February 4, 2022

How to motivate your team and supercharge your success

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Startup culture is perfect for independent, proactive, and driven individuals. The fast-paced environment helps them stay focused, and the variety of projects will keep them on their toes. Still, even the most self-motivated workers need encouragement. Motivated workforces make businesses productive, and owners must ensure that their employees don’t lose their fire.

However, one trend affecting small businesses and startup growth is the shift in the kind of incentives workers expect from companies. Today, workers don’t find purely cash-based rewards as motivating. In fact, a study by the Incentive Marketing Association shows that 65% of employees would rather receive non-cash rewards for a job well done. This figure is backed up by research from the London School of Economics on how monetary incentives could backfire and discourage high-performing employees!

These realities are challenging enough for an established enterprise, but even more so for an early-stage startup, which could find itself with fewer options of incentives they can offer. With some creativity and a deep understanding of your employees, though, it’s possible to keep them happy and always inspired to work.

1. Recognize & appreciate them

Sometimes, the simplest rewards are all that a person needs. Highlighting individual members of your team is a quick and easy way to encourage them to do their best with each task. A thoughtfully-written email, DM or channel message, or a ping through apps like Dailybot or Matter could be enough to brighten your staff’s day.

If you prefer more traditional types of kudos, you could send a handwritten note or mention people’s accomplishments in all-hands or department meetings. Personalized notes are rare these days, and your teammates would appreciate the care and attention it takes to make one. Meanwhile, verbal acknowledgments of a person’s work are quick, but they leave a lasting impression on people.

Staff also feel a greater sense of belonging when their managers take time to appreciate them. Although many people use ‘recognition’ and ‘appreciation’ interchangeably, they mean slightly different things. Recognition involves highlighting wins and celebrating accomplishments. Meanwhile, appreciation involves expressing gratitude in general, especially for someone’s personality, character, or traits. 

When you give recognition, the message is, “kudos for a job well done!” Meanwhile, when you express your appreciation, you’re essentially saying, “I’m thankful you’re here!” The former highlights a person’s abilities, while the latter puts emphasis on their character. Generally speaking, we’re more used to recognizing others’ work, but it’s equally important to show co-workers that they are valuable beyond their skills and abilities.

2. Hold regular check-ins

If you find yourself wondering how to be more creative in showing appreciation, you might need to hold regular check-ins with your staff. Check-ins are especially important in remote workplaces since teams working out of different locations and time zones need to be great at coordinating goals and calendars. When your team has great communication, its members will feel connected to their purpose. 

What’s more, regularly checking in with your team lets you better understand their thought processes and work styles. Besides clueing managers in on their workers’ general dispositions, meetings like these signal to employees that their company’s leaders value their opinions and wellbeing. 

When holding these meetings, keep them semi-structured. You want people to express themselves freely, and running through a list of questions might prevent them from saying what’s on their minds. Give them prompts but let them do most of the talking.

3. (Still) provide good compensation

Although we did downplay the role of cash incentives earlier in this article, sometimes they’re just what workers need to go the extra mile. Monetary benefits are not the be-all end-all of motivation, but they are still appealing. In general, compensation should reflect the value employees bring. Certainly, a business owner should not be "cheap." Instead, they must show appreciation through fair reimbursement.

Compensation does not just come in the form of an employee’s salary. A well-rounded package could provide benefits like retirement plan contributions, time off for emergencies or personal well-being, and other perks like cash bonuses and stock options.

Cash bonuses are a great way to show employees that hard work pays off, and startups or small businesses could also get value from providing stock options to their team. Stock options let employees participate in the company’s success, and it gives them a sense of ownership of the business. When a worker is invested—literally—in the company, they’ll be more motivated to do everything they can for it to succeed.

Creating the right work environment also matters. It’s no use providing employees with paid time off if they can’t use it! One way to help employees gain control of their schedule and do more meaningful work is by offloading time-consuming tasks. 

Hiring a virtual assistant helps with that—a VA can take on high-effort activities like calendar management, responding to emails, and scheduling social media posts. You can check out my company Wing, a service platform connecting entrepreneurs and executives with skilled professionals specializing in a range of industries, from social media management to e-commerce and more.

4. Be open to suggestions

Another way a company moves closer to success is by empowering staff to make suggestions and speak their minds. When employees at all levels feel comfortable airing their thoughts about processes at work, it lets managers see multiple perspectives and consider things they hadn’t thought about. 

Like other aspects of company culture, openness is something that you can’t cultivate overnight. When employees speak their mind, they need positive reinforcement—managers should show that they appreciate people reaching out. Let staff know that their input is valuable by discussing it with them. If the employee makes a great suggestion, let them know that you’ll be making changes based on it.

Employees want to see the company succeed, and they’ll appreciate knowing that their ideas are making a difference. Also, most workers will be receptive to feedback. They won’t take it personally if you tell them that their idea, while interesting, won’t work for the company at the moment. You should also give them reasons why it won’t—this involves them into the company and lets them know you want them to keep giving suggestions.

5. Collaborate with your employees

Openness will give way to better collaboration with staff and team members. Many companies highlight wanting or having a collaborative work environment, but achieving this involves more than coordinating on deliverables and deadlines. To be truly collaborative, managers and employees need to be on the same page from the start. 

They must agree on the timeline and deadlines for deliverables, and everyone involved needs to know which items are the team’s priorities. Setting SMART goals is a great starting point—making goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound clarifies everyone’s responsibilities.

Also, managers must harness the energies of the people on their team who deliver exceptional results. If they don’t do this well, these high achievers might burn out quickly or look for more challenging opportunities. Achievers already have intrinsic motivation, so you just need to tap into it the right way. One way you can do this is by setting stretch goals for achievers.

Give them tasks a little beyond their capabilities—the best case scenario is they deliver above and beyond the stretch goal, which means better results for your team. The “worst” that could happen is they don’t meet the higher goal but still achieve (or exceed) generally expected outcomes!

Finally, close the loop of collaboration by telling your team members about how their work has contributed to company goals. A truly collaborative environment is highly motivating, and employees will happily work in a team where they feel like they are making a difference.


A business’ productivity and success depends largely on its employees, and that is especially true for startups. Large enterprises are generally slow-moving, and their workers rarely deviate from their roles. Meanwhile, startup employees must often wear multiple hats and take on tasks not necessarily listed in their job description—and their actions directly affect the company’s growth.

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