This post includes extra content from Startup Mixology, my upcoming book on starting up – including how to prepare yourself for the harsh reality and celebrate positive moments along the way. Go here to pre-order the book (due July 8) and subscribe to updates!
Managing is an art. It’s one of the hardest parts of starting up, because it involves people’s emotions and egos. LivingSocial co-founder Tim O’Shaughnessy always keeps in mind that people want to feel engaged, like they can make a difference, and be fairly compensated. Satisfy these needs, and your team will respect you and be even more motivated to get the job done. Manage poorly, and your team will feel frustrated, fearful, or angry. When putting all the ideas below into practice, keep in mind your overall goal: keeping your team happy and productive.
In startups, good management starts with communication. Employees may worry about the financial health of the startup, which can distract them and make them think about leaving. Your job is to be clear about goals and milestones, and convince your team that if you were in serious financial trouble, they’d be the first to know. Some startups go so far as to be transparent about money in the bank.
As with any job, employees may experience burnout and lose productivity and morale. This is all the more serious at a startup, where you work longer hours and carry more responsibilities. Leading by example and setting expectations around nighttime and weekend work can help prevent that. For example, founder Ryan Carson of Treehouse stopped sending lots of emails on weekends because he knew his team felt obligated to respond right away. If you have a period of intense sprints and overtime, give your team a break afterward.
Another threat to morale is a feeling of detachment, something that remote workers are at risk for. After Formstack introduced remote work, one team member moved to a different part of the country, and eventually quit. “As a remote team, it can sometimes be difficult to engage every employee in your culture,” says CEO Chris Byers. In Remote, Jason Fried recommends having team members update each other regularly on their progress so everyone feels that sense of forward motion. Technology has advanced such that you’re literally a video call away, so use it to keep rich communications flowing. It’s better to err on the side of overcommunicating so people aren’t getting distracted by their worries, wonderings, or isolation.
According to a 2013 study by TINYpulse, an employee survey tool, transparency is the most important factor in determining employee happiness. It was even more important than how employees view their coworkers, supervisors, or company culture. To help improve transparency, you might consider a daily standup meeting where everyone explains what they did the day before, what they’re doing today, and any roadblocks. Weekly, monthly, or quarterly company meetings are also useful for sharing updates and getting the team’s questions answered. Communication goes hand in hand with transparency.