HR 19 February 2018

Eight ways startup founders can develop and motivate a team

Allowing employees to find fulfilment at work can help motivate a team

Writing for Business Advice, Andy Cockburn, CEO of marketing platform Mention Me, offers employers eight strategies for getting the best out of a small team.

UK startups and small businesses have almost certainly entered 2018 with a certain level of trepidation and caution. Factors such as Brexit, a depressed economy and housing market can’t help but cast a shadow.

In addition, the recruitment process can be one of the most costly, frustrating, risky and sometimes disappointing elements of growing a business. Attracting and retaining solid talent is often a huge challenge. Never more so for a startup; requiring a hungry, solid and reliable team to share the journey and help the wider business achieve its goals.

So how should companies hang on to those star employees, nurture that talent, and avoid making costly mistakes? By offering the recognition and opportunity that they need, and the support to be positive and motivated, your team members will motivate each other.

Not only that, they will be further engaged in growing the company – sharing their knowledge and experience internally. Investing in this will pay dividends, compared to the crucifying costs of re-hiring for roles.

Here are eight ways to support, develop and retain good staff. Do this, and the leadership team can focus on the evolution and growth of the wider business.

  1. Recognition and celebrating success

A valued employee is a happier, and more motivated one. Correspondingly, a member of staff who feels that their efforts and achievements have gone unappreciated, are often the first ones to lose interest and begin looking elsewhere.

This all sounds obvious, but what’s important is how this is played out. Good tactics are to celebrate success quickly, widely, and publicly. Our tradition is for each team to play an instrument once a target has been met. When the bugle is blown or the horn honks, everyone applauds knowing that good things are happening.

Nominating colleagues who have done a great job each month, with the winners being publicly recognised and rewarded is another tool that works well.

  1. Mentoring and training

Mentoring as a motivational tool isn’t new, but the approach and format taken by many successful companies has changed a little. Generally, especially in startup cultures, mentoring programmes have become far more inclusive, less hierarchical, and in turn more successful at developing skilled and motivated employees.

Opening up mentoring programmes to the company, allowing individuals to choose who they’d most like to be mentored by, is empowering. In turn the mentor, who is not always in a senior role, feels valued and relevant.

Startup cultures are often quick to recognise the value that mentoring outside of a team structure can be. Alongside this, more traditional on the job training programmes are vital for making individuals feel that their role and performance matters to the business.

  1. Reduce fear of making mistakes

Mistakes happen and it’s vital that people know they’ll be supported when they do. This is crucial so that the team feel able to admit to them and remain willing to take risks. How the managers and the team respond to mistakes has a very big impact on the culture. This is especially true in startups.

A culture where people feared failing or making mistakes, wouldn’t breed fired up, motivated, resilient employees who thrive on being brave, trying, and reevaluating.

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  1. Presume trust and give autonomy as early as you can

In more traditional office environments trust was something that was earned over a long time. Smaller businesses today work under different rules. Presuming trust with new hires, and offering them autonomy, motivates people to buy into the business, and feel a part of its future.

In turn, this type of environment is better for the wider business allowing people to experiment, develop new ideas and breed creativity. 

  1. Giving as much context as possible – share data openly

A business that is open and transparent about performance and numbers is far more likely to develop a team with a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for achieving the wider business goals.

This is so much easier to do now with a whole raft of tech tools such as Futrli for sharing performance data or Perdoo for clear goal setting. If the process is collaborative, people are far more likely to feel motivated and driven to achieve the shared goals.

  1. Recognise and reward talent, ambition and drive

Ambition can sometimes be seen as a dirty word, not conducive to a positive team environment. However managing ambitious people is all about helping them find fulfilment and developing their role at an appropriate pace. When you get this right it creates a more motivated and dynamic team.

Sometimes team member talents and skill sets lend themselves well to other sides of the business where they can make an impact outside of their specific remit. This might be about creating cross company teams to solve wider business challenges. Or it could be providing opportunities for progression that might not be immediately obvious.

A fast growing startup always provides new opportunities for people to develop as the company develops. An employee is more likely to remain motivated, passionate and remain with a company if the next step is within sight.

  1. Foster friendships

An employee who genuinely enjoys coming to work, and the company of their colleagues, is more likely to remain motivated and engaged. The level of interaction will vary from person to person but our objective is to foster a sense of camaraderie in every member of the team irrespective of how social they are.

Things that can help this include everything from monthly pub visits during the afternoon so parents can join, office bake-offs, poker nights, cooking courses and team dinners.

Regular, larger team events (preferably that are memorable and quirky) are also important for bringing different individuals and teams together, encouraging people to feel a strong sense of being a part of the wider team.

  1. Digital HR tools that monitor

There are many new tech tools available to help streamline processes and enable a happier and more motivated workforce. An excellent example is Motivii: a motivation and wellness tool that is designed to be used on a weekly basis. The focus is on understanding how an employee’s motivation ties directly into their productivity.

You can’t get it right all of the time and so it’s important to know if teams are struggling with motivation as early as possible (rather than a bi-annual employee survey). We use motivii as an early warning signal to spark conversations if scores start to drop.

Ask any successful entrepreneur what they believe to be the main driver or reason for their success, and the majority would put it down to the team.

For a fast growing company focussing on developing their product or service and maintaining productivity, it can be easy to forget this and leave the team to their own devices. This would be huge mistake. Invest in your team, and they will invest in you and your business.

Andy Cockburn is CEO of Mention Me, a referral marketing platform specialising in refer-a-friend programmes, currently running live campaigns for over 200 online brands.

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