Human Resources, Startup Advice

Three ways to keep your team motivated, even when times are tough

Uzair Moosa /

motivated employees

Hey You chief executive officer Uzair Moosa. Source: Supplied.

Despite starting my career off in large corporations such as KPMG and Cisco 15 years ago, I always had an itch to make a difference in smaller companies and try something outside of my comfort zone. 

Through working with Flynas, a low-cost airline that was competing with the national carrier in Saudi Arabia, then Careem, Uber’s competitor in the Middle East, and now Hey You, I’ve quickly learnt the importance of being able to motivate teams in challenging times, even when it may seem beyond the capability of the organisation.  

Here are my top three tips to make sure your staff stay driven and focused on achieving shared results, despite the challenges that may come with running a startup. 

1. Invest in your people

This means spending on training when it’s necessary.

Both KPMG and Cisco were institutions that invested significantly in their people. At KPMG, every year employees were required to attend trainings that were in line with their job requirements and employees would be required to undertake them before they were promoted to more senior positions. At Cisco, employees could choose to invest in four weeks of online and physical training in line with their job requirements every year. 

While investing in such generous programs is definitely not as easy at startups, it’s important to make use of what you can. If finances don’t necessarily allow for a training budget, a useful way to do this is to share resources and knowledge, in addition to making use of free networking events and seminars through Fishburners, General Assembly and the Sydney Startup Hub. 

Perhaps introduce ‘lunch and learn’ sessions where employees can use their experience to teach others. This could be anything — such as how to build Excel models, create an event budget or run sheet, or tactical tips for time management. Hosting ‘lunch and learns’ with more fun and interactive how-to topics such as ‘how to flip the perfect burger’ (which we’ve done in the past), can make for refreshing Friday afternoons with the bonus of team bonding. 

Although utilising resources from the team is a wallet-friendly way to exchange skills, there’s a time and place for formal training. If you’re worried about staff being satisfied in their roles, for example, setting aside a budget for their career development would pay off in the long run. It’s important to give them the option of upskilling, especially during times that may feel a little wobbly. 

2. Set goals with employees

This is essential in showing staff they have a long-term place within the company.

One of the benefits of working in a big corporate organisation is there is plenty of clarity when it comes to longer-term goals. These goals can then be broken down into smaller, more meaningful goals for each region and department. A lot of emphases is placed on ensuring the organisation moves towards these goals. 

Despite this being a strategic way of working out the goals of a bigger corporation, for startups, it’s important to hone in on current staff and map out a future for them. 

If you’re falling under tough times pertaining to lower-than-expected revenue, or perhaps a key team member that contributed well to the culture of the company has left, it’s important to sit down with your staff and map out goals that benefit both yours and their interests. 

3. Focus on execution

Since strategy and planning is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s important to focus on the execution of the activity. Bigger companies have the manpower behind them to ensure the execution of plans is just as good as the planning. 

More often than not, resources are spent on brainstorming ways and means to solve a problem. What startups need to understand is coming up with ideas is the easy part, especially when you put a few of your best brains into one room together. The hard part is getting the entire organisation to work tirelessly to execute something in a processed and streamlined way, and that’s the difference between average and exceptional companies. 

Key things needed in a solid execution plan are communication, respect and a clear definition of roles within the project.

Delegation is also important and ties into role distribution, because teams that work well together understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Applying these to your teams when it comes to executing a problem can mean the difference between failing and succeeding, not to mention it will also make your staff feel heard and satisfied within their roles. 

And when the going gets tough …

… the tough get going. As typical as this quote may seem, the meaning behind it is totally true when it comes to motivating teams during tough times.

Employing staff that share the same vision for your company will help the most when you need all hands on deck, and combined with investing in them, setting goals with them and focusing on strategic execution, you’re sure to get through anything together. 

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Uzair Moosa

Uzair is the chief executive officer at Hey You.

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