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4 Ways to Motivate Your Startup Team and Get Major Results

Effective ways to re-energize your employees when morale is low and restore that 'magical' startup spirit.

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You’ve got smart, ambitious employees, clear project goals and great perks, but something in your company isn’t quite right.

Maybe the startup culture you envisioned is fading, or never really kicked in at all. Maybe you’re starting to see an uptick in turnover rates or a downturn in productivity.

The work is getting done, but without the efficiency and energy that will take your company to the next level. Morale is dragging, creativity is dwindling, and you’re not quite sure how to get it all going again. As the operating partner at F2 Venture Capital, I have heard founders worry about low motivation in all stages of their companies' life cycle.

But fear not. You have the power to turn things around and revive your team’s flagging enthusiasm. Following are four effective ways to motivate your employees — and bring back the magic!

1. Hire people with complementary skills

Motivation starts by hiring people with unique skills who are experts in a specific area — and then giving them the freedom to use those skills. This lets each employee contribute to the company in a way that only he or she can.

Additionally, a complementary skill set can greatly assist with team harmony; when we are all experts in the same field, we have lots to argue about. Arguing wastes time and mental resources and is certainly counter-intuitive to team motivation.

In fact, research from the Harvard University Growth Lab suggests that complementary skills are one of the keys to reducing turnover. Growth Lab Research Director Frank Neffke, PhD found that when employees were in teams with those who had differing and complementary skills, it created “coworker synergy,” and employees stayed longer at their organization. 

Ultimately, hiring multiple people with the same skill set signals to employees that they’re replaceable, can lead to unhealthy competition and might increase turnover. Motivation flows when each member of the team feels like an invaluable part of the team.

Related: 37 Quotes on Motivation From the World's Most Influential Leaders

2. Promote ownership

To get employees invested in the success of your company, cultivate a culture of ownership. With the feeling of ownership, employees will feel more invested in your organization’s success, empowering them to do better work.

You can do this by assigning team members tasks for which they bear primary responsibility, by enabling them to solve problems independently and by allowing them to make decisions themselves, without having to receive your approval. Giving employees end-to-end responsibility for a task that's specific to their expertise ensures that they feel valuable, unique and irreplaceable to the company — all powerful motivators.

The opposite of ownership is micromanagement. A micromanager essentially denies his employees learning experiences and does not allow them to learn from their mistakes, taking away the chance for them to gain confidence in their abilities. Micromanaging your team tells them you don’t trust them and makes employees feel powerless, which is one of the greatest demotivators.

3. Build a company culture conducive to your employees' schedules

Not everyone thrives sitting behind a desk from 9 to 5 in a suit and tie. If your work environment is formal and your hours inflexible, don’t hire that free spirit who does his or her best work at 2 a.m., and if you do, don’t force him or her to fit your work model. 

It makes more sense to focus on the outcome than on how you get there. If you can, tailor your work environment to accommodate your people; for example, allow employees to set their own hours, work remotely or telecommute. This kind of autonomy helps your team achieve a better work-life balance and unleash their creativity. It shows your employees that you respect them as humans outside the office and trust that they will get their work done in the best way for them.

Related: 5 Brain Hacks to Boost Your Motivation

4. Create a sense of urgency

“Urgency” is that magical energy that keeps employees excited, not just about their jobs but about the success of the company itself. It encompasses healthy competition, proactive behavior, vigilance and drive. If it isn’t carefully nurtured, urgency can fade over time. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep it alive.

For one, set internal timelines and short-terms KPIs for every employee and team. This can be especially effective when you have employees present their accomplishments. Clear deadlines keep everyone on task while presentations mean owning up to your work, good or bad.

Seek advice from your employees. When possible, consult your internal team before approaching board members, investors and external advisors. Keeping your employees informed about what’s going on builds their trust in you and contributes to that all-important sense of ownership.

And finally, lead by example. A sense of urgency starts at the top. Give your employees positive feedback and incentives, provide meaning and context for their work and, above all, share your enthusiasm with them.

Don’t mistake frantic action, high-stress levels and long work hours for urgency. Those are simply a recipe for burnout. True urgency is a healthy excitement that will keep your employees motivated even when things get tough.

Related: 7 Daily Practices That Power Your Motivation

All these methods will not only enhance motivation, but will also be keys to maintaining a positive and scalable startup culture. Ultimately, your employees are your greatest power. They can make or break your company, so allowing them to feel valuable and empowered in their role is paramount to your company's success.

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