Startup: engage your employees and your company will grow

Giuseppe Donvito, Partner P101 | February 24th, 2016

To engage your employees in your project can become a critical task when you have little time and money, but it makes the difference between “simply” having a good idea and making it work. And we all know that making it work is the only way you can get a Venture Capital fund to invest in your company. The topic of employee engagement is excellently tackeld in this post by Brandon Landis from Responster, which we are going to use as a starting point to share some thoughts with young entrepreneurs.

In every business – be it old or new – a driven and competent team is the number one most important factor of success. This is even more true for startups, whose team has to be made of people who believe in the project more than they like to get high salary. The challenge for you is keeping this initial flame from dying out over time. But employee engagement as a startup holds a contradiction: as Landis points out, “You probably don’t have or want to spend the money to dedicate a salary to employee relations at this point, but you also need to convince your talented employees that their work is valuable, impactful, and, well, continually worthwhile”.

Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia and social media guru, suggests that you start from the assumption that you cannot expect your employees to care so much that they turn your business into their life passion. In fact, the ultimate payout is yours (whether from a financial and personal fulfillment perspective, or both), so it would not be realistic to ask them to care as much as you. In many ways, your startup is like your baby: if your love and passion for your company is a 10/10, the best you can ever expect from employees, who don’t have the same sense of ownership that you do, is an 8 or a 9.

As a CEO, Gary suggests that it’s your responsibility to go out and find the people who can come in as 5’s, 6’s, and 7’s and then be turned into 8’s and 9’s via your own ability to motivate and transfer your vision. But how do you get a 5 to become a 10?

Be a cheerleader… in other words, let your enthusiasm show

Actively involve yourself in the daily tasks of your employees, without micromanaging. Keep your finger on the pulse of the individual responsibilities and challenges of every employee in order to show you’ll be there when they need you. A little extra motivation? Say something nice every day to each of them: it only takes a few moments, but it will make a big difference in their perception of how much they’re valued in a company. Also, eliminate “but statements” from small talk. If you’re chatting with an employee, don’t bring any negative feedback into the conversation. Rather, offer structured feedback later on. Finally, remember you are their model: show them your enthusiasm<, dedication and attention. Execute events that have absolutely nothing to do with work

Employee engagement events are becoming more and more popular, but they are not to be confused with team building activities. The point of employee engagement is to elevate your company culture and the sense of engagement employees feel with each other, in order to change their perception toward actual day to day work activities. To find employee engagement ideas you should… Look to your employees! Ask them what they do outside work, how they spend their evenings and weekends. If they share some common interests, your job will be easy: turn that common interest directly into an event. If your employees are film lovers, form a film club. Flooded with musicians? Challenge the office to write and record a song in one afternoon. Whatever you do, it has to be something creative. If your workplace interests are all over the place, consider activities with broad appeal: from the office talent show night to weekly ‘teach something’ sessions where one employee shares their interest or teaches an aspect of it to their coworkers. But remember, events must be ‘personalised’: it has to be something your company can really ‘own’. It has to be fun and make employees interact with each other in new ways than what they’re used to in the office environment.

Do not take up their free time

Your event should ideally take place on company time: good employee engagement events are a give not a take. After all, using company time for an employee engagement event is an investment: a Towers Watson found that companies with highly engaged employees improved operating income by 19.2% over a period of 12 months, while those companies with low engagement scores saw operating income decrease by 32.7%.

How can I tell if I am doing it right?

The easiest way? Create a routine survey to monitor the sentiment of employees towards their work. These surveys, which require minimum effort, have the immediate benefit of showing your employees that you care about them. If you cannot pay a company to design such a survey, you can easily make one yourself online! Of course then you’ll have to act on what you learn.