Most new entrepreneurs have great ideas, and many are highly skilled in building their solutions. Unfortunately, far fewer have the focus and experience of building and maintaining a highly engaged team. They don’t realize that strong team engagement leads to even stronger customer engagement, which can more than double your startup revenue and growth, according to experts.
Team engagement has to extend well beyond your internal team of employees and executives, to the extended team of partners, vendors, and investors. The principles of engagement are the same across all these domains, even though the required actions may be different. I’ll focus here on key recommended actions for the internal team:
1. Be the role model for engagement from the top.
Startup founders and leaders need to get out of their office, and demonstrate engagement with the team every day. Engagement doesn’t come from written policies or one-way speeches. It comes from two-way interaction with individual employees, and clear indications of active listening.
2. Link your business to a higher purpose than profits.
Team members with a compelling sense of social or environmental purpose feel an extraordinary engagement. For example, TOMS Shoes matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need, driving engagement for employees and customers.
3. Empower employees with authority and tools to succeed.
Full autonomy to go above and beyond in sales and customer-service roles will increase team engagement as well as customer satisfaction. Highly satisfied customers become your best advocates, bringing in new customers, repeat business, and ramping up revenue and profits.
4. Link rewards and performance to engagement levels.
High engagement is more related to high performance than high satisfaction. Satisfied employees too often include under-performers. Measure engagement levels and results, rather than satisfaction levels, within team members and customers, to assess and pay for performance.
5. Focus on a culture of motivation rather than punishment.
Eliminate the fear of failure by offering incentives to learn, and rewards for thinking outside the box. For example, Zappos brings in thought leaders from personal development, education, community, philanthropy and other realms to share their ideas for motivation and engagement.
6. Respect individual team member needs and attributes.
Let team members be themselves, with a relaxed dress code and individual consideration for start times, time off, and office decor. They will respond with greater empathy for unique customer requirements and team member expectations. The result will be higher engagement.
7. Hire and train for engagement levels, as well as skills.
Resumes tend to reflect skills, rather than engagement capabilities, so good interview techniques by leaders and peers are absolutely required. Training for engagement and promoting those who excel, are additional ways to foster the right behaviors. The ability to engage is a winning skill.
8. Facilitate and use customer, peer engagement feedback.
Feedback on engagement should come from multiple sources, including social media reviews, peer reviews, and executive interviews. Make it evident from your words and actions that you are listening and positive feedback will be rewarded. Make sure they know your values.
9. Authentic relationships lead to authentic engagement.
Entrepreneurs and team members who genuinely care for each other relish their engagement with others. Be transparent and authentic in your communications. Model high standards of integrity, respect and walk the talk if you expect to engage employees through trust.
The goal of these initiatives is to ramp up engagement in yourself and your team to be a multiplier of the quality of your solution and your marketing, to achieve new levels of market penetration and profitability. It’s a big lever in your ongoing battle for success, and it’s one that you need to pull earlier rather than later. Are you there yet?