Startup Leaders: Get These Things Right For Your Staff

August 16, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

It’s easy to chalk certain things up to being at a startup. With everyone being stretched for time and resources, leadership often misuses the concept of “that just comes with the territory” to shirk certain responsibilities. It’s imperative that leaders get certain fundamentals right and make small, consistent, incremental improvements.

(as a note here: you’d never accept your staff not doing their job well because they’re “at a startup, and you know how it goes sometimes,” right?!)

Here are a few areas where I see this happen most frequently:

Communication & Engagement

To me, at its most barebones sense, this means tell your staff the truth and listen more than you speak. Too often, the uncertainty of the startup world leaves staff feeling like their manager is stringing them along and/or not listening to what they’re saying. If you’re a leader, trying to bolster your working relationship with your staff, I have two recommendations (these should suffice for most situations).

  1. Wait to even allude to upcoming changes or plans until you have solid confirmation and the “go-ahead” from whomever you need to sign-off on your plan or pitch. Throwing out a half-baked, little-to-no-detail idea is what’s going to lead to more questions than answers, increase staff’s sense of instability, and feed that “being strung along” feeling. Having details, descriptions, a timeline, and structure, will allow for a smooth roll-out with clear expectations and action items for everyone involved.

  2. If your staff is uneasy or upset about something you cannot change (often title, compensation, that sort of thing) just be upfront and let them know it’s not within your power to change those things. I know there’s a pervasive idea out there that middle management needs to “own” certain realities and policies, which is fine. But, when someone asks to negotiate, or why their title isn’t XYZ, and their manager isn’t the one who makes those decisions, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to pretend that that’s not the case. Transparency is a hot buzzword these days and is often used to make people feel good, but without a lot of reality behind it. Transparency means being open and honest, which is what I’d suggest you do in these situations. Truthfully explain why things are the way they are and what can or cannot be done. Having a clear, honest picture and lay-of-the-land will help your staff feel more secure that they can make decisions by knowing the full reality.

Mission & Values

Don’t have a company mission and values? You should. Your mission will help draw the right staff to you and will inspire consumers to use your product or service. Values will help your employees know what to prioritize in any given day, week, year, interaction, etc. It will also guide them toward what to do in uncertain situations. Values should be clear and actionable enough for an employee to answer, “here’s a hypothetical situation; based on our values, what should you do?”.

Review your mission and values frequently. If your path or initiatives are out-of-whack with either, you should change your mission/values or change how you’re operating. Few things are as frustrating or confusing as day-to-day operations not reflecting the company’s mission and values. This is one of those things that’s completely within your control, and you should get this right on an ongoing basis.


This should be obvious, but pay your people on time and correctly. Make sure you know who is ultimately responsible for processing payroll (especially new hires) and how to quickly and efficiently fix any errors that pop up. The last thing you want your staff wondering or worrying about is if they’re going to be paid.

This is only the beginning. If you’d like to discuss your startup, organization, or team in more detail, email me directly. I’m happy to see if I can help!