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The Startup’s Greatest Asset – Employees!

Entrepreneurs need to take care of the well-being of their employees to make a successful startup, and not just focus on the "superstars" that were brought in.

Global Influencer

Global Influencer
Global Influencer

Once your startup gets past the early stages of development and has raised some capital you will need to hire some employees. Heaven forbid if any are more experienced than you but you may be counting your lucky stars if they are – can you handle it?

In the first seed round you will be hiring people like programmers and marketing people to get you to the next level. The problem starts to arise in subsequent seed rounds where the logical hiring needs are in upper management.

The logical assumption is that if your business is booming you may reach the Peter Principle where your ‘senior guys’ have reached their level of incompetence. This need not be a bad thing; it’s just a matter of experience and making changes in order to expand the business.

I’m not saying get rid of those employees either. It just makes good sense that if your finance guy is not CFO material bring in a guy to replace him while keeping him in a less responsible position. You’re going to need him down the road.

You need to look at these new hires in a different way to keep the business happily moving along and you really can’t afford to doubt yourself along the way.

So, now it’s time to pump up your ego a bit, operative word ‘bit’. Ask yourself why you started the business in the first place and what brilliant mind came up with the idea. If the answer is you; pat yourself on the back and take a well-deserved bow.

Even if you hire some superlative senior employees you will be fine as long as you remember that it was your idea and you are the CEO. Hopefully you didn’t get there on your good looks! Don’t doubt yourself! One of my favourite sayings is “Doubt Kills the Warrior.”

While we are talking about employees, remember that you must take care of the well-being of all employees to make a successful startup not just the superstars that you have brought in.

I had a wonderful administrative assistant, LH, when I ran my business incubator. She did her job with exceptional prowess for three years with little complaint. When I was in a position to hire business coaches I advertised for four in the newspaper. LH passed me her resume.

I was amused that she thought she could coach businesses on everything from personnel to finance and marketing. My amusement turned to consternation when I read her ‘revised’ resume showing that she was a certified coach with experience that she had omitted when she had applied for the admin job years earlier. She wanted the job and according to her, she had ‘dummied’ down her resume.

It’s an extreme example of maximizing your employee’s strengths because even though she showed exceptional skills in admin I would never have known. Of course, I hired her for the coach job and was grateful she was as good as I had hoped.

I always tried to find projects for my staff that matched their skills and even made them extend themselves into those grey areas that made them think. I’d send junior employees off on conferences and workshops making them aware that I was proud of their performance and was willing to acknowledge them. No one wants to go to work in a dead-end job.

What motivates an employee needs to be on the edge of your mind at all times. Recognition, responsibility, money, respect are all motivators but you will need to know what makes each one tick so they will work hard for you and your startup.

I had an assistant who would walk over broken glass for me and did on occasion. She had my undying respect and to this day I think of her fondly as it was a mutual thing. She had a work ethic that was always recognized.

I had another programmer who worked for me who was an early adopter type personality. I always made sure he had the latest software, hardware and sent him to the workshops to match the technology. He couldn’t or wouldn’t go anywhere else to work because he was in charge of his own destiny at my business. He bought the technology for the company. There would be few startups that gave that much responsibility to a programmer.

Management is a social art and being able to get the most of each employee is an art. While hard skills are necessary for every job the soft skills can take an unmotivated employee to the next level of being a great-motivated one.

Mary Kay Ash, of “Mary Kay Cosmetics’ once said, “People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.”

People are human capital, it makes sense to invest in them, and do whatever you can to try and improve their productivity on the job.

The correct motivation can take an average employee above and beyond what’s expected of them and take risks or do things outside of their job description because they want and feel inspired to do more.

Proper motivation on the founder’s part has many benefits for the startup including better job performance, and, above all, job satisfaction. I ran my incubator of ten years. None of my employees had been with me for less than five years.

Getting back to those senior employees with whom you are still trying to come to grips with there is a piece of advice that will keep you in good stead as long as you remember it. Know what you don’t know and don’t fake it!

Experienced guys will get it right away and you will lose respect in a heartbeat.

So it all comes down to a few things for consideration. Don’t hire the cheapest, take care of the ones you rely on and treat them with respect.

As a startup founder you may think this is a 3-5 year deal but for others it’s their life.

Gary is CEO of Bizzo Management Group Inc. in Vancouver. He has mentored over 1000 business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs. London-based Richtopia placed Bizzo on the Top 100 Global Influencers in the World for 2018.