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How to Retain and Motivate Your Scaling Team

How to retain and motivate your team

Many years ago my boss told me that “Leadership is the art of keeping all the people who hate you away from the ones who haven’t made up their minds yet“.

I’ve never forgotten that. And I’ll admit there have been many occasions throughout my career when I have looked around at my teams wondering which camp certain individuals fell into. Trust me that’s not a happy place to be in!

Looking back on your own career, who would you consider to be a great leader? Who has made a real difference to you in your professional life? Who has mentored or guided you? Who has influenced your beliefs and professional values? Who showed faith in you, when perhaps others didn’t?

The same boss I mentioned above (someone I would definitely consider to be a great leader since he certainly ticked most of the boxes here) also looked me in the eye once and said, “People don’t leave companies, Paul. They leave leaders“. It was around the time there had been a few resignations in one of my offices and I remember taking that statement incredibly personally.

Running a business, leading a team of people, or building a startup as an entrepreneur can sometimes be a pretty lonely (not to mention pretty damn scary) place. Having been there myself, I know first hand what the isolation feels like; what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night in a panic convinced you have no idea what you’re doing; or wondering why anyone would really want to be led by you.

For me it wasn’t always a case of waking up in the middle of the night in a panic. My problem was that sometimes I just wouldn’t be able to fall asleep in the first place with all the crazy thoughts whizzing around in my head wondering if I really could motivate and hold on to the amazingly talented group of people I had working with me.

If you’re having thoughts even remotely like mine, rest assured you are not alone. Just remember though, there’s bound to be someone else out there with a scarier job.

Last week, I hosted a webinar on how to retain and motivate your team. During the hour I shared some of the advice various managers of mine had shared with me over the years as well as some of my own tips that have helped me throughout the many years I have looked after teams all around the world.

I thought I would include a few of these tips in this blog post.

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1. You need to be able to articulate the story

What’s your plan? What’s the vision for the business? What are your expectations?

Whether you are talking to your team as a group, to an individual team member during a weekly 1:1 catch up, to your advisors, investors or customers,  you must have clarity around the story. The words you use, how you deliver your message, and the consistency with which you drive that message home will make all the difference to ensuring everyone is on the same page.

You want everyone on board the same train traveling in the same direction.

2. Create a climate of trust

As their leader, you are responsible for the environment you create. I’m not talking about culture here – I’m talking about the actual environment.

This starts with you having a positive mental attitude … always.

If you look angry, all it takes is just one person believing you are angry at them, and this can ruin the day for everyone.

You want your team to look up to you; to respect you; and to trust you. But adhering to the “tough love” or “tough empathy” philosophy will also help you in the long run.

3. Tell them everything or tell them nothing at all

You will never be accused of over communicating. I can assure you that nobody will resign from your company because they felt you told them too much!

The danger in only telling them half the story though, is that they will fill in the gaps and create their own situation in their head. This perception will quickly become their reality and that’s a downward spiral in the making.

So if you told your team that funding was around the corner and the potential investor pulls out, don’t keep that information from the team assuming they will forget what you told them in the first place. If you tell the team you’re making an offer to an amazing candidate and the candidate backs out, bring the team up to speed straight away.

Too many things are just swept under the carpet on the assumption that people don’t need to know the bad news.

That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

4. It’s OK to reveal your vulnerability

Even the most successful leaders like Branson, Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg are not invincible.

It’s OK to speak from the heart. You know what? Sometimes it’s even OK to ask for help or admit you don’t know the answer to a particular question. Sure that takes courage, but when your team sees you being courageous, that’s another big tick on the trust factor.

5. It’s all about we. It’s not all about me

Do you want to be a boss? Or do you want to be a leader?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this particular question. But if your team hears you only use the words “I” or “me” they may start to lose faith in you pretty quickly.

It comes back to the trust and credibility piece. When they hear you say “we” and “us” they will believe in the vision more and, in turn, will feel more inspired to perform.

6. Show them you are genuinely interested

Do you know what your team members’ interests are outside of work? Are they in a local basketball team? Do they go to a weekly stand up comedy writing class? Perhaps one of them loves cooking? Do you know if one of your team members is a competitive yachtsman? Perhaps an avid photographer or oil colour artist?

You want your team members to know you have an interest in them that goes beyond purely revenue generation or contribution to the bottom line.

Where possible have a daily ‘connect’ with everyone. Not a meeting … but just a (what I like to call a) ‘personal moment’.

Try it! It feels good.

7. Know what motivates them individually and as a team

The only way to know what motivates your team is to ask them! You’ll be surprised. What you might think pushes their buttons may in fact be as far from the truth as possible.

They will all have intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivators. Some will thrive on having a carrot dangled with promises of financial reward; others will thrive on spontaneous recognition or a simple email praising them for a job well done.

Of course if you want to hear more, the full recording of the webinar appears below.

Paul Slezak

Cofounder at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for 20 years. Follow me @paul_slezak.

  • Tom Torpong

    Sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious to management because we’re so preoccupied with meeting targets.
    Thanks for the tips!

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