Startups are notorious for having long hours, a lot of bumps in the road and many projects occurring simultaneously. When times get tough and your team is down, here are seven ways to keep them motivated.
In many ways, startup employees are easy to motivate early on in a company’s life. Like founders, the earliest team members are hungry for a challenge, passionate about their product or solution and eager for knowledge and financial rewards.
Nonetheless, it takes a significant amount of time for a successful company to develop, sell and iterate. Most companies are not Mailbox (which famously sold to Dropbox a month after launching). This leaves founders (and startup managers) with a big question: After months or even years of late nights and weekends, how do you keep your team motivated?
Based on my two years of managing experience with Travefy -- an online group travel planner -- here are seven budget-friendly tips to keep your startup team motivated.
1. Reiterate your vision. Then, reiterate your vision. When starting your company, you likely recruited talent not with the promise of dazzling six-figure paychecks or state-of-the-art facilities but rather with a strong vision of your company or product. The pay cuts and long hours are made worthwhile because of a belief in what you’re building and a desire to be a part of something new.
Nonetheless, as time goes on, many founders stop sharing their vision or roadmap as they themselves get into the weeds. Don’t fall into this trap! Constantly share with your team the ever-changing visions and goals of the company. Remind them of what you’re all building towards and let them feel the excitement.
2. Remember that equity aligns interests. To this end, make sure that all interests are aligned by giving your team true company ownership -- through an employee stock options plan. Equity changes the employee mindset from “going to a job” to “being an owner.” This feeling of ownership can be an intense motivator throughout the long startup road.
3. Never create false urgency. Credibility is established over time and lost in an instant. False urgency or deadlines are a huge deterrent to morale and an easy way to lose credibility.
By sharing your vision and roadmap, as well as ownership, you can organically ensure everyone understands the race against cash burn that all startups face. Don’t create burnout and distrust. Save those chips for the real times an insane deadline pops up -- because they will.
4. Recognize the power of food. Among the countless extrinsic motivators, food is inexpensive, universal and easy to manage. A weekly team lunch (or dinner for staying late) is a relative drop in the bucket compared to the goodwill and motivation it will create. Moreover, having food is also literally a productivity booster. The time employees would normally spend leaving to buy and eat food will now be spent as team bonding and a good meal will keep your team alert for the remainder of their daily tasks.
As a note, this does not mean you need to hire a Google-style executive chef. At Travefy, we’ve had fun team barbecues with hot dogs and chips for eight people for less than $10 total.
5. Celebrate wins. While every day feels like a race from one project deliverable to the next, take the time to celebrate wins and milestones. Whether it’s a big development release, a customer-engagement milestone, or even a new skill mastered by a teammate, acknowledge it.
Additionally, celebrating milestones helps put the overarching progress your team has undoubtedly made into perspective, which can be difficult on the day to day.
6. Plan non-work “team days”. From free things like a day in the park or an in-office video game night to budget friendly golf or beach outings, take the time to plan social “team days”. Everyone needs time to rejuvenate and social activities encourage friendships among coworkers.
Don’t forget to invite families to team days or even those boyfriends and girlfriends who are also affected by long working days.
7. Be flexible. Look for opportunities to be accommodating to your team. This not only shows you trust your employees but allows people to focus on work product – the most important thing
If it’s ever helpful for your team, let employees do things like work from home, time-shift hours or take an ad-hoc family day. Happy employees, who feel like their company has their best interests at heart, make for productive employees.
Related: 3 Ways to Stay Motivated