November 3, 2023

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.

While money is obviously still important, today's 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 with limited resources. With some creativity and a deep understanding of your employees, though, it’s possible to keep them happy and always inspired to work. In this article, we'll cover some of the most effective strategies founders can used to keep their employees engaged and motivated.

1. Recognition and appreciation

Sometimes, people just want to know that their contribution isn't going unnoticed. 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 ping through apps like Dailybot or Matter could be enough to brighten your staff’s day.

If you prefer more traditional methods, 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. It isn't always about making grand gestures — just letting your team know that you care is often enough.

2. 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. 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.

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. Wing, for example, connects entrepreneurs and executives with skilled professionals specializing in social media management, ecommerce, and other vital fields.

4. Open communication

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.

Encouraging open communication is better for all involved. While negative feedback might be awkward or difficult to deal with, it's always better when employees feel empowered to say what they're really thinking. Otherwise, they'll simply stay quiet and there will be no way to solve the underlying issue. It's critical to avoid shaming or getting defensive when a team member brings up suggestions.

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. Collaboration

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. You can't force communication or collaboration — it has to come out of your habits and commitment to working together as a real team.

Setting SMART goals is a great starting point — that means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Your team members will know what's expected of them and have the opportunity to succeed in a defined way.

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.


No company can succeed without an effective team, and even the most talented employees need to be supported by management. As a startup founder, it's crucial to build a strong company culture from the early stages — both to get the most out of your existing employees, and to make it easier to find new ones. These tips should help you improve employee engagement and avoid common issues such as poor communication, feelings of resentment, and low productivity.

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