How to retain [good] people – the realistic approach

Retaining good people in your team is not an easy task, it requires a bit of luck, some realistic expectations, and a lot of self-control.

Before we start

  1. If you expect to find shortcuts or tricks on retaining good people, I would recommend looking elsewhere. This is about the realistic elements behind it rather than anything else.
  2. The environment that we are talking about is early to late-stage startups. An enterprise-level approach is a bit more complex and has more politics rather than realism. Maybe we talk about that on another day.
  3. I will be focusing on the core components that, in my view, are extremely important to retain good people, especially in a startup environment.

They are simple, yet brutal.


You retain good people by being transparent. At the stage of the startup that you are you need good people more than you need the money.

Communicating with them transparently on their job, where the company is going, your next milestones, and what their part is crucial.  

Transparent expectations

When working in a startup one expects to have to deal with multiple positions. Usually, these tasks in a big organization can engage a full-time employee, but for the time being, in a startup, they don’t.

Set your expectations and theirs straight. Make sure to encourage responsibility and obviously respect it if they are not willing.

Transparent relationships

Everyone wants to be respected and know where they stand. In a startup these are vital. Trust and respect can make or break an organization. As long as your job is not confined within specific lines (which likely it isn’t), then you have to communicate trustfully and respectfully.


As always employees are hired to do a job and get compensation as a reward. Let’s divide that into two parts


I will not extend too much into this, but in a growth situation, if you are considering your payroll as fixed costs, and everything else is growing you are doing something wrong.

The moment you introduce a more flexible approach to this, you make your company more agile and also your employees are rewarded.

In other words, if you are making money, your employees should be getting raises.


A reward is recognition, is communication and it is also having a company culture that goes beyond the financial compensations. From promoting internally rather than externally to perks, lunches, trips. You don’t have to go overboard, but even the simple things matter.

Work-life balance

People need to be able to breathe. Crunch times should not be a consistent thing. Expecting 100% results 100% of the time is unrealistic. Your employees are humans. They need to have their time to think, grow, have a baby.

It is tiring to think that, tomorrow, it will be the same amount of pressure, but a different project.

I am not even including in this the “extra working hours”, “working on vacations”, emails after hours. They should be unique situations, as they are completely unhealthy.

If you really really need to get this product out and people need to work crunch time for that continuously, then you had a bad business plan.