• Thomas E. Anderson, II

When the Founder's Vision Stops Motivating the People


According to The U.S. Census Bureau, there were 5.83 million employer firms in the United States in 2014. Companies with fewer than 500 workers accounted for over 99% of those businesses, while firms with less than 20 employees made up 89.4 percent of businesses.[1] The majority of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses.


A study conducted by Manta-Dell reveals unique insights into the lives of small business owners (SBOs) and entrepreneurs.

  • 37% of SBOs started their business in response to a lifelong dream, or a need for personal fulfillment

  • 46% of SBOs plan to grow and expand their business in the next 5 years

  • 2% of SBOs considered hiring employees as their first priority when starting the business

There are certain insights that can be gleaned:

  1. SBOs did not find their previous jobs personally fulfilling.

  2. They started their business to increase their personal fulfillment and achievement.

  3. SBOs consider their businesses as extensions of who they are

  4. Many small businesses revolve around the founder.

  5. Many SBOs play multiple roles (founder, chief executive).

  6. Many SBOs have a strong emotional connection to the vision of their business.

The vision of entrepreneurial companies is largely based on the founder’s vision. Founders often start companies to vision for their lives. And this vision successfully motivates the founders. They spread motivation and emotional connection to the vision among their top management teams (TMTs). And the founders vision motivates them as well. Somewhere along journey of vision realization, the people become less motivated by the founder’s vision.


What is a company to do?


Teaiiano is pioneering vision-based leadership solutions to assist fast-growing companies in transforming the vision into one that inspires each and every employee to bring their best selves to work every day.


Change is preceded by a precipitating event. Consider the small business owner who decides to launch out on their own and start a new business. 49% of SBOs were on their last job when they decided to start a business. They were at work. Something upset them/stirred them up. It could have been the desire to have more control over their financial future. Or maybe the inflexible company culture didn’t allow them to work from home. Or maybe because they didn’t have much say in the bureaucratic decision-making process. Maybe theirwork demands didn’t leave any time to do the things that theyloved.


Whatever the reason was, the SBO became dissatisfied with working for someone else. Whether that dissatisfaction turned to engagement is for them to say, however, the business was started in response to the need for personal satisfaction and achievement. They solved that problem for themselves, but the root of the problem still remained.


So let’s fast forward. It’s 5 years later. Their new company has grown my leaps and bounds. And then, the founder notices that employees are not as engaged as they once were. Managers begin to complain about their workload. Employees are taking half-days off to interview at other companies. Hiring, and especially retaining talented employees becomes a major challenge. The problem of dissatisfaction appears again. But this time the SBO is on the other side of the table. This is a pivotal moment. One that can make or break this next phase of anticipated growth. And the SBO is now in a position to make a difference for their employees in a way that their employer failed to do for them.


Or maybe you are a member of a top management team (TMT) at a larger organization. Your team has just emerged from the war room with a new strategic direction and vision for the future. This new direction challenges managers and employees to adopt a new way of doing things in order to transform the business. In response to this change in direction, managers askingworkers to go the extra mile for the company to make the change a success. Some employees stare back at you. Others dig their heels in. And there are still some that agree to go the extra mile, but fail to keep their commitments.

Now let me ask you: what do these two scenarios have in common?

(Hint: Employees are less likely to implement a vision they did not help create.)


Neither scenario involved team members in the creation of the vision they were expected to support.

If you are a small business owner or the founder of a startup, I can guess that you are thinking “I’ve never had a problem with this before”. Compared to large-bureaucratic organizations, employees who work for startups and businesses with less than 10 employees are generally more engaged. However, as the company grows and expands, and employees are in their jobs longer, engagement based on company size needs to be supplemented with more sustainable strategies.


Sustaining Employee Engagement with Vision-based Leadership

What sustainable engagement is not

Engagement is bigger than a program or special initiative. It involves more than keeping employees occupied until they’re needed to perform a routine task. Engagement becomes an initial action that is followed up by reengagement. This perspective of reengagement is crucial in times of change. In our current times, change is the norm. Problems are too complicated for a lone CEO or a handful of directors to tackle. To preserve their own well-being, it is imperative that leaders reengage their workforce to handle the increasing pace of change.



What sustainable employee engagement is

Vempati (2013) explains that satisfied needs no longer motivate employees.[2] Because compensation is a lower level need, it does not provide long-term motivation. Employees aspire to have higher level needs of self-actualization fulfilled through dream/goal fulfillment, thriving well-being and work-life balance.

Change in direction requires sustainable employee engagement strategy. For buy-in purposes. Engagement in what? In the vision development process. Not just one time. But through the lifetime of the organization.

[1]www.sbecouncil.org/about-us/facts-and-data/

[2]Vempati, A.S. (2013). A Modern Approach of Management in Motivation of Employees/Methods of Employee Motivation: A Modern Approach. Golden Research Thoughts, 2, 7, pp. 1-5.

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