In the hope-fueled honeymoon phase of your startup, your team probably has enthusiasm in spades. The challenges is channeling that enthusiasm into productive avenues.

Of course you want your staff to feel inspired and motivated, but if they spend too much time on big-dream schemes with little grounding in reality, you’ll burn through your funding pretty quickly with little to show for it.

That’s why it’s vital to help your team members focus their raw energy in ways that drive your company toward its long-term vision – but you don’t want your focusing efforts to make your staff members feel shackled. You have to walk a fine line between creative freedom and practical business matters.

Using OKRs

One way to get your team members focused is to follow Google’s lead and institute a system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Google uses OKRs to drive production and still manages to maintain an innovative, stimulating, engaging working environment – and that’s exactly the kind of situation your business needs.

So, how do OKRs work? Rather than just letting your team members work completely freely, you steer them with objectives and key results. That way, your employees get a little direction, but not so much that they feel stifled.

For example, rather than simply instructing programmers to “just code dude,” you might assign an OKR like this one:

Objective Q1: ‘Deliver Best-of-Breed Product’

Key Results Q1:

  1. Establish and itemize competitor features
  2. Itemize weaknesses and opportunities to improve product
  3. Prepare plan and budget to bring product up to standard
  4. Launch two new features from the plan

It’s recommended that you set OKRs each quarter. A year is a long time in business, and if you only steer your employees once a year, they’ll have plenty of time in the pursuing 12 months to stray from their course. In practice, an employee might have 4-6 OKRs per quarter.

Furthermore, research shows that companies that have quarterly objectives see 31 percent greater returns from their performance reviews than those that don’t have quarterly objectives.

Avoid Excessive Bureaucracy

MouseThere is a danger in bringing OKRs to your team. Your team members may chafe against the bureaucratic nature of the process. They may feel like all the fun and wonder has been drained from the workplace.

One way to ease the transition from honeymoon-period free-for-all to strategically driven OKRs would be to adopt a policy like 3M’s “15 percent time” or Google’s “20 percent time.”

Depending on how generous you are feeling, you can grant employees – perhaps the ones who actually excel in meeting OKRs – some time every week to work on side projects that can bring about improvements to the business. This gives employees some time and space to chase their dreams while ensuring that they spend the rest of their days in the office on tasks directly related to the company’s overall mission and vision.

If you don’t want to give employees too much freedom, you might want to put some light restrictions on your 15 percent time by assigning relevant OKRs. So, rather than saying, “Do something great!,” you could say, “Do something great that can increase product efficiency by 10 percent!” This directed free time allows staff members to be creative will still delivering results that serve the business.

Startups can be some of the most exciting places in the world, but they are fragile entities, especially in their earliest stages. If you allow your staff members’ energy and passion to run amok, you’ll all have a lot of fun, but you won’t have much to show for it.

Instead, it is your job as an entrepreneur to help your team members turn their fervor into some truly great.

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