Last week at the Lerer Ventures CEO Summit, executives from New York media and technology startups discussed the challenges of building a company from scratch -- particularly those challenges related 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 I’ve found effective in building great startup employees:
1. Create trust. The most precious commodity in an early-stage startup is trust. Salespeople 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 salespeople 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, as well as the company.
2. Set 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 company goals.
3. Perform 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 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. Check 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 employees to know their manager cares about them and what they are working on. As a result, I try never to let more than a day go by without checking in with my key direct reports in some way.
5. Reward success. There are many different ways to reward great employees. Raises, promotions and stock option grants are some techniques. Other, non-financial rewards include giving a shout-out to top performers, allowing them the freedom to work on a cool project, and offering 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.
Helping people grow into great employees is one of my favorite parts of building a startup. These six techniques have proven useful in getting them there.