Alex Douzet is CEO of Pumpkina pet insurance and welfare provider founded to ensure pets live their healthiest lives.
Startup founders who can maintain healthy working hours of employees have a huge advantage. Premature churn can extinguish a startup’s fire, but long-term employee tenure gives you more collective expertise to drive your startup forward. While the trend may be for employees to jump around every few years, your startup will have more to offer a candidate if you show that you can retain and grow talent in three, four or five years. Here are four principles I’ve maintained at each of my startups that can help you build a business that employees will want to stay with for years to come.
Connect your employees’ dreams to your mission.
Employees want to know that they matter and that their work has a tangible impact. In reality, McKinsey & Company research found that 70% of employees said their sense of purpose is determined by their work. To enjoy working at your startup for several years, employees must feel passionately connected to your mission.
At my company, Pumpkin, our mission is to help provide the best possible care for all pets. Our core values are clearly defined and we make sure that they are aligned with the aspirations of each potential employee during the hiring phase. As a result, they feel strongly committed to our mission when they come to work for us and it shows in their work, whether they are a designer, engineer or sales manager.
When the connection between dreams and mission is weak, it leads to boredom, unhappiness and a “grass is greener” mentality. You see a lot of sideways movement in the startup world rather than career advancement movements because employees feel lost and have no purpose. The magic happens when an employee’s dreams to be compatible with your company’s long-term mission, as they feel highly motivated by their work.
Stimulate the autonomy of your employees.
It is critical to foster autonomy within your startup so that your employees feel engaged and invested in their work. No employee likes to be told what to do – they want to be in control of their work and have a strong say in decisions that affect them.
The key is to match autonomy to a person’s skill level. A new employee fresh out of college and given free rein is likely to feel unsupported and lost. Likewise, experienced employees quickly become frustrated when they feel micro-managed. I have found that promoting autonomy creates happiness and fulfillment, which inspires creativity and in turn leads to incredible innovation.
Employees also want to voice their opinion and know that they are being listened to. This may be easier within a 20-person startup than a 100-person startup, but regardless of your size, you can implement methods such as regular satisfaction surveys, anonymous feedback forms, and virtual town halls to ensure employees have a forum to provide feedback.
Evolve from training to coaching.
Every professional athlete has a coach. While training helps perfect an athlete’s skills, the role of the coach is to inspire and motivate the athlete to continuously improve. I believe that a good coach is a crucial element in helping an individual achieve mastery. The best coaches are masters themselves – they have unparalleled expertise and are deeply invested in the growth of their mentee. It’s exactly the same in the startup world.
Great startups do everything they can to support employees on their journey to mastery. In the beginning, training in a role may be necessary, but once that is complete, you need to develop that relationship from basic training to active coaching. Lead coaches to your startup who command respect, demonstrate best practices, and consistently find ways to enable and encourage the best performance of each individual.
Remember that steady growth is inspiring.
For most VC-backed startups, there is tremendous pressure to grow quickly. The sheer burden of expectations often results in budget cuts and poor business practices. Ignoring the first three principles I described to achieve unnaturally rapid growth is a recipe for a terrible culture with guaranteed employee burnout. You risk getting stuck in a cycle of hiring, settling in, barely training and then hiring again. Simply put, you spend time and resources on a process that yields nothing. If things escalate and your employee turnover exceeds 25%, your startup will quickly go downhill.
While growth is fantastic, realistically it takes years to grow a business. You can’t speed up that process without making huge sacrifices. You can better motivate longer hires by showing reliable year-over-year growth than with flashy PR reporting and multimillion-dollar valuations or “unicorns.” Steady growth is impressive, and employees will be excited to stay with a company that is clearly on the upside.
You can have all the elements of a successful startup in terms of your product or service, finances and strategy, but high employee turnover can limit what you can achieve. By following these four principles, you can increase the number of employees while steadily growing your startup.
Focus on giving your employees the inspiration, autonomy and coaching they need to achieve mastery in their role, and growth is more likely to follow. The work that employees can produce once they achieve mastery is phenomenal, but you have to put in the work to carefully create that level of expertise. If you do, your startup will be in the best position to reach its full potential.