Keeping employees motivated in impact-oriented workplaces
More and more startups self-identify as mission-driven or impact-oriented. While the sense of purpose is a plus during the hiring phase, keeping employees motivated can be a complete different story.
Working at a startup offers excitement as well as pressure. Creating something innovative can be engaging and fulfilling, but wearing many hats and operating in a resource constrained environment can be exhausting. In addition, startups sometimes go through cash-strapped periods—and these cycles of uncertainty can translate into team stress. Many of the organizations we work with rely on their core values—and how those align with employees’ own values—to motivate their teams and weather these challenges.
When I talk with startup leaders through Flourish’s Workshop Series, we discuss what broadly drives their team. At work, author Daniel Pink writes, people seek autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you can motivate people on that level, you will earn a deeper commitment.
At the individual level, people are motivated by different things. One may thrive with verbal recognition; another may soar when they have flexibility and feel a sense of work-life balance. Some people find a sense of purpose in helping others, while some pursue excellence in their craft. Some are driven by a sense of justice; others by creative inspiration.
When you make it a priority to get to know individuals on your team, you can seize opportunities to engage. When making assignments, you can match work to each person’s values. When showing appreciation, you can put it in terms they respond to. This takes real effort and commitment from leaders. As humans, we tend to assume others are motivated by the same things we are. It’s up to managers to uncover the unique motivations of each person on their team.
Motivation and Engagement
Several studies have shown that highly engaged employees are about 22 percent more productive. They are also less likely to leave, less likely to miss work, or to show up late.
When your team starts experiencing higher turnover, increased absences, or failing to meet its goals, that could be a sign motivation is faltering. (Of course, there could be other reasons, such as a team member having a poor manager or a problem in their home life.)
You can gauge motivation and understand your team members’ personal values in one-on-one meetings. But it takes more focus than just sitting down. As individuals, many of us are not even aware of what drives us, when we experience flow, or how our work/life priorities might be shifting.
That’s why I encourage managers to schedule a stay interview with their reports. In this meeting, you can ask each person what makes them enjoy their work, what drives them, what makes them feel connected to the company, and any frustrations they may be feeling. Pay attention to when they are really enjoying what they are doing and ask what is it about that project, activity, or task that they find so satisfying?
Employee Value Proposition
No matter how large the organization, motivation starts at the top. Managers are responsible for knowing what drives their direct reports, but executives are responsible for defining the organization’s employee value proposition.
Similar to a customer value proposition in the marketing context, the employee value proposition is the key reason why somebody works at your organization. It’s how you brand yourself to current and potential employees.
There are four aspects to an employee value proposition:
- Exciting work: The ability to have an impact, be challenged, pursue what interests you.
- Rewards & recognition: Compensation, but also celebrating accomplishments and other non-monetary rewards.
- Company & leaders: The mission and culture of the organization. Admirable leadership.
- Growth & development: Opportunities to grow your skills and advance your career.
These are often a big part of why someone joins an organization. Having a deep understanding of the organization’s value proposition gives you additional opportunities to motivate your teams beyond the unique drivers of the individuals.
Viewing motivation from a holistic lens helps managers see where they can move the needle on employee engagement and retention. Tapping into motivation is a powerful way to build a more people-centric, happier workplace. And in doing so, you can grow your impact and your bottom line.