SXSW: How to Build a Staff That Works
Entrepreneur is on the ground for SXSW. Check back for highlights from the festival as well as insights on trends from a range of thought leaders and innovators.
Nicole Glaros, a partner at Techstars Ventures, has a master's degree in sport psychology, and a background in helping athletes overcome obstacles. In a panel this week at SXSW, Jedi Mind Tricks for Entrepreneurs, she applies those same tactics to the business world, sharing tips to get any startup operating at peak performance. Says Glaros, all it takes is a little manipulation, a lot of suggestion, and maybe a hug or two.
Tell them how bad it really is.
Glaros says that many new entrepreneurs are guilty of bending the truth, even when their intentions are good. However, she says that not being straightforward with your employees because you don't want to hurt feelings or lower morale is the wrong way to form an effective team. A more direct approach is more efficient, sets proper expectations and lets employees know they can come to you for a truly honest opinion. Once everyone stops lying to each other for politeness' sake, you start to build an environment where everyone has each other's back.
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Know your goals
Get a public board tracking progress on active projects and goals, suggest Glaros. And no, you can't hide it away on a digital spreadsheet. "You have to walk by it every day," she says, and the bigger it is, the better. Total transparency on the state of every employee and every project creates visibility for high performers and gives them the recognition they deserve. And for the others? "You don't have to ask who is sucking," Glaros says, "Everyone can see it!" Underperformers will quickly self-correct. Everyone wins.
Encourage people to speak up
Innovative teams are comprised of inspired employees who are unafraid to speak their minds. To prevent a staff of distracted drones, Glaros recommends finding ways to let your employees embrace their creativity. Something like a weekly staff-led "fun meeting" allows your team to shake off office drudgery and get creative. With your permission to be a little silly, they will start being themselves in the workplace. And this, Glaros says, is the first step to true innovation. "With start-ups, you need to take risks or your company isn't going to work," she says. Employees who feel that their authentic selves are valued will be more willing to suggest the next crazy, groundbreaking idea.
Staffers who value themselves over the company will stand in the way of a startup’s growth. To encourage this, Glaros suggests aligning incentives across the board, so everyone fails or succeeds together. For instance, if everyone is on the same profit sharing plan, everyone is working toward the same goal, fostering teamwork across departments. A slow week for the sales team will result in the team helping them solve their issues as soon as possible. It can also cut costs. Glaros recommends making all expense supports public. "Guess who's not going to fly first class anymore," she says.
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Embrace them then they fail
Don’t fire employees after a major mistake, embrace them. Conscientious employees won’t make that same mistake again and will be more loyal to you because of how you treated them. Furthermore, you won’t have released a newly wiser person into the workforce to get scooped up by the competition. "Your best person is the person who just screwed up," she says, "When people fear for their job, they aren't going to [take a risk]." By treating your employees with affection, you create camaraderie and collaboration. "Creating an environment where you can be vulnerable is a powerful thing to do," Glaros says. No one will succeed until they feel comfortable admitting to failure.