6 Important Ways Leaders Can Motivate their Startup Teams

Keith Krach
October 9, 2016

Motivation plays a key role in the success of a startup. Especially when a fledgling company is only just beginning to get off the ground, the long hours, high workload, and stress can make it difficult for startup leaders to keep their teams motivated at a time when the company needs it the most. Startup CEOs, however, are uniquely poised to take control of such situations and turn them into the kind of power that drives the company forward.

CEOs can keep startup teams motivated through times of prosperity and times of difficulty using the six tactics below.

Make your vision clear.

Fully communicating your vision to your team does two important things. First, it reminds employees why they decided to work with you in the first place. The excitement involved in creating something new and innovative can be a useful tool in finding the motivation to push through difficulties.

Second, regularly reminding team members of the vision for the company allows them to consider how their individual work contributes to the overall goal. This, in turn, can help each person remember that they are part of a group of people all striving toward the same goal, rather than an individual focused on busywork that doesn’t really matter to anyone else. Psychological studies show that people who feel like members of a team are more likely to be motivated to take on complicated tasks.

Encourage strong bonds between team members.

Because feeling like part of a team can increase motivation, it’s important to take steps to cultivate strong bonds among your employees. People who feel connected to their coworkers experience higher levels of trust, which encourages everyone to feel comfortable sharing new ideas and boosts your collective creative brainpower. Additionally, team members with strong bonds are better able to resolve conflicts and work together harmoniously on big projects.

Startup leaders can help establish strong bonds among their employees by choosing team-building activities that take place both in and out of the office. Hosting recurring team lunches or participating in an out-of-office day of volunteer work can go a long way toward making your employees feel more connected.

Turn your focus toward communication.

According to a Harris Poll taken last year, employees who believe that their company’s leadership effectively communicates with them about corporate goals and objectives feel more positive about their company’s reputation and future. Startup leaders who make effective communication with team members a priority see this positivity pay off through increased employee engagement and motivation.

Obviously, there is some information that a CEO cannot share widely, but many aspects of company operations should be transparent. Changes in goals or vision, general business strategies, reasons behind restructurings, and expectations of employees should always be made clear to all members of the team.

Give praise when it’s earned.

The power that recognition has in the workplace cannot be overstated. Praise given when deserved directly ties in to employee engagement in the workplace, can improve relationships between leaders and employees, and may even prompt employees to work harder than before.

Leaders should focus on recognizing employees who have achieved significant accomplishments or who have surpassed typical expectations in a timely manner. Extoling a general company achievement is often less effective—the further removed from the achievement the employee is, the less likely the praise will have a powerful impact. Additionally, leaders should avoid giving out generic recognition to individual employees when it isn’t due, as this can cause employees to see genuine praise as insincere.

Don’t forget to set small goals, too.

In pursuit of your company’s long-term goals, your startup team may experience the burnout that often accompanies the many hours everyone must put in to reach those big milestones. If your team members work for long periods of time without receiving that motivational boost that comes from seeing a win—no matter how small—they’re less likely to perform to their fullest potential.

To keep momentum going while in pursuit of a long-term goal, company leaders should help team members set short-term goals that keep them motivated through small achievements. Assessing and celebrating progress more frequently can give a team the momentum it needs to keep moving forward, even when the eventual outcome seems far away.

Incorporate motivation into the fabric of your company culture.

A startup looks to its leader to set an example for factors like work ethic, values, and the culture of a company. As a CEO, it’s important to set standards that make your company a more motivating place to work. Show employees positivity in the face of challenges, and they will be more likely to mirror this behavior within their own work. Show your employees creative solutions to problems, and they will be more likely to see the process of overcoming obstacles as an exercise in innovation, rather than a frustrating inconvenience.

Put positive behaviors that motivate employees at the core of your company culture, and you will watch your startup team achieve success more quickly and with more enthusiasm than before.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.