Have you ever assumed that employee engagement strategies are mostly just for larger, more established companies? Think again. Even a brand-new business startup needs to ensure its employees are engaged with the work they’re doing, and committed to the company’s mission. You can’t just take for granted that your charming “startup culture” will carry the day; real, formalized employee engagement strategies are a must for building the right team at this formative juncture.
The problem, of course, is that in a startup environment, you may not have the human resources or infrastructure in place. Doesn’t matter. You can still organize and manage your company in such a way that it puts employee engagement first. Let me offer just a few possible solutions.
Employee Engagement Strategies for a New Business
1) Be wise in how you assign work.
At a new company, job descriptions usually aren’t very well-defined, and each employee will likely need to wear a few different hats. You run a big risk in overburdening your employees with tasks that sap their enthusiasm and eat up all their time, so it’s important to think critically in how you assign different projects. Whenever you can, try to assign work based on passion and interests. Really spend time getting to know your employees and understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Take note of the projects different employees tend to gravitate toward, and the ones that don’t seem to inspire. Try to give people jobs that will bring out the best in them and make them excited to contribute to the big picture.
2) Aim high, but don’t punish failure.
When you’re in a startup environment, it can be tempting to assume that you can’t achieve things at the same high level as bigger companies that are flush with resources. This is dead-end thinking! Go into each project setting a standard for excellence: Set a high bar and inspire your team with confidence that they can hit it. With that said, it’s also important to have an environment where employees who try hard, innovate, and swing for the fences aren’t punished. A high bar with freedom for failure… that’s the winning formula.
3) Start a workplace wellness initiative.
Workplace wellness is an area where your small size may actually be a huge benefit. When your team is just starting out, it’s usually a bit easier to engage your employees in activities that promote fitness. Knock off an hour early one day and head to a yoga studio or invite everyone for a walk at lunchtime. This helps you create a culture of wellness from early on, and these activities can also be great opportunities for bonding.
4) Recognize good work.
Words of affirmation go a long way, particularly in a small company. Indeed, your startup may not have the resources to give pay raises every time an employee does something great, but you can at the very least stop to acknowledge it and express how much you appreciate the hard work. Also, look for creative ways to reward your employees. You may not be able to give a salary bump, but maybe you can take them out to lunch, buy some small gift cards, or something similar. These can be meaningful and budget-friendly employee engagement strategies.
5) Create a sense of mission.
Employees of a small business startup know good and well that they’re not playing for one of the “big boys,” but you can still help them feel like they’re connected to something larger than themselves. One of the most powerful opportunities your startup has is to create a sense of mission, helping team members feel like they are doing something meaningful with their time and effort. Make sure your startup has a clearly defined mission statement, and that you show each employee how their role contributes to that mission. Emphasize often that your employees are doing work that makes a difference.
6) Create a professional office environment.
What do you think of when you think about startup culture? We all know the clichés about company ping-pong tables and “nap rooms,” and that’s all well and good. But remember, your employees really want a chance to do meaningful work, and that requires them to have a respectful office environment. You don’t want your place of business to feel like a non-stop party. On the contrary, you want to create spaces where your team members can concentrate, collaborate, and feel like you take them seriously as professionals.
7) Build a training/onboarding program.
One more entry on my list of employee engagement strategies for startups. I mentioned before that smaller companies don’t have robust HR infrastructures in place, but you can still develop onboarding programs that are effective in showing employees the ropes. As a matter of fact, while your company’s still small, you can ask existing team members for their feedback: What do they wish they’d known on day one? What are some helpful ways to get new team members in the swing of things? Start building a good onboarding program from the ground up.