Leadership · Fundraising

What can I do to increase company morale during tough times?


July 26th, 2015

I know I’ve hired motivated and passionate people because I see them work everyday and can see how much our product means to them. But recently, our funding expectations and prospects have been coming in slower than we were hoping, and have been offering less across the board. This is our first seed round, so that could be part of the reason, but we were hoping to raise a certain amount so that we could invest a certain amount back into the product and continue building. We are okay for now, but I want to keep my team motivated to continue pushing until we DO get the funding I know we deserve. In other words, I don’t want them to take this last round as a let down for the awesome work they’ve put in thus far. Thoughts on how to improve morale and continue motivating my team to put in the great work I know they can?

Stevan Vigneaux Director of Product Management and Marketing at Mimio

July 26th, 2015

Honesty, honesty, and more honesty are fundamental.  Nothing is harder for people than uncertainty.  Being "in the dark" is much worse than knowing "how bad things are" so always be honest and forthright (which is different from merely being honest).

Tell people where things stand, tell them what you and the leadership team are doing to get everything back on track, admit where you may have failed and/or where something you were working on turned out to be a dead end. And report every single week. 

And then focus on the good things that are happening and be sure to celebrate them.  If engineering finished a scrum early - celebrate and honor the engineers who went above and beyond."  If an unexpected sale came in - celebrate and honor the salesperson who made it happen.  If cash from a sale came in sooner than expected - celebrate and honor the finance people (who just about never get an "atta boy").

If staff cuts turn out to be necessary, cut enough so you won't need to cut again in 45 days (cutting X people every couple months is much more damaging to morale than cutting 3X all at once).  Never, ever, ever tell those being let go, or those remaining, "this is very painful for me."  The people being laid off are going home to tell their families they no longer have a paycheck.  You are still getting one.  This is one of those times when it is so definitely not about you.

If the very worst happens and you cannot keep the company running - stand up and take the bullet.  In the end, it's your fault.  Maybe you didn't cause whatever made things so bad.  But it was your job to either prevent it or fix it.  But you didn't.


Ted Neward

July 26th, 2015

You cant. Seriously, you really cant motivate people. Or, rather, you can offer things that will seem to motivate them (extrinsic motivation), but its not nearly as effective as motivation that comes from within them (intrinsic motivation). What I think you really want to do here is let them know that their professionalism is noted and appreciated. How you do that depends on the group, but why not do something radical, and just ask them? Seriously, sit them down for a half-hour, tell them that you know things havent gone as well as youd all hoped, but that you appreciate them and their willingness to stick with you through this, and ask them, point-blank, what you can do to help them stay focused through the next n number of hard months. I think theyll appreciate the honesty and frankness, and probably come up with a few ideas that youd never imagined. Which has the added benefit of showing that you respect their opinions and are actively listening to them. A two-fer, as they say. :-) Ted Neward Software Development Author, Speaker, Mentor, Manager http://www.newardassociates.com t: @tedneward | m: (425) 647-4526

Taj Sateesh CEO at Sphinx Resources--The Preferred Recruitment Partners in Hi-Technology R&D & Manufacturing

July 27th, 2015

Ted is absolutely right.
Motivation [IF you want it to stand for a long period] HAS......repeat HAS......to come from within. Any amount of extraneous efforts will only give you short-term results [if that's your intent, then it's OK].

Suggest create conditions where they become a 'part of the solution' than being a part of the problem......from YOUR perspective, that's what they are right now.
Like Stevan mentioned, you need to be BRUTALLY honest with them....about where things stand, what are you doing about it, what's YOUR prognosis, etc.

I have seen situations where the lowest guy in the ladder can come-up with such gems of advice that you MAY end-up feeling 'why didn't this occur to me in the first place'.
Quite often, many crucial aspects of a situation MISS the ones closest to the scene handling it [sort of nearsightedness where one can't see the other aspects of the situation] that the others in the team CAN SEE.
And the added advantage....from a management perspective.....of involving the team in this is that you create a 'sense of belonging'--something that CAN'T be done in any other way. One doesn't share & ask for advice from 'outsiders' in critical situations......right?
That's what I guess Ted meant when he says 'added benefit of showing that you respect their opinions and are actively listening to them'.
However, after such an interaction, sometimes there COULD be people who might think 'this is too much for me to handle', for whatever reasons, and MAY want to quit. Suggest DON'T STOP them, unless he/she is too valuable for the Company--in which case, you would need to find other ways to hold them.

As far as appreciation & celebration goes, look for ways that don't take a lot of money.....there are many ways to do it without blowing a hole in your pocket. One way I found very effective has been to RECOGNIZE THE EFFORT PUBLICLY, with outsiders if you can.
For eg, introduce the guy responsible, let's say for some critical S/W, to the end-user/outsider/client: Hey! he's the guy who did it. That works wonders to pep-up the motivation levels without spending a dime. [this also inculcates a healthy competition within the team....but that's not your focus now].

In case you are looking for very specific situations to be handled, suggest post the details here.....I am sure the members of this Forum will be able to give you very actionable suggestions.

All the Best.

Richard Harris Top 25 Inside Sales Leader, Public Speaker, 40 Most Inspiring Leader, Sales Trainer, Start-Up Advisor, SalesHacker

July 26th, 2015

I agree with the honesty and sincerity approach. If you funding issues mean you may not be able to make payroll in the next 30 days then you need to be fair to everyone. 

I would also remind them why you are so confident. Remind them how you are disrupting the market. Talk about your differentiators, talk about the wins you've had, talk about times you beat the competitor. 

Gil Allouche Founder @ Metadata

July 26th, 2015

The best way I found to fight startup depression & increase and maintain company moral is show progress -- and celebrate it (show customner interest, an article published about you, a webinar you got attendees for etc), also the use of peer companies help. (e.g. eat24 & pof never raised money and sold for 100s MM) Gil | metadata.io

Michael Barnathan

July 26th, 2015

Sometimes reasserting the scale and impact of the mission (e.g. why most of the people probably signed up!) helps in such situations. That and pizza parties :)

Alex Place

July 28th, 2015

I agree with the advice above (it is great!)

1. Honesty
2. Communication
3. Tell them what you are going to do in order to rectify the situation. What other conference are you going to go to in order to find an investor, etc. 

Greg Sutton CEO at TinyEYE Therapy Services

July 29th, 2015

Building a business is always very scary when you take your eyes off of the goal. It is important to keep your team in the loop, however, only one person needs to bare the burden of your situation - and that is you.
- Keep your team focused on achieving their outcomes and do not distract them with the stress or your reality.
- Be positive about the future and build momentum.
- A leaders role is to do the things that everyone else should be doing - so bare down, get to work .
- The best way to raise money is through customers, not investors. Go to work an hour earlier everyday and spend the first part of your day doing cold calls. Even if you product or service is not ready, you can still find beta customers.
- Stay an hour later everyday and send cold emails.Get selling!

When you are going through hell - keep going.

Good Luck