How can start-ups motivate their employees? It’s the million-dollar question that plenty of business owners would love to know the answer to. Some choose to offer their staff in-house massages and yoga, while others invite them to bring their pet to work. No amount of quirky perks though can make up for the challenges that come with being an employee invested, both professionally and emotionally, in a young business that’s trying to get off the ground.
We asked three entrepreneurs about about how they deal with the everyday challenges the volatile start-up space can pose, while at the same time keeping staff engaged and stoking their intrapreneurial spirit.
It’s not a race to the finish line
Jas Bagniewski is the co-founder of Eve Sleep, a company redefining the process of buying mattresses online.
"We focus on the process rather than the final outcome to ensure that our staff’s [internal] entrepreneurial spirit shines through when we face challenges. We believe that if we do the right things, on a day-to-day basis, the end results will come," he says.
Bassel El Koussa, co-founder of Quiqup, an on-demand delivery service changing the way companies and consumers connect to local London retailers and restaurants, agrees that it isn’t all about the outcome.
"As many founders do in the beginning, we assumed that getting the product right was everything, but we quickly learned the importance of focusing heavily on the team and the people we hire," he says. "As we're a start-up that's growing fast, we need a team that's passionate, committed and focused, so hiring the right people to begin with is extremely important."
Bagniewski adds that having a team, who not only "are extremely experienced, but also agile and able to [assist] the business as a whole", is critical. A team made up of people from various backgrounds with different thought processes will lead to creative solutions across all areas. Bagniewski says Eve places a lot of emphasis on this "because there isn’t just one obvious roadmap for what we want to achieve".
Communication is the key to stability
As a team grows, its dynamic will change rapidly. This can be disruptive if not managed properly – employees can become disgruntled and disengaged.
"We’ve gone from eight to 34 employees in just over a year, and there is no sign of our growth slowing down, for now," says Justin Basini, co-founder of ClearScore, a free online credit rating service. "Whilst this means more ideas, it can also mean that progress can be slower in some ways. Team coordination becomes more challenging."
One way to address this is ensure channels of dialogue are open, explains Bagniewski. "Through running open meetings with a free flow of information, we can identify and address concerns as early as possible and support each other as a team."
El Koussa adds: "Communication is key. As well as making sure our employees are accountable for their own areas of the business and understand exactly what needs to be done to achieve success."
Make praise part of start-up culture
Accountability can be created through quickly rewarding success with praise or incentives. This encourages them to keep going, even if they encounter bumps along the road.
"We keep the spirit alive by actively recognising individual and team achievements," says Basini. "Our projects are organised into three-month-long races, each divided into six sprints. This means there is plenty of time to review what we’ve achieved at the end of each stage – we even do our own mini-awards, to recognise those who have contributed over and above what are already high expectations"
Recognising success can also be part of a wider work culture which employees will want to immerse themselves in. Basini adds that his team are "expected to work hard, but it’s always balanced out with downtime. ClearScore’s aim is to create a place where people want to achieve their best – not where they have to be forced to do it."
Ultimately, a start-up that promotes this type of culture is one which is more likely to succeed and where intrapreneurship will thrive. And having an environment where employees are motivated to drive the business forward towards its goals is healthy, says Basini.
"In my experience corporate hierarchy, especially in traditional industries, is designed, either consciously or unconsciously, to disempower. This helps to manage risk, but it kills creativity."