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entrepreneur magazine column
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what’s the motivation?
2012/12/10 0:00:00  from:china entrepreneur magazine

what’s the motivation?

by amir gal-or

you have just opened a new start-up company.  you want to attract skilled employees, who are both loyal and dedicated.   it is easy to verify if someone is skilled. but how can you measure in advance the probability of loyalty and dedication? what motivates a team to do their best and give their all - even in the face of adversity - money, status, the opportunity to learn and grow? yes to all of these things.  but are these the only factors of consideration? the short answer is no.

from decades of experience i have observed that in addition to the aforementioned motivators, there are circumstances where arguably stronger motivational forces exist and which guide the interests and actions of employees to great performance and company loyalty.   for example: the pursuit of adventure, one’s cultural predisposition, the desire to follow a charismatic leader, room for self- expression and freedom of action knowing you have the trust of the management, and being part of something greater than oneself – such as the legacy of a stable brand. these motivational factors can sometimes go a long way in helping a start-up to achieve success, but then again, sometimes not. 

let’s take two infinity portfolio companies as examples: revolver and proactivity.   in both cases, when infinity arrived on the scene, the companies were in trouble and quickly spiraling south. it looked like they were doomed to failure.  but every dark cloud has a silver lining.   in the wake of dismal circumstances, much to our surprise, the employees were willing to stay with the company, without a salary and in the midst of negative momentum.  why? there was a small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, with continued hard work and dedication the company could be saved and put back on the right track. in the case of proactivity, the effort paid off, ‘big time’.   proactivity racked up us$23m in sales in 6 months.  revolver wasn’t as fortunate. the company closed within a year.

when building  a team, it is best to choose professionals motivated by different drivers - meaning the key motivation is not the same for each person.  building a team this way helps the company to secure a better balanced and flexible organization that will not fall apart if a key factor cannot be produced or honored.  say money is the motivating factor for some employees and there is a year where cash is short due to rising product development and r&d expenses, should the company worry about a mass exodus of its employees? the short answer is no if there are those on the team who can be motivated by drivers other than money, such as adventure, love of change, or the promise of the possibilities that could materialize from seeing an effort through.

there is an interesting statistic that infinity calculated regarding portfolio companies backed by pure venture capital.  seventy percent of these companies start off with one product and end up with a totally different product or model somewhere along the way.  it is exactly for this reason that the human resources department of any given start-up must remain flexible and adaptable to change.  when hiring they must consider motivational factors knowing that the situation could change at any moment. this is key to the long term survival of a company.

think for a moment about the different styles headhunters and hr use to hire professionals for multi- national companies, be they manufacturing or larger organizations.  clearly their process and screening criteria are different from that of a startup or a growth company. but ask yourself, should it be? 

china has the largest pool of entrepreneurs in the world.   the good news:  the basic line of thinking and the various motivational drivers for these entrepreneurs are a great fit for start-up and growth companies.  the bad news: the education system and some parts of the norms of the society contradict this basic line of thinking as well as these various motivational drivers.   therefore, the challenge lies in the need to not only create and identify key team members with the ability and skill set to lead the company but to also be clear on what motivates them to come to work each day.

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