Motivation and Retention

Can't Compete With Google's Perks? Here's How to Keep Your Team Happy on a Startup Budget.

Do whatever you can do with everything you've got.
Can't Compete With Google's Perks? Here's How to Keep Your Team Happy on a Startup Budget.
Image credit: Gary Burchell | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Entrepreneur, investor, personal finance advisor and author
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I don’t pretend to be the world’s best boss. I do have certain challenges, but most people I work with seem to like me. How do I know? I look at the numbers.

While I acknowledge and appreciate smiles and compliments, I don’t trust those. No good boss should. I trust this single metric: I've started and sold more than a dozen businesses over the past two decades, and I still work with many of the same people -- and I’m not talking about management only.

I'm selective about about how I direct my energies. Whatever I do take on, I give 100 percent. In my corner of the business world, that’s enticing enough to create many long-term employees in a work environment that's the very definition of high turnover: call centers. In fact, call centers can reach annual turnover rates as high as 27 percent. The average tenure of a call-center employee based in the U.S. is 18 months. Our average is 8 years. 

How do I keep so many call-center team members for more than a decade? I do these five things -- and only these five. 

1. Set focused goals.

Last month, I read Chirag Kulkarni's  "5 Tips to Make Managing Employees Less Stressful for Everyone." He wrote, “Your employees should have goals at work, whether they revolve around sales figures, client satisfaction ratings or performance review metrics. Goals can help motivate workers and keep them engaged and productive.”

He’s right, up to a point. Too many goals -- or unattainable goals -- can demotivate and disengage employees, making them less productive. Some of my own employees have shared with me the convoluted goals set for them at previous companies. For instance, a sales target to make a minimum number of cold calls across four or five specific categories. My goal is much simpler: How many people did you help this week?

If you spend more time with fewer prospects or clients because you believe that’s more productive, I’ve got your back -- if it works. If it doesn’t, then I’ll remind you about meeting your goal. If you change tactics and produce well, I’ll let you run with that new plan until it doesn’t work, either.

Fewer goals focus your employees on what’s really important. Even better, it signals that you trust them to get there.

Related: Employees Hate Those Goals the Company Sets. Here's How to Change Their Minds.

2. Lay out fewer rules.

We sometimes create rules that don’t help our bottom line. We institute them anyway because we don’t trust our employees. You must fight this urge. A common example from team members who've left other jobs: Your desk must not have stacks of paper more than three inches high, and only two family photos are allowed in your cubicle.

If those employees meet with your customers, those guidelines are totally understandable. Too often, however, organizations apply universal rules to employees who aren’t public-facing. These standards exist because bosses believe conformity is a shortcut to productivity.

I don’t distract my employees this way. Some of them plaster their cubicles with inspirational sayings. Others display drawings from their children. More than a few are messy geniuses -- but if they're super-organized on the phone with clients, I tell them, “Be as messy as you want in your own space, as long as it doesn’t disturb others or create a hazard.”

Related: 7 Warning Signs You're the Dreaded Micromanager

3. Establish easy dress codes.

A dress code is a psychological device that sets a professional tone. You should do as little as possible to achieve that goal. Sadly, many bosses obsess about dress codes simply because it's the most obvious factor to manage in a business world that’s often difficult to control.

Our offices feature Pajama Day, Football Day and many other themed days as an excuse to have fun. But we make sure to tie ours to raffle giveaways and charity fundraising efforts. Why? Employees don’t need empty distractions that offer no personal impact. Winning something for yourself -- and we give away cold, hard cash -- and donating it to a good cause definitely is worth it.

4. Cut down on the silly perks. 

This might sound counterintuitive, but I don’t believe most employees want a lot of perks. One employee had worked at a startup that bought a foosball table and stocked the office refrigerator with sodas. These moves actually demotivated the employees who thought soda was unhealthy and were distracted by the womp of the foosball table heard through the walls.

More than anything, the attitude was, “So the company has money to spend on that, but not on paying us more?”

We host an annual holiday party that typically serves as our big event for the year. It’s free, I ensure the food is simple but high-quality, and it’s all about recognizing employees. We also host after-work carnivals in the parking lot. Again, though, we keep them simple, fun, short -- and not at all mandatory. 

Related: How to Give Your Employees Real Benefits, Not Just Cheap Perks

5. Go beyond the open-door policy.

I have an open-door policy, but most of my workers don't take me up on the offer. So I go to them. I make the rounds and talk to employees where they work. At times, this looks as if I'm checking up on team members. But here's the thing: Catching employees who leave early or don’t work hard is demotivating to the employees who stay late and work hard. Nothing saps your motivation like seeing someone get away with something.

When good employees know the boss has his or her eye on bad employees, the good ones work harder. The bad ones? Well, I’ve learned it’s more efficient to improve the good ones than motivate the bad ones. Some people show up for a paycheck. This probably isn't the place for them. I want only the hungry and energetic -- slackers beware! 

Lazy employees hate it when I visit them, so I usually hear from only the good ones. Those are the people I want to keep happy. As Richard Branson famously said: "Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your clients.”

The only way to improve upon that wisdom? Add the word “good” in front of "employees."

Related: Management By Weekly Check-In Is the New 'Wandering Around'

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