One of the primary tasks of a startup founder is to keep her team motivated. While what motivates people might differ based on the nature of their work e.g. sales – commission checks, engineers – freedom to solve problems and build, what demotivates people tends to be the same. One big de-motivator for anyone working in a startup team is the founder who wants to do everything under the guise of having to do everything. The reason this is demotivating is because the startup founder is subtly telling her teammates that she can do things better, while this might be true, she also takes away the opportunity for others to contribute and improve. Its basically an act of mistrust. Instead the startup founder has to learn to share the work, which means that she has to become comfortable delegating.
Why bother hiring someone if you are going to do their work?
The point of having additional members on the team is to distribute the workload, not hire them and tell them they cannot execute. Distributing work makes the overall team productive, there isn’t a single person who is stuck doing a majority of the work, which means the team as a whole can avoid burning out, and each members feels like they are actively contributing to the success of the startup. This last point is the primary reason people join startups. People leave jobs where they feel like their contributions aren’t or won’t be recognized, for a startup where they will be able to contribute and see the end results of the contribution.
Trust in Delegation
Startup founders start to worry when an employee isn’t performing at the same level as the the founder. As a startup founder you cannot expect people to perform at a certain level. All you can do convey your vision, give employees time to come up to speed, explain what the project is, and give them tasks to execute. The level that they will perform will ultimately be driven by their abilities and motivation. It can improve to the level a founder would like, but it isn’t something you can force on a timeline. Employees who are given clear goals and freedom start to outperform the founder within 3-6 months because unlike a founder they can focus and specialize on a few key tasks or projects daily. But to achieve a certain level of performance the founder has to give her employees the time to be able to execute, make some mistakes, learn, and improve.
There may of course be employees who a founder hires that turn out to not be able to perform at all. In this case the founder does need to let the employee go. In a startup its hard to give someone who has been underperforming for a while time to make a comeback because their underperformance will affect the rest of the team, demotivating others, and holding up progress. Barring a genuinely underperforming employee, when a founder spends time doing the work of her employees work she’s basically done two things to hinder the progress of the company:
- She’s subtly telling her employee that she doesn’t think they are competent to accomplish the task.
- She’s not focusing on the primary things that only she is capable of i.e. growing the company, hiring, fundraising, motivating employees.
How do you delegate effectively?
Start by making a list of all the projects and tasks that you know you have employees who can handle them. Then proceeds to:
- Convey what the projects and tasks at a high level, i.e. do not concern yourself with how things get done, only care about things getting done. Leaving it to employees to figure out how things should get done is one of the ways to build a self-sufficient team. Otherwise they will always rely on you to make decisions.
- Set standards for what is acceptable and unacceptable quality wise. The best way to do this with new employees is to have them execute for awhile, and then check their work before half way through.
- Let your employees know that you are more than happy to offer assistance, if and when they become stuck, but they should come to you. This will minimize the micromanagement tendencies in a founder.
- Resist the urge to criticize. If a deadline is missed, or the quality of the work doesn’t meet your expectations, then give your employee the time to explain why. We all hate excuses, but it will be easy to spot those who are making excuses and those who are taking time to do quality work. The best time to ask is during a 1-1 rather than in a public meeting.
- Fill your plate! Go work on projects that only you can handle, and let your employees get their work done.