In a startup, productivity is the lifeblood of the company. Unlike enterprise level corporations where there can be a little more flexibility, startups have concrete milestones that must be met in order to succeed. Getting work done and meeting deadlines is critical and at a startup you have much more at stake.
Often, management will try to increase employee productivity by cracking the whip, upping the pressure and encouraging long hours, but this will not boost performance or effectiveness. As the founder of three startups, I’ve come across this challenge several times and have picked up a few tips on motivating employees in what can be a stressful, fast-paced environment.
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1. It’s not a 'sprint' if you don’t stop running.
It’s simple: Employees can't be effective if they are never able to let up on the gas -- they will inevitably burn out. There needs to be slower periods to ensure success in the long run. Take time to celebrate successes between sprints, even if as a leader, the successes aren’t exactly what you would want them to be. Success for a startup CEO may mean exiting but for employees that simply represents future risk. You have to celebrate the things important to the team. You need to celebrate building the product, selling it, updating it and awards for it.
2. Treat your employees like investors.
Another way to increase productivity is to make your employees feel valued by sharing the same information with them that you share with investors. This level of transparency enables employees to be more connected to the company, builds trust and gives employees more of a vested interest. Everyone likes to feel like they are making a difference and you’ll likely see employee productivity rise if you highlight employee impact on the business rather than the numbers of hours logged and reports completed.
3. Don’t plan to capacity -- change is good.
In a rapidly changing business environment, startups need to be able to pivot on a dime. To do this, you need to leave enough space when planning to allow for flexibility. If your employees are swamped, it makes it very difficult to react to new opportunities and can make you lose sight of priorities. What’s the point of your staff working hard if you can’t redirect that energy into more fruitful ventures?
On a separate note, you will need to train your organization to think of change as a positive. I have seen so many companies self-destruct, because they thought change was a sign of weakness or redoubled efforts. If your staff is confused or concerned about the direction the company is taking, their work may suffer.
4. Use a timeline instead of a dashboard.
Make sure you are using timeline-based tools to communicate with employees. Tools like HipChat and Skype for Business give employees a more holistic view of the workflow. They provide an idea of what is happening now and what has changed, in the same way we consume information on social media. Dashboards generally provide a static snap shot of a single event while timelines enable personnel to get a better feel for the overall dynamics of a particular project. When working with teams, timelines can be particularly effective, enabling everyone involved to have a better understanding of the process.
In my experience, there’s no magic bullet to create a more productive workforce. Everyone has their own management style, but it has been proven time and again that high-pressure environments are inevitably toxic, as we recently saw at Amazon. Employees need to be motivated and inspired -- to feel like their hard work is building the company’s future.
By reshaping your staff’s perceptions around effectiveness and implementing the right methods of persuasion along with the best tools to streamline the process, you can be successful. You can foster a productive mentality among employees, not based around fear, but rather around their own drive to do something great.