When working to build an entrepreneurial medtech venture, life can be an emotional and exciting rollercoaster. As an entrepreneur, one of your biggest jobs is to build a team that performs. How do you keep your team motivated?
As I write this post, I’m sitting in London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 waiting for a flight to Madrid (client meetings). You can’t help but notice all the preparation for the London Olympic Games, and get a little caught up in the spirit. Earlier this week I also watched a documentary on the rise of Usain Bolt, called “The Fastest Man Who Has Ever Lived.”
Against this backdrop, I got thinking about what it takes to make your entrepreneurial venture win. Amongst all the hard work, grit and determination, at some point, it comes down to your team.
Individuals within a small emerging medtech team will wear many hats. No two days are the same — from fundraising to project management, R&D, discussions with vendors and potential partners, finance to HR and other admin issues. The environment lends itself to certain types of individuals.
Typical traits include: a desire to make a bigger contribution than possible in a large corporate; a certain level of autonomy; the potential to learn by wearing cross-disciplinary hats; and of course a financial motivation if it all comes good.
By thinking about my own experiences in working with entrepreneurial life sciences companies, and looking at others that do it well, here are 6 ideas about how you can motivate and incentivize your team to do their best work for you.
1. Chase a big dream – go after a big need, where lots of people will benefit if you’re successful, or a few people will benefit in an exceptional way. The benefit doesn’t have to be “sexy” (e.g. the next cure for cancer); but something that improves the status quo in a meaningful way.
Two medtech companies I’m working with at the moment include: a coatings company to prevent infection in medical devices; and a solution for hospital consignment inventory management. On the face of it, neither of these addresses a sexy need – but if they work they could potentially help hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Another company I worked with a few years ago included a biotech chasing a novel drug class for life threatening brain and lung infections.
2. Give people responsibility – let your team members own their domain roles. Of course, each individual has to plug into the broader team, and function as a cohesive unit. But hire people that are better than you within their area of expertise. Let them do what they do best. A great example of one of the CEOs I work with is someone who frequently asks “What do you think?” – people underestimate just how powerful this is (aside from opening your mind and being receptive to learn from others).
3. Give people autonomy – this goes hand in hand with responsibility. Quality people don’t want to be micro-managed. Set targets together (to a degree, even let them set their own if it meets your objectives) then let them get on with it. After all, they chose to work in an entrepreneurial environment over a more staid situation. And they know that their input can make a big difference to your company’s progress – so let them make it.
4. Opportunities to grow – entrepreneurial companies are a great place to learn new skills and see the much wider range of disciplines needed to make a company succeed. No team member is a small cog in a big wheel and no-one can hide behind mediocre performance. Equally, for team members that are enthusiastic, hungry and keen to learn, entrepreneurial companies are a great way to get noticed and build credibility by doing. Give such people the chance to develop.
5. Know your team dynamic – responsibility and autonomy are great, but within a small entrepreneurial team everyone is going to work together and get to know each other. It’s inevitable as so many roles cross over and individuals have multiple roles. So, while you want to hire the best people, you need to know your team dynamic so that each new addition to the team is a net plus. Its no good hiring a maverick loner superstar if he/ she cannot enhance and work with the rest of your team. As Michael Jordan said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
6. Share in the upside – If it all comes good, and your entrepreneurial venture makes it (likely through a trade sale in today’s market), share in the upside with your team which made it happen. It’s not just good karma. You have to be transparent about what each individual can expect as financial upside….and be upfront about it.
Companies that defer incentivising key team members risk losing them to other opportunities. After all, individuals could have gone to work for a “safer” situation where financial rewards are lower but more likely. But they didn’t. They came to work for you, perhaps on a lower rate, perhaps with some deferrment, perhaps with no certainty from month to month.
Somewhere, the economics of this higher risk situation has to account for this. How you choose to do it is up to you (and likely your board). Whether it be through success fee, performance bonus, share options, or other equity based mechanisms.
According to the documentary, even Usain Bolt made over $1 million in appearance fees alone over summer 2011. While this was not his primary motivator (money never is for the worlds best), his persistence and delayed gratification eventually paid off.
The best entrepreneurial companies implicitly understand the power of persistence and delayed gratification from its key team members. They also understand how to make this work as a core incentive for their teams, through sharing in the upside.
They don’t leave it to chance and neither does your competition. You shouldn’t either.
This post is by Raman Minhas.