Motivating people


People motivation. I think when you start a company, you go into it thinking that with the right product and the right compensation, everything will just work out. The brand will grow, people will be happy, yada yada yada. But what I’ve seen in my years of professional work is that:

  1. the happiest, least-likely-to-leave people are rarely the highest paid employees
  2. stagnation and uncertainty are what cause people to quit
  3. employee turnover is bad for morale and terrible for getting things done — losing and retraining institutional knowledge is painful

So what do you do? Focus on eliminating bullshit (sorry, Mom… bad language alert). And unfortunately, like actual shit, work bullshit is often messy and is made worse by the choices you make day after day. If you just eat cookies and don’t exercise, things aren’t going to go well.

Bullshit is:

  • meetings that don’t have agendas and end without clear or useful takeaways
  • expecting people to manage their own projects effectively and still be 75+% efficient
  • not being clear about the future — when a stagnating group is looking at an unclear future, they tend to spend large amounts of time charting their own course and speculating on what the future holds
  • not being clear about where people stand
  • thinking of people as worker-bees instead of individuals with ambition that goes beyond the task at hand
  • hiring people without knowing what they’re going to do, or to perform a task you don’t at least conceptually understand

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Rand Fishkin’s Lost & Founder the last couple days and what I’ve learned is that every startup runs into variations of the same issues. Even the good ones.

Motivating people, moving projects forward, and cleaning shit is very hard, especially when the initial growth ramp starts to level out. The trick is… well, there doesn’t seem to be a trick. The “shortcut,” as the book puts it, is to become hyper-aware of your failings and the struggles of your brand, then do everything in your power to fill the gaps. I’m summarizing here, but Rand writes that being a CEO/manager is a really hard job, and brands are usually direct reflections of their founders/leaders. You’ll only be good if you can retrain yourself away from “I started this company to do what I love” to “I get the most satisfaction from empowering others to succeed.”

It’s a good lesson, and a really good book. I recommend it.