It can feel like companies with deep pockets have an insurmountable advantage over smaller organizations when it comes to attracting and motivating employees, but experts will tell you employees don’t need luxuries to thrive at work.
“What differentiates great workplaces is not the number of extravagant perks,” writes workplace expert Ron Friedman in the Harvard Business Review. “It’s the extent to which they satisfy their employees’ emotional needs and develop working conditions that help people produce their best work.”
You create the kind of joyful, inspiring work culture where employees thrive. Here are five tips from entrepreneurs who are leading the charge.
1. Communicate purpose.
People have an innate desire to know their hard work is contributing to a bigger goal. Reiterate often what your company is working towards and show employees how they’re making an impact.
“Motivate employees to succeed through autonomy, mastery, and purpose,” says Spencer Rascoff, CEO of online real estate database company Zillow Group. “The best way to do this is by staying on message, communicating your company's mission, and tying it back to the work your employees do on a regular basis.”
Noah Brier, co-founder and CEO of marketing software company Percolate, believes that “the best way to build a workplace full of people who enjoy coming to work every day is to define a big vision and mission, give each person a clear connection to that vision/mission in their work, and give them the freedom to solve those challenges independently.”
Brier notes that this approach can also get you out of the “perks arm race.”
“Lots of people mistake culture for the snacks you’ve got in the kitchen and the fun people have after work. But really, culture is the shared set of values that people hold,” adds Brier.
2. Be transparent.
Talking about purpose is a start, but it needs to be paired with open communication about what’s really happening in the business.
For example, junk removal company 1-800-GOT-JUNK? publishes its numbers on the company’s intranet, and the company’s leadership shares business updates with the team in a daily all-hands meeting.
“We make it clear that staff can ask questions about how the business is going,” says 1-800-GOT-JUNK? founder and CEO Brian Scudamore.
Greg Schott, CEO of integration software company MuleSoft, believes that this level of transparency “creates focus and fosters a culture of personal and team accountability.”
According to Schott, MuleSoft makes it a point to share nearly everything with team members, including details of how the business is progressing toward its sales and marketing goals, product roadmaps, budgets, financial objectives, even board presentations.
Transparency is also about building trust, and trust comes from sharing both good and bad news, says Andy Byrne, founder and CEO of sales analytics company Clari.
“Our weekly, full-company meeting is not just good news - we also share bad news immediately, both to encourage openness and to get everyone thinking about ways to help,” adds Byrne.
3. Focus on employee growth.
High performers want to be challenged. Help your employees to stretch their limits.
“Fancy perks can help make an employee’s life more comfortable, but we believe that helping an employee to realize their full potential is the best thing you can do to make them happy, healthy, and inspired at work,” says Josh Reeves, CEO of online payroll solution ZenPayroll.
For Clari’s Byrne, focusing on employee growth means creating an environment where each team member “looks back and realizes they did extraordinary work even they didn’t know they could do.”
“The personal growth of people on our team motivates me as much as or more than the growth of the company,” says Byrne. “This trumps everything else about how I operate and how I push my execs to operate.”
Also consider how you might provide growth opportunities for individual contributors who don’t fit the traditional management mold, advises Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes.
“Advancement doesn’t have to be tied to people management – you can create roles that allow people to grow and define their own path,” says Holmes. “At Hootsuite, we offer a dedicated track for exceptional performers who aren’t keen on managing people. These are the experts within an organization who have amassed a unique body of knowledge and who continually push their company to perform better.”
4. Provide opportunities to learn.
Part of growth is continual learning… but this doesn’t have to mean pricey training courses and seminars.
For example, Zillow hosts a speaker series that gives employees the chance to hear from influential leaders on a variety of topics. Recent speakers have included actor Rainn Wilson on the value of universal education and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington on how to thrive personally and professionally.
If Arianna’s not on your speed dial, consider bringing in industry leaders, investors or other high-profile individuals from within your network to chat with the team about the successes and learnings from their careers, as online furniture retailer Dot & Bo does on a regular basis.
“One of our mantras here at Dot & Bo is to never stop learning,” says CEO Anthony Soohoo. “Our speaker series is special because the vast majority of employees here wouldn't otherwise have access to this group of experts.”
5. Acknowledge hard work.
And of course, make sure your team feels that their efforts are appreciated and valued.
“We make a point to set aside time in every all-hands meeting for people to share kudos and give shout-outs of appreciation,” says ZenPayroll’s Reeves.
When financial data firm eVestment wins a new client, the lead salesperson sends out a company-wide “win wire” explaining the deal and how it came to fruition, and thanking all the people involved.
“These messages really spotlight the efforts that go into landing a deal from people in different departments throughout the company,” notes eVestment CEO Jim Minnick.
Some companies even attach small financial rewards to kudos. For example, Harbor City Capital Management employees use peer rewards service Bonusly to award points to colleagues when they want to say thank you, good job or just send a compliment. Employees can exchange their Bonusly points for gift cards, charity donations, or even paid time off.