I was listening to Adam Grant recently, and he outlined a way of thinking about what makes employees happy that really resonated with me. His take was that employees want to know:
Is this a safe place to work?
Is this a fair place to work?
Can I make an impact here?
Sounds simple, but I consistently find that founders and managers fail to take the time to think about what is going to make their people happy and motivated. Especially in early stage companies, where the pressure to figure out the business is always on, and where there is often very little HR leadership or support.
I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past.
I’m going to dig into these questions in a separate post this week.
But the overarching challenge here for leadership teams is that they have to find the headspace to think about these three questions. And the signaling to the company as to how important this issue is will come from the founder.
There are two challenges here that founders and their leadership team need to overcome.
First, let’s recognize that founders are driven by a sense of purpose and reward that is very different from what will motivate everyone else on their team. It can be hard for founders to remember this. Hopefully that sense of purpose is a key reason why the founder started the company in the first place!
I’ve seen founders get frustrated that even members of their leadership team need answers to the questions above, and that they want to spend time thinking about issues of respect, fairness and impact as it relates to their role. They assume everyone that joins their startup can be adequately motivated by the same sense of purpose. That’s a mistake.
Second, there will come a time when it feels like the wheels are coming off and nothing is working inside the company. In many startups this is almost a constant state in the early years. It’s what makes startups so incredibly hard and stressful.
Unfortunately, for many leaders, particularly those in their first startup, the tendency is to go heads down, put the blinders on, and start grinding it out to try to find the answers to getting the company back on track.
This is particularly true for founders, who bear the pressure of possible failure in a way that no one else on their team can possibly appreciate.
And yet it is precisely at this time when you need to focus on your team, and make sure you have set them up to be successful.
Take the time to build a company culture where the expectation is that it’s important to pay attention to how the organization treats its people, and takes the time to understand what motivates them and how to get the best from them.
In tomorrow’s email I’ll address the three questions from Adam Grant in more detail.
I’ll end with this quote from the book Trillion Dollar Coach, about Bill Campbell, one of the great Silicon Valley coaches.
People are the foundation of any company’s success. The primary job of each manager is to help people be more effective in their job and to grow and develop. We have great people who want to do well, are capable of doing great things, and come to work fired up to do them. Great people flourish in an environment that liberates and amplifies that energy. Managers create this environment through support, respect and trust.