If you have ever worked in a startup company, then you know:
- Entrepreneurs are normally in a constant fight for the survival of their fledgling venture. They offer high risk with the potential for high reward if the company succeeds.
- Entrepreneurs are always stretching the boundaries of what is possible – in terms of innovation, business practices and often sanity.
- Early partners and employees are bound to have a variety of offbeat and somewhat awkward bonding experiences.
- While for many professionals, this sounds like a stressful and uncertain work style, entrepreneurs tend to thrive on this combination of urgency, risk, and constant string of problem solving.
The good news for workers at more established companies is that every successful mid-sized and large company has survived its initial startup stage. Sure, larger companies can still fail (and they do), but finances are much more stable because larger companies have much more access to capital for financing growth and weathering economic downturns.
Entrepreneurial energy and engagement often gets lost in that transition to growth stage. It can happen when a charismatic founder leaves the company as part of a negotiated investment deal. Maybe it’s when the pressure to make “payroll” is no longer a driving motivator for high productivity. Or it could be the hiring of new employees who just weren’t part of the earlier struggle. But something happens between the nearly full engagement required to get a startup company off the ground and the low employee engagement that dominates larger companies. Gallup’s annual report shows that consistently 33% of American workers and 13% of workers worldwide consider themselves engaged in their jobs.
How do you hold on to that entrepreneurial sense of engagement after the company succeeds?
First, I wouldn’t wish a lifetime of startup entrepreneurship on anyone. Yes, it’s a thrilling ride. Yet it can be utterly exhausting and often requires untold sacrifices born not only by employees, but their loved ones. Some entrepreneurs love the adrenaline rush that comes from beating the odds. If that is your personality type, then I wish you well in all your endeavors. But for the rest of us, there is some relief in finally making it to the company’s growth stage. Even dropping down a few notches in effort is still a far cry from the unengaged masses.
Now here is my advice on how to keep that entrepreneurial spirit while moving forward as a company:
Hire Engaged Employees
Everyone is enthusiastic in their job interviews. No one is going to tell you that they spent the final six months of their last job surfing the Internet or playing Candy Crush. Ask interview questions about someone’s final project with their last employer. An engaged employee normally gets challenging projects. Staff that have “checked out early” are often given routine, reactive assignments. Ask for examples of how the candidate proactively improved their company’s outcomes. And also consider hiring former entrepreneurs. They know how to work hard, are proactive and are excellent creative problem solvers.
Share the Vision and the Greater Context
Many companies create some kind of a vision statement, but then file it away somewhere to rarely be mentioned again. One of the reasons why entrepreneurial ventures are so engaging is that everyone on the team knows exactly what the company is trying to accomplish and what part their own efforts play in serving that vision. It’s powerful. Every employee in your organization of any size needs to know that the company vision is worthy of pursuit and that their efforts help move the whole organization towards that vision.
Set High Individual and Team Goals
While not the same motivation as surviving another month as an entrepreneur team, higher productivity comes when goals are set high enough for employees to stretch to reach them. Encourage creative problem solving and initiative as core traits you want from your staff. Then support your staff with resources to help them achieve their individual as well as the team’s goals.
Ideally you want to leverage the positive aspects of those startup months, but settle them into a longer, more sustainable employee engagement strategy. Leaders who spend time and effort to cultivate an effective work culture will always outperform their competitors in the global marketplace.