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Six Steps for Creating Great Startup Employees

Namely.com_Matt_Straz_260Last week at the Lerer Ventures CEO Summit, executives from New York media and technology startups discussed the challenges with building a company from scratch—particularly as it relates to people. Given that startups are highly dependent on the talents of the first few dozen people who join up, it’s essential to get the most out of each employee.

Here are six steps that I have found effective in building a great startup employee:

1. Creating trust. The most precious commodity in an early stage startup is trust. Sales people must trust that engineers are going to deliver new product features on time. The customer service team must trust that product bugs will be fixed quickly. The CEO must trust that sales people are going to work like crazy get the product in front of a lot of prospective customers. As everyone executes, the level of trust among the group grows to the point where there is true confidence in each person’s abilities and the company.

2. Setting goals. Change is constant in an early stage startup so it’s important for everyone to know what the goals are for the company and themselves. Company goals should be established and then tweaked and communicated throughout the year. Individual goals should be set in a similar way and be aligned with the company goals.

3. Performing reviews. Regular performance appraisals, whether they are longer form annual reviews or quicker monthly or quarterly reviews, are an essential tool for creating great employees. Incorporating the employee goals into these regular reviews is a great strategy. Technology can also help automate this process and make the review process easier for everyone involved.

4. Checking in. Friendly check-ins are an important tool for creating great employees. A brief chat over instant message, a phone call or an occasional lunch can help employees talk through whatever issues they are dealing with and get them solved. It’s reassuring for an employee to know that their manager cares about them and what they are working on. As a result, I try to never let more than a day go by without checking in with my key direct reports in some way.

5. Rewarding success. There are many different ways to reward great employees. Raises, promotions and stock option grants are some techniques. But there are also other ways reward people including a shout out to top performers, giving people the freedom to work on a cool project, and offering great employees flexibility in where and how they work.

6. Career planning. The first employees who join a startup need to be good at a lot of different things. But as the company grows the needs of the organization change and early stage employees need to become more specialized in their roles. So it’s important for managers to have open conversations with their employees about how they see their career developing with the company. While there are many unknowns with a startup, it’s important for managers to learn what early stage employees enjoy doing and are good at.

Watching people grow into great employees one of my favorite parts of running a startup. These six techniques have helped me to be a better manager and get them there.

  • http://twitter.com/prempanchal Prem Panchal

    Matt, great article. Through my prior and current experiences with startups and companies, I completely agree with your main points. Nurturing good talent is the lifeblood of any company that wants to grow. It’s so much cheaper to invest in the talent you have rather than to waste money on turnover and re-training. It doesn’t have to be pay; rather recognition is exceptionally desired. The top-line grows, positive sentiment is augmented and the team just executes SO much better!

    I wrote an article of similar merit that really helped me grow strong teams – http://matchist.com/blog/6-startup-tips-from-a-hotel-mai/

    One question though: how do you handle disputes or arguments between team members on ways to build different aspects of a product / service?

    Appreciate your time,
    Prem

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