorously than everyone else, goes the most difficult way — putting it simply, he does and overfills everything that is required of employees. By the way, according to Gallup analytical company (they collect data in 160 countries of the world), the involvement of employees by as much as 70% depends on the leader.
Personal motivation. Every employee has his own motivation “button”, which needs to be turned on from time to time: for someone, it is a family atmosphere and pizza on Fridays, for some it is public recognition and speeches at conferences, and for someone, it is important to just do a good job and to know that it’s not in vain. And in order to understand what this button is, you don’t need to be a guru or a prophet. Just ask them yourself! As long as your company is small, you can truly provide the best service not only for your customers but also for your own employees.
Let’s talk about another side of the coin: the steps that will lead to disagreements in your team and eventually will lower the team’s motivation. Surely, everything seems obvious on paper, but try to observe your work as a leader from the outside and understand: are you surely not sinning with the motivation methods” from this list?
Setting impossible tasks. The less specific and measurable the tasks are, the more difficult it is to tackle them. If you set an obviously unreachable goal, and employees understand this, motivation disappears without a trace, and irritation takes its place.
Disregarding the employees’ needs. Of course, startups usually work from early morning until late night and do much more than regular companies. But this should be a voluntary choice of employees based on their inner motivation, and not a norm that everyone should put up with. After all, this is already a direct path to conflicts and emotional burnout.
Breaking promises. There is nothing worse for the leader’s image than breaking promises. Consider all your words and carefully record the terms and wording. Put yourself in the shoes of a subordinate: what seemed like a trifle to you may be important to the employee.
Shifting the responsibilities. The true leader always takes responsibility for the team’s errors and omissions. Searching for scapegoats definitely won’t favour effective work and a good mood in the team.
Toxic atmosphere. One of the tasks of the leader is to maintain that family and trusting atmosphere because it stimulates masterminding daring ideas, feats in the name of the product and miracles of work efficiency. Set the right example, monitor relationships between people and resolve emerging conflicts.
Authoritarian management. People come to a startup not to unquestioningly fulfil a narrow range of tasks: they want to experiment, express their opinion, and influence the final product. Even if previously you led a purely authoritarian style — give people this opportunity.
And in the end, let’s get back to what we started with: the motivation of a team to accomplish goals doesn’t depend on the leader’s charisma or his good mood but on daily systematic work. Even in the most complex system, there are simple things: the same applies here, since everything is based on your sincere care about employees and your respect for them. If you have those, then even in difficult moments, the team will not fall apart; and you will definitely learn how to find the right words and select effective tools.