Building a Team That Sticks Through 2017

The end of a tumultuous year is coming quickly which means that we are turning ahead to the future, to 2017, and all the promise that it offers. It’s always a valuable exercise at times like this to look back at what we learned, mistakes made, and how we can strategize for success moving forward. We’re going to make that exercise our focus at 13p5 for the next few weeks as 2016 winds to a close, focusing on the various problems that your startup might have run up against this past year, and how to fix them in the next. First up: employee turnover.

It’s no secret that turnover sucks for everyone involved. The process of combing through applications, vetting, interviewing, and training new team members can be a huge drain on time, bandwidth, and other resources.

While new blood and new ideas can be energizing in the right circumstance (hopefully to account for growth and increased demand), you generally want to balance that with veterans that will help define the shape and culture of your business.

Too much turnover can be destructive to your business if new team members can’t learn and grow comfortable with the way that your startup is running. It takes time to settle in, and it’s a big help when you have experienced people there to smooth that process out for new members.

What you want to create is an environment of investment--a place where people are genuinely excited about their work (and the people they are doing it with), rather than punching in and fulfilling their prescribed set of tasks day in and day out.

Creating a business that people want to stick with isn’t easy, but there is a path to achieving it. To start, let’s look at some of the main reasons why people will leave your company behind, and see what we can do about.


There’s no getting around the fact that pay is a big, fat reason why and where people choose to work. There’s only so much you can do to mitigate this factor, and we’d rather focus on other, more actionable pieces, but there are some best practices to at least be aware of how money might influence your turnover.

The best thing you can do here is to learn what the standard rates are for your industry. Take a bit of time to educate yourself on what kind of compensation, benefits, and perks the most likely competition is offering. While you may not be able to match everything, this should at least give you a sense of what you should be hoping to offer your team moving forward.

Another valuable effort is to survey your employees on how they feel about their pay (and the other aspects of their working experience). Even if you can’t necessarily match their expectations, just showing a conscious awareness of any issues can pay dividends in its own right.


But money isn’t everything. A Gallup poll in early 2016 found that while millennials do still value the paycheck, they also place great importance on opportunities to develop, quality of management, and interest in the work itself. Unlike money, these are elements of your business that you really can change for the better with a bit of work, and they really do matter.

We hear a lot that employees want to be “engaged,” but what does that mean exactly? In a basic sense, it is simply an excitement to get up and go to work every day. If the space that your business exists in isn’t very interesting, and the tasks are monotonous, this can seem impossible to achieve. Spoiler: it’s not.

One of the key things that team members look for is a challenge. People want to be pushed, want to test their limits, and see what they are really capable of. Don’t be afraid to give team members that if they are clearly eager to take on more.

Give team members a problem and let them flex their own muscles in trying to solve it. If they need help and guidance, be there to offer it, or foster an environment where they know they can look for that kind of help elsewhere. A pervasive sense of support and teamwork when a task becomes too much is just as necessary as a good challenge.

Don’t let any employee live on their own island. While it’s often good to get away and to focus on the work, make sure everyone has time to come together, communicate, and work through problems as a collective. The simple act of conversing and thinking through problems can be a huge factor for engagement in its own right.


At the end of the day, people want to believe that they are working toward something--that what they are doing actually matters. You don’t have to be changing lives in obvious and tangible ways to create a space where people can feel that way.

Meaning can be created in the smallest of ways. Simply take the time to keep your door open, talk with your employees regularly, and get their take on various challenges. If you consistently reinforce the idea that everyone’s contribution really matters, they will live up to that expectation.

One of the ways to do that is to let people get involved in the big stuff. If you’re a small startup in particular, let everyone in on the brainstorming process. Even if the ideas don’t amount to much, people will rise at the chance to exercise different muscles, and they will take that energy back to the rest of the work they are doing.

Last, but not least, make sure that your company has a clear purpose that everyone can understand and appreciate. It doesn’t have to be anything lofty. Again, you don’t need to be changing lives.

Think of your mission like a story. What kind of story interests you? Surely one where there is adversity to overcome, at least. Situate your business and the people in it as the heroes that can defeat whatever obstacle comes their way, and you have all the purpose you need.

From the smallest roadblock to the biggest test, unify your team in the trust that you are all going to work together to battle past every trial. If you can make your business a story then your team will be ready to stand up and fight with you at every step of the journey.

— ZK

Ed Lynes13p5Comment