The secret of employee engagement in a startup environment is that there is actually no secret. It’s simply about getting your team members to “buy in” to your purpose, your mission. Because when this happens, the result is the evolution of your own, real and unique company culture.

How to cultivate employee engagement in a startup

Because, as we discussed in a previous post on cultivating an authentic company culture, when people share the same vision, and feel that they’re on a purposeful journey together, the sky really is the limit.

Of course you’ll always have certain members of your team who may be on board just for the experience. Or those that are there just for the money (really, at a startup? Strange but true), or as a stepping stone to somewhere else. But hopefully that will be the exception rather than the rule.

But even that is OK, because it gives startup founders, business owners, and administrative staff the chance to win those employees over. How? By fostering employee engagement.

Employee engagement in a startup environment: what is it?

Defining employee engagement is quite simple. It’s actually listening to your team members. It’s offering them a platform to air their views and have a say in how they shape how they work. And, this is the most important part, it’s actually genuinely caring about them as human beings vs. units of production. This includes helping them achieve both their personal and professional growth goals. Simple enough you would think, right? Sadly it is not always so easy in practice.

Why is employee engagement in a startup environment of particular importance though? Well, this too should be a no-brainer. The answer, in case you did not quite know, is that the success of your business depends on it. In startup teams, the need for camaraderie, team spirit, clarity and transparency, motivation, and a little TLC, is all the more important because of the size of the team. And without these elements, you will struggle to have an efficient, effective and happy bunch. The result? it’s an easy guess. Not a very successful business.

How to enhance employee engagement

With that said, you’re probably wanting to know some specifics about how to cultivate employee engagement in a startup environment. Well, thankfully we have a lot of experience in this area at Starttech within the context of our Venture Building program. But even beyond that, we like to think we do more than a decent job and that our team members are on board with us 100% and then some.

Yes, but how? What do you need to do?

First of, try these ‘10 commandments’ of employee engagement for size:

  1. Lead from the front and live your core values
  2. Respect your team members unconditionally
  3. Care about team members’ personal growth as much as their professional growth
  4. Give continuous feedback
  5. Give team members a voice
  6. Promote health and wellness
  7. Encourage experimentation
  8. Build relationships inside and outside of work
  9. Reward your team members
  10. Last but not least, address the work-laugh balance – i.e. make work fun

Now you’re after some specific ideas and examples, right? Here we go with some explanations of how we at Starttech do things in the form of some do’s and don’ts.


Do start with hiring the right people

No one can deny that when it comes to hiring you’ll probably look for the best candidates. But it can be really tricky knowing how to find a star employee. It’s your definition of best that can throw you off. Yes you need members of your team to check all the boxes in terms of qualifications and – more often than not but not essentially – experience.

But one thing we hone in on at Starttech, is character. And by this we mean attitude, personality, interests. Who’s the person behind the resume? We give a lot of emphasis on this aspect, sometimes at the expense of more years of experience or a qualification. But don’t worry, even if you don’t know the answer yet (for what kind of characters you want in your team), you should at least set the ground for it. Your employees should be a mirror of your company’s goals. If you hire and pay people only for their skills, the chances are that they will also choose you only for the attractive incentives that your offer.
Goals achieved.

Do create an on-boarding process for the new members

Make sure you have a specific, no matter how short or small it may seem, on-boarding process for new hires. At Starttech this includes things like a guided tour of the working and recreational spaces, and an introduction from the Venture Building team, reading list, BFF (best friend/buddy system) and more. There are heaps of other things you can do such as job shadowing, presentations of how you work, etc. The main thing is to give any new hire smooth and enjoyable time when they are getting their first impressions of their new workplace.

Do offer training opportunities

This one is essential. By having extra training opportunities available, be it formal qualifications or weekly Q&A’s and startup workshops with leading founders and investors from the local and/or global entrepreneurship ecosystem, it lets your employees know where you are and where you’re going as a company. You can subsidize part-time online courses for example, as well as provide mentor-ship and a reading library of work-related books for example, like we do at Starttech. At the end of the day, employee engagement in a startup environment is exposing your team members to new experiences, so that they can grow. So give them training and learning opportunities in any possible way.

Do include your employees in your company’s decisions

Your business aims to growth and scale up. Guess what? So do your employees. Let them know where the company is heading. This can come in the form of regular monthly or even weekly updates about the current growth state and future goals. Make sure your employees’ professional goals are aligned with your company’s goals. What is the company’s long-term plan? How does each one of your team members fit into that? All questions which can be answered by being transparent and discussing it in the open regularly. This also shows great respect and garners a culture of trust.

Do give and take employee feedback

How are each one of your employees going to achieve his/her goals? The answer is through feedback. By giving feedback you’re letting your employees know where they are heading and understand whether their results are being appreciated. You may choose to let this naturally happen as part of you cooperation during everyday transactions without the need to set up a separate formal procedure exclusively devoted for this purpose. This of course saves you time, is more flexible and also helps you avoid uncomfortable situations. But, some of your employees may prefer direct feedback as they might feel frustrated if not. And think of it in another way: you can’t be sure that the message transmitted is the one received – so like we do, go for the direct way.

Do offer company perks and benefits

And no, we’re not talking about ping pong tables and hammocks here. You can have those also if you want, but like us at Starttech, try to go deeper. Employee engagement in a startup environment means attracting and retaining good people. And to do this you need to offer them thoughtful perks and benefits. These extras usually come in the form of in-house activities, bonuses and gym allowances, etc.

The truth is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to satisfy everyone. Your employees are different people with different characters, ages, family circumstances, and of course, tastes. One may be happy and satisfied with a gym membership and yoga classes, while another may prefer flexible working hours and free beer on tap. If you’re not sure what to offer, do a survey with your current team members to get feedback.

At Starttech, we went down this route and came up with a holistic approach to perks which is based on well-being. From a free library, language and yoga classes, to free healthy snacks, nutrition guidance, a running club, and a mini-lab with 3D printers and other gadgets, we believe we have the right balance. There are certainly plenty of smiles and laughs around the place, and that always helps.

Do avoid micromanaging

This one is pretty self-explanatory. And it’s all about giving ownership to your employees and putting your trust in them to get things done. Micromanagement kills both productivity and motivation. And that’s a deadly combination in anyone’s book. When you don’t trust your employees and you stress them – and yourself – out over small tasks, then two things are for sure:

  1. First of all, maybe you’ve chosen the wrong people, and
  2. Poor results will be the outcome you’ll get.

And since here we’re talking about entrepreneurship and startups. It’s an arena where people deliberately choose a more challenging path. One that requires dedication and perseverance. You want people who are driven by self-motivation and a sense of achievement. People who are hard-working and goal-driven don’t need the kind of supervision and intervention that micromanagement brings. The result will be that they will search for another environment that will better satisfy their goals and aspirations.

Do criticize constructively and seek to learn not blame when mistakes are made

Mistakes will be made. That is a given. Especially in the microcosm of a startup, you are not going to get things right every time. The point is when somebody makes a mistake which costs the business, yes you can constructively criticize, but also seek the learning and not to blame someone.


Everyone always emphasizes on how important customers are for a company to succeed.But, the truth is that it’s your employees that should come first. Stephen R. Covey, a famous businessman and keynote speaker, boils this home truth down in this soundbite: “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers”.

We, for one, couldn’t agree more with this. If you managed to conquer employee engagement, then your team will buy into your business’ purpose with a passion. And you can’t ask for anything better than that.


Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.