In startups, it’s often all hands on deck, all the time.
Unfortunately, not all members of your staff have the same level of commitment you do—and burnout is a very real phenomenon. And as a leader, it’s not only your job to make sure your teammates succeed—it’s your job to curb overwhelm too. How do you make sure everyone is putting forth their best effort without going overboard?
Nine startup founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) offer their advice on being a more balanced leader.
1. Help Prioritize
When my team is spread thin, it’s my responsibility and that of my senior staff to help with prioritization. We let our team know we understand the burden that is on them and the stress they are under. Then, we ask everyone to itemize their to-do lists, and we work together to prioritize these items.
It’s not possible for anyone to do everything and do it all well. Productivity isn’t just about crossing everything off your list; it’s about being efficient, effective and focusing your energy and attention on the top priorities that will have the greatest impact on your company.
2. Find Obstacles and Clear Them
Picture it: The CEO has a schedule change and now wants to meet with another member of the leadership team. That team member then has to alter his or her schedule, and subsequently, everyone’s day is turned upside down.
Senior staff and leaders have to think through the impact of their actions on productivity. They should regularly ask staff what gets in their way each day. And if scheduling continues to be a problem, seek out company-wide suggestions to fix it. If employees are working too many hours, ask what’s taking up unnecessary time.
Employees are often fearful of speaking up because they think they’re the only ones facing an issue or they don’t want to be seen as the complainer. But if leaders regularly ask these questions, they can look for patterns among the team and fix them.
3. Use Creative Resources
One key way you can stretch dollars and handle growth crunches more smoothly is to be intelligent and creative in your resourcing. Most founders tend to go the full-time, salaried employee route first as a knee-jerk reaction.
Full-time employees are great and should always be considered for core roles. However, having lots of salaried staff can limit your flexibility and can also be very expensive once benefits and additional taxes are factored in.
At Speek, we hired a small, core team of full-time and salaried staff to start with. Once we had our core team, we started looking at freelancers, contractors, vendors, offshore companies and other options to handle our needs. These alternate resources can be point expertise and give you the ability to scale up and down with our growth.
4. Focus on Margin and Mission
An expanding business is great, but it can also be very stressful. It’s important to create processes that allow your team to feel supported during a period of high growth and vast opportunities.
For my company, I’ve found that the margin and mission approach works best. For every new opportunity that comes up, ask yourself, “Does this meet our mission, and does it meet our margin?” If it doesn’t do both, it’s not an idea you should pursue at the moment.
For example, I have a personal mission of empowering girls. I write a book series for girls, and even though it’s my passion, it fulfills my mission and margin requirement. You can do what you love, grow your business and embrace opportunities while still maintaining a margin and mission approach.
5. Be Understanding
Growing too big too fast places a huge amount of stress on your team, to say the least. When your team is spread thin and overloaded with work, it’s very easy to get frustrated.
Approaching issues with this perspective tends to shift the focus to the problem, rather than the solution, which creates even more stress. Understanding that everyone is in the same boat and empathizing with your team allows you to approach conversations and dilemmas with a clear mind. In the great words of Captain Jack Sparrow, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?”
Lead by example because this attitude inhibits productivity and clouds your judgement, rather than helping you and your team focus on what needs to be done to get out of this alive.
—Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize
6. Put Their Lives Before the Company
Sounds backwards for a startup right? I firmly believe that putting employees’ personal lives first yields more productivity, ownership and results. This can take many forms, but one major way we accomplish this at The Bouqs Company is through 100 percent flex hours and location. We trust our employees to manage their work in the best way possible, but we give them the flexibility to work where and when they want.
Asking employees to sacrifice personal time for their family, friends, a doctor appointment or whatever it is adds stress and pain to their lives. Giving them the freedom to make their own choices and execute the work at the time and place where they can be most effective is empowering and builds long-term trust and loyalty. Put their lives before the job.
7. Remove Hierarchy Within the Organization
For a startup, I believe it’s about removing hierarchy within the organization. People are most likely to become stressed when they are made to feel inferior. Give everyone a stake in the game, and create an office environment that buzzes with positive energy and momentum. They won’t have time to feel stressed.
8. Have Clear-Cut Roles
One of the quickest ways to cure startup stress is to have clear-cut roles for each employee. Have everyone make a list of their roles, and then share the lists at a staff meeting, so everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing. Then, have a file where the lists are kept, so employees can access them whenever they have a question about who is responsible for what. Not only does this help employees understand the structure of the company, but also it helps employees stay on top of their own tasks.
9. Prioritize and Outsource
Senior-level staff can help reduce burnout by asking employees to circle the items on their to-do lists only they can accomplish. Once managers realize which tasks need to stay with an employee, they can figure out how to complete the leftover tasks.
At ZinePak, we engage a variety of solutions, from Task Rabbit to freelancers, to help out when our staff is stretched thin. Although every item on a to-do list is important, it is the high-level ones that need to be completed with the most accuracy and usually by a specific person.