How do you motivate your small startup team to put in everything they have, and how do you create a company culture that encourages this? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Michael Wolfe, five startups and counting, on Quora:

Your problem is very common with startup founders. You are obsessed with your startup. Your career, fortune, and even your identity are tied up in your company. You wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it then grind your teeth until dawn.

You are anxious your team doesn't care as much as you do. You ask why they aren't excited about how big of an opportunity you have? Aren't they nervous that the clock is ticking and you may run out of money? Don't they want to win the big deals?

I'm describing the feelings you want your team to have. But you are learning one of life's lessons, which is that you can try to tell people what to do, you can't tell people how to feel.

You want your team to feel like you feel. But your team is not you:

  • They didn't start the business.
  • They don't own as much of the business as you.
  • They don't understand the business as much as you.
  • They don't have the same emotional connection to the business as you.

You can never turn your employees into you, but can do a great many things to bridge the gap. You cannot control their feelings, but you can make a set of investments over time that will connect them to you, each other, and to the business:

  • Give everyone a healthy equity stake in the company. No, not as healthy as you, but large enough to be meaningful. Large enough that even if the company has a < $100M exit they make some meaningful cash. Large enough that you wince a bit when you see your cap table. You say "stock options only do so much," but guess what? More stock options do more.
  • Share everything about the business. Share your board meeting notes. Share the financials. Share what the competition is doing or what you learned in that last customer meeting you had. Never say, "if you knew what I knew, you'd care more." Instead make sure they know everything you know.
  • Be honest and vulnerable. Share the good days and the bad days. Share your hopes and your concerns. This builds trust and creates an emotional connection between your team, you, and each other.
  • Connect the dots for people - show how the projects they are working on right now will get you new users, lead to more funding, lead to the next phase of growth of the company, or whatever you mean by "inflection point." Can every member of your team describe the "inflection point" you described as well as you can?
  • Get to know your team personally. What do they do outside of work? What are their personal and professional goals? Show them how a successful startup will help them achieve those goals.
  • Connect your team to each other. Celebrate your successes. Plan happy hours and offsites. People often respond to peer motivation more than they do to the boss.
  • Focus on goals, not on effort. "Put in everything they have" probably refers to the hours people are working. But you don't want hours, you want to accomplish a goal. Ask people what the roadblocks are to that goal. Do they need better tools? Faster decisions? More help from you or each other? Find out and fix it.
  • Give people flexibility - some people are more effective if they work from home a day a week. Some are better in the morning. Give people more flexibility to set their schedules, and you'll probably get better results.
  • Find out what you can do better. If your team isn't motivated, the problem is you, so have regular 1-1′s with people, ask for feedback, and act on it.

Looking over someone's shoulder and telling them "work harder" accomplishes nothing, least of all for the kinds of talented and motivated people who you want are your company. Those kinds of people only respond to "why?"

Your job is to answer "why."

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Published on: Jan 15, 2016