Lean Holiday Giving for Startups

Lean Holiday Giving for Startups

Posted by: Gillian Muessig & Anne Kennedy on Wednesday, December 21, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

It’s that time of year when founders think about how to reward our teams with some kind of seasonal gift and recognition. You know – the Season of Giving. Recognize a year of hard work on the part of your team. Acknowledgement and gratitude should be a daily activity for everyone, from CEOs to new team members. But at this time of year particularly, we need to focus on gratitude for others. Focusing on how to rewards others – especially those who have worked so hard to make our dream company come true this past year, is a critical task for December.

Hmm . . . Parties. Bonuses. Gift cards… the imagination reels… but wait! What if your startup is lean, as in “we have NO CASH?!” Of course you need to be creative. Let’s break it down to get some answers for startup founders.

First, understand there are two stages of startup development, and two different ways to handle rewarding your team in a festively appropriate way.

If you are a truly early stage, still pre-revenue and pre-funding, most likely not yet paying yourself, your employees, or perhaps only your sole employee – we’ve all been there –  your team must be working for you from deep dedication, passion and a belief in you and what you are doing together.

This dedication deserves some kind of recognition. Even if you can’t afford to purchase anything, there are many non-cash ways to acknowledge, reward and thank your people. After all, you probably would not have a business without them.

How about extra time off? Or carry the thought into the new year with the gift that keeps on giving: establish flexible work hours and space and a Results Only Workplace

Another way to celebrate is to share a meal together. It doesn’t have to be expensive; pot-luck will do, and in fact people often love to show off and share their culinary talents.

Organize service events. In the early Moz years a group went to help bag food at the local Food Bank. Others cooked holiday meals in various parts of the city for less fortunate people. Some drove meals to shut ins. Some visited nursing homes and some helped out at other public events. The point is to volunteer together and mark the season and a year of hard work with something special.

The second stage is where your company has a little money, but still not a penny to spend, and certainly no funds for significant end-of-year bonuses. This is where small gifts, even as little as a check for $50 will make a big impression. It really is the thought that counts. Even only a little money helps make it easier for the team to make the holidays happen for their families.

More ideas:

  1. Close early the day before the big holiday break. Oh, and you ARE closing down for a holiday break aren’t you?
  1. Find out what your team members’ favorite cause is and make a donation.
  2. Give your unused airline miles or hotel credits. Check your accounts; you may have to use them anyway before they expire. 

 But, you ask, why can’t a startup simply hand out shares for holiday compensation? You know, stock?

Not so fast. That’s a slippery slope on so many levels. First, you don’t want to dilute corporate value for investors or for yourself/team. Second, stock as a gift lacks the glow of a gift because it is by definition only going to come into its value in the future. Stock is compensation for work performed or cash infused. Don’t mix up expressions of gratitude with compensation for work performed. A pot-luck supper or shared experience boxing food for people who can’t afford a trip to the supermarket will bond your team much more. And do some holiday good as well. Everybody wins.

The holidays are famed in psychology and literature for depression and loneliness. So how to we keep spirits glad and going, when our startups have no means to compensate our hard working teams?

This is as good a time as any to bring up the subject of burn out—for we know this is a problem in startups. Burned out teams and, worse, burned out founders, ten to do irreparable harm to their companies. Whether this is a Limbic brain survival response we’ll leave to the neuroscience crowd. Let’s talk about how to avoid getting to that low point, a point which seems far more prevalent at holiday time. Or is it the looming and of the year?

So, how do you avoid burn-out? Burning out yourself and your team? Inc. Magazine recommends a series of “8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 a.m.

After enough sleep – at least seven hours, which we have spoken of here often – the one that caught our eye was #2 “Payer and Meditation to facilitate clarity and abundance”. According to the good folks at Inc. Magazine, prayer and meditation facilitate gratitude, and gratitude creates an abundance mindset. In fact, they editors say “Gratitude may be the most important key to success.

 Let’s stop and repeat that.

Gratitude may be the most important key to success. Among many, this is the one that really matters. It has been called the mother of all virtues. Gratitude is contagious. Inc. recommends that you put yourself in a space of gratitude and clarity each morning; doing so you will attract the best the world has to offer.

Wishing you very Happy Holidays. We’ll be back next year!

PS: If you are concerned about burnout, here’s a handy self test to see if you are really burned out or just lazy.

Hint: if you are a startup founder the latter is very much less likely.


Based on a CEO Coach Podcast broadcast on Cranberry.fm December 19, 2016


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