This article is written by Epic Presence.
A company isn’t made up of products, funding sources and business plans. A company is made up of people. The right team of employees and contractors can help a business grow and set itself up for success in the future.
SaaS organizations tend to attract motivated, high-performing people. The company needs these kinds of people to navigate its quick and challenging growth spurts. Still, how can you be sure that your teams are inspired to do their best work?
Inspiring employees is one of the most important things a company leader can do. There is a delicate balance between creating space for employee self-motivation while still ensuring your vision as a founder is executed. There’s no silver bullet solution, but there are some methods that have worked for other SaaS executives and leaders.
Here’s how you can inspire good employees to do great work.
Evaluate Yourself as a Leader Before Helping Others
There are countless factors that are out of your control as an executive, from macroeconomic market trends to the personal decisions of your employees. However, your behavior is entirely in your control. Before you look to change others, consider how you lead and what your employees need from you.
G2 cofounder and CEO Godard Abel employs a framework that he calls Conscious Leadership that reflects this idea. Conscious Leadership, as he tells Blake Bartlett at The BUILD podcast, has several key principles, all rooted in the idea that leaders cannot ignore the emotional aspect of leadership.
A SaaS executive following that framework would take on certain emotional responsibilities, such as:
- Attempting to remain “in a curious and open state in which you are open to learning and ready to listen.” The opposite of this occurs when someone is more focused on being right, which “leads to being angry and righteous.”
- Encouraging others to be their authentic selves at work, and having specific tools and methods for facilitating this.
- Taking the time to feel whatever it is you’re feeling as the emotion emerges. “If you try to avoid a feeling, you’re trapping the energy in your head, and that emotion can live on in you forever.” It’s better to let the feeling run its course, whatever that feeling is.
Griffin Parry, CEO of M3ter, a metering and pricing engine for SaaS companies, has made it a lifelong learning goal to balance humility with leadership.
“A good quality to have in a leader is to be humble, which means that you’ll listen to everybody and believe that you can find the right answers anywhere, but you also need to be self-confident because the buck stops with you and you have to make the decisions,” Parry says.
If your leadership style tends to be top-down, you may wish to try including employees in your decision-making processes. A participative leadership style may be more time-consuming initially, but can inspire employees to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities, building efficiencies in the long term.
Consider the Culture You Create
The next step is to look at your company as a whole. Your employees will reflect their current work environment.
You can set the tone for the culture in your company. You can identify how your employees work and what their expectations are. A valuable leader will be able to get to know an employee and create a successful environment for them.
In our chat with Darren Chait, he explains that the core elements of creating culture are an organization’s values, mission and vision. In a piece at YFS Magazine, he proposes a handful of values:
“Individuality, trust, support. Encourage risk-taking within reason. Value and reward talent just as much as cultural fit. Keep an open dialogue to not only foster transparency but creative thinking as well.”
Employees Reflect the People Who Surround Them
You can take steps to create a valuable company culture, but your employees will also play a role in your work environment. Valuable employees will support your goals and embrace your leadership ideas. These are the workers who can influence those around them and move your ideas forward.
“You need a special set of people: your champions and change agents, the talented people working in your organization today,” writes Marcel Schwantes, founder of Leadership from the Core. “You must rally these people, regardless of their hierarchical place or role in the organization. While not everyone will answer your call, the champions who do often lead by example and set the tone for kickstarting change.”
Some leaders have found that they can do more with smaller teams where everyone is on the same page, as opposed to larger teams that are disjointed and less motivated.
“I’m a real believer in teams,” says Parry. “I believe five great people beat 50 good people. I really believe that you can create environments that can get good people to deliver a great performance. That’s probably what I think most about: finding great people and putting them in environments where they can do their best stuff.”
People motivate people. When you work alongside someone who is inspiring you and challenging you, then you are more likely to rise to the occasion — and then turn around and inspire others.
Help Employees Break Out of Their Siloes
Another way to inspire employees is to challenge them to try new things and learn more about the business.
Without challenges and opportunities to grow, employees can become static. Even the best employees can simply do good work without pushing the company forward. In a corporate environment, everyone has their set roles. There is an expert for almost anything.
When a task needs to be done, employees identify the person who is best for it, making people more siloed in their work. Parry says this siloing is a reason people tend to stop learning mid-career.
In fact, when he left a large corporate setting to start his company, Parry had to unlearn this mentality and hire people who were comfortable taking on tasks that weren’t necessarily within their core competencies.
The flipside of this dynamic is trust. SaaS leaders need to be able to trust team members with higher-level tasks, and those leaders need to be able to let go of those tasks.
Cledara cofounder and CEO Cristina Vila Vives wrote about this at the end of 2021 in the context of scaleups. That’s the stage of growth at which a CEO should be able to hand off important financial decisions to the CFO.
“To get there, finance heads must dedicate time to fostering a healthy, transparent working relationship with leadership to build trust,” she says.
This is why company leaders like Vila Vives and Abel at G2 spend so many resources on creating cultures in which people can trust one another.
At the SaaS company’s next stage of growth, from scaleup to eight-figure ARR numbers, it’s team leaders who are having to make these delegation decisions. For them to do so — i.e. for them to challenge and inspire their team members — there must first be a culture of trust and empowerment in place.
Support Your Team Members Outside the Office
In the same way that your work culture inspires employees in the office, it also determines the work-life balance that your employees enjoy out of the office. Your employees need time to rest and recharge, otherwise, they’ll burn out.
“As tenacious as you may be, no amount of dedication or determination means you can be everything to everyone,” writes the team at training and leadership development company FranklinCovey. “If you’re stressed, tired, overwhelmed, distracted you cannot perform to the best of your ability.”
Not only should you encourage your team members to leave work at work (and to leave work in a timely manner each day), but you should actively support your employees in whatever they do in their personal lives. No one wants to feel like they should be ashamed of their hobbies, friends and families because their employer demands their full attention.
Professors Lauren C. Howe, Jon M. Jachimowicz and Jochen I. Menges write at the Harvard Business Review that the best jobs often have an undervalued perk: They leave people room to pursue their personal passions.
“That is, many employees may benefit from viewing their jobs as conduits to pursue their passion outside of work, and jobs that allow employees to do so may not only draw in talented employees, but can help them maintain their productivity and well-being over the long-term.”
The authors note that achieving this kind of employee support is as simple as giving planned time off to an employee who wants to coach their child’s soccer team.
It’s not always easy to create a work environment where employees feel empowered to do great work. However, if you approach your business with a growth mentality, you can take steps to keep improving and inspiring your team. If you set your employees up for success, they will do their best to make your vision a reality.
Images by: rawpixel/©123RF.com, fizkes/©123RF.com, Campaign Creators
Our return to Dublin will bring with it many ways you can connect with likeminded people and peers in SaaS. Find out 10 ways how we’re facilitating human connections (not just meetings) at SaaStock 2022 in Dublin. Read our blog post.
Get your tickets to SaaStock 2022 in Dublin this October, to experience:
“The best SaaS conference for SaaS founders, VCs and execs in Europe. Period.” – Christoph Janz, Managing Partner, Point Nine