Motivated teams are the key to success at every startup, yet I still know entrepreneurs who gave an inspirational speech to kick off the quarter but haven’t been heard from since, or don’t realize that their actions are often more demotivating than inspirational. The result is a huge loss in productivity and morale and potentially the death of a promising startup.
In the spirit of continuous learning and improvement, I offer the following questions for a self-assessment of your current motivational habits as a startup leader and entrepreneur:
Has anyone ever accused you of micromanagement? Team members need to feel trusted and valued, and micromanaging communicates the opposite. Founders who are prone to manage every detail of their businesses will ultimately kill themselves as well as lose the support of team members. Learn to delegate key tasks and give credit.
How often do you communicate or redirect team priorities? Some leaders expect the team to read their minds on priorities, so they never provide the written and verbal guidance that we all need to feel we are contributing. Others can be heard shouting new priorities on an hourly basis. Both habits are very demotivating.
Does the team know where you are and why? You can’t be an absentee entrepreneur and expect the team to stay motivated. Great motivators are visible at the front and lead by their actions. Hiding in your office or mysteriously traveling all the time on unknown missions are sure ways to cause the focus of your team to disperse as well.
How often do you reward initiative and problem-solving? Some entrepreneurs have a bad habit of taking personal credit for all improvements and innovations at their startups. If you penalize or ignore employee initiatives, you can be certain that they won’t be repeated, and motivation for more conventional performance will suffer.
Are all team members fully qualified and trained for their roles? Entrepreneurs are perennially short on cash, so they tend to hire less expensive and less experienced team members. Yet most founders are overworked, so they have no time and budget for coaching and training. Team members not confident in their roles lose motivation quickly.
Is initiative and accountability driven by fear or reward? Recognition in front of peers is the strongest motivator, and berating team members in private or public is the biggest demotivator. Check your use of rewards vs. penalties, with the negatives including emotional outbursts at no one in particular, a lack of feedback and veiled threats.
How often are meetings interactive and productive? If you dread the thought of wasted time in meetings, chances are that your team members feel the same way. Team members are also demotivated by one-way discussions, haphazard participation and arbitrary decisions. Structure every meeting at the start and summarize them at the end.
Are key milestones set jointly with the team and maintained? If you have a habit of declaring milestones or changing them based on the crisis of the day, don’t expect the team to remain motivated. Similarly, if the team isn’t aware of the milestone and the value behind it, they are unlikely to deliver. Communication and buy-in are the keys here.
Are you too busy to relate to team members on a personal level? Everyone needs to hear a personal anecdote once in a while or see you go out of your way to make someone’s day. Maybe it’s time for a party at your house to unwind, or an afternoon off with the team to attend the ball game.
What have you done lately to proactively enhance individual goals? If it annoys you when team members ask about their next promotion or talk about other job opportunities in the industry, you have motivational problems in the making. You need to build a habit of proactively seeking employee interests and suggesting follow-up steps.
If you feel qualms about your answer to any two or more of these questions, or if you found this column on your chair, it’s time to rethink your focus on motivation. No matter how confident you are in your own abilities, you can’t build and run a business alone. You need your army pulling you ahead, rather than holding you back.