There is one single factor that can make or break any start-up. It isn’t a proprietary algorithm, or even an idea. The single factor that makes or breaks start-ups is team.
Eric Ries’ The Lean Start-up is the equivalent of a Bible for any self-respecting start-up founder, and many hail the benefits of the experimental approach to business that it advocates. It’s often forgotten, however, that the crux of lean start-up methodology is based around establishing a highly passionate and motivated A-team.
Working for a start-up is, in many ways, harder than working at an established company: it involves wearing many different hats, producing results on tiny budgets, and taking huge personal risks. The people willing to throw themselves into work in such an environment are incredible assets to your company who should never be taken for granted. These people are energetic, passionate and driven - but lose their interest or respect, and you are sure to lose them.
Employee appreciation in a lean start-up can be a challenge: start-up budgets usually can’t accommodate comprehensive health insurance, free lunches and company issued MacBooks. There are, however, plenty of other ways that you can incentivize and retain your lean start-up A-Team.
1. Give Employees Equity
As a start-up founder, it’s smart to be strategic about how much equity you give away and to who. However, giving your employees a financial stake in the company is one of the best investments you can make in your start-up’s future.
If your employees have a financial interest in your company succeeding, you can be sure that they will invest their energies into making sure it does. In addition to giving your employees the chance to reap the fruits of their labour, giving them equity will make them feel like a respected and valued member of your team.
2. Allow Your Team’s Voices to be Heard
One of the biggest advantages of working in a small company is that each and every voice can, and should, be heard. Make sure to hold regular all-hands, stand-ups and brainstorming sessions to ensure that everyone has the chance to speak their piece and contribute their ideas.
Not only will this make your employees feel valued, but it is also likely to generate innovative solutions to difficult problems: for example, a marketer may bring a different perspective to sales processes, suggesting a solution that those in the sales team hadn’t thought of before.
3. Be Flexible
The crux of Lean Start-up theory is that start-ups have the advantage of flexibility over corporates. They are free from established processes and rules, and that’s what makes them cool, exciting places to work.
As an employee working for a start-up, it’s a given that you have to be flexible: you should be prepared to work evenings and weekends and do tasks that aren’t in your job description.It’s only polite to grant your employees the same courtesy of being flexible with them.
Don’t feel that because JP Morgan has a holiday accrual policy, you have to be rigid with your employees about when they can take their holiday days. Give employees the flexibility to work from home on occasion or take an afternoon to attend a workshop. Do your small employees favours and they will repay you in kind.
4. Encourage Learning
Start-ups involve a lot of learning on the go: a month at a start-up likely involves more learning than a year at a corporate company. You should always encourage your employees to expand their skillsets - it will make them better at their jobs and help them see work as a place to grow and develop.
There are many ways you can encourage learning in your team. Consider purchasing a team plan on an online learning platform like Udemy. Designate one afternoon a week as time for employees to spend learning a skill of their choice, or simply start a Slack channel for sharing useful learning resources between team members.
5. Make Small Gestures of Care
As a lean start-up, you probably don’t have much budget to spare on employee benefits, but that’s not an excuse for allowing your employees to go unappreciated. Don’t underestimate the value of small gestures in incentivising your team. Some things you can do to offer your employees benefits on a budget include:
- Basing your office in a co-working space that offers free breakfast, workshops or events
- Taking your team for a monthly lunch (and yes, paying for it)
- Giving flowers or a small gift for birthdays
- Investing in an employee benefit scheme created with small businesses like yours in mind.
Start-up employees understand the position you’re in, and they don’t expect the world from you. That said, nobody likes to feel undervalued. Find simple ways to express your appreciation for the hard work your employees do for you, and you will have a loyal A-Team at your side.