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Under Armour's Kevin Plank on How to Motivate Employees

Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, on motivating employees and improving employee morale during a recession.

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Q: I run a start-up. How do I keep my team motivated, passionate, and focused on our product in this challenging economy?

Ben Chase
co-founder
Enhance Films
Olathe, Kansas

A: Motivation, passion, and focus have to come from the top. I'm a big advocate of the power of positive thinking, particularly for small businesses. Your attitude is contagious. There's been a lot of negative news about the economy lately, but if you have a good product or service, I believe you'll find a way to make it. So keep on moving and don't use the economic climate as an excuse to fail. I'm convinced that there's no better time to start a small, nimble business.

You should also make sure you communicate with your team on a regular basis. When we had fewer than 25 employees, I brought the entire team together at least once a week. We'd talk about a lot of things, including major decisions that were on the table. I listened to everyone's opinions, and, without fail, they'd bring up things I hadn't thought of. More important, my team members knew that they were part of the process and that their voices mattered. Employees are more motivated when they feel needed, appreciated, and valued.

At our size now, it's tough for me to meet with all of the employees, but I still think face-to-face communication is important. We have casual gatherings a few times a month, called MVP lunches. I meet with six or seven people who have been identified as potential stars, and I just listen to them talk about what's working -- or not working -- in their departments. I learn a lot, and they get a chance to be heard.

I'd also recommend hiring employees who have leadership skills. At Under Armour, I call them engines, and I place them strategically around the organization. Look for people who aren't afraid to make the big, tough, decisions -- people who want pressure and responsibility. They are innately passionate and inspired, and they make other people want to work hard for them. When you find people with these characteristics, use them wisely. They'll certainly make your job easier, especially when it comes to keeping the rest of your team motivated.

Last updated: Jun 1, 2009




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