Employee Retention and Engagement in the New World of Work

Here’s why it’s time to prioritize real-time feedback and agile check-ins—and why you should rethink annual reviews for employees.
By Lindsey Marlowe

Last Updated: October 7, 2020

Published: April 19, 2020


On April 7, M13 partners hosted virtual office hours to discuss pressing challenges facing startup leaders today. As former founders and operators, our partners have successfully navigated periods of economic downturn, and have been sharing strategic approaches to finance, talent, data, digital marketing, and more.

Our Partner and Head of Talent Matt Hoffman discussed employee retention and engagement, as well as how to best position a startup organizationally during this time. Read Matt’s insights below, and scroll to the end of the article to watch our full office hours.

From a talent perspective, how can companies being founded now best position themselves for future fundraising?

Periods of uncertainty create incredible opportunities for new businesses and products to fit the new world. If what traditionally felt like a safe option is now itself uncertain, the risk profile has changed. You’ll see people who are more likely to stay in a comfortable role create new opportunities. This creates an entrepreneurial environment where new ideas can thrive.

If you're in a position to hire, now is the perfect time. The balance has quickly shifted from a market that favors employees to one that favors employers. And so companies can much more opportunistically access some of the best talent.

It’s not a surprise that when the world paradigm changes, new solutions iterate. And similarly, when things are more risky and uncertain everywhere, amazing talent is more willing to take higher risks.

Matt Hoffman

What do you think about performance management and also employee satisfaction and happiness now that many of us are in a remote environment?

Now is the chance to reset expectations. Leaders and managers should re-examine old, no longer operative assumptions about how the world works.

For example, it’s more clear than ever that success is not about how early you get in and how late you leave. It’s not about where you are and what you’re doing. It’s about the quality of your work and your output. It’s about the product you’re creating and the service you’re providing.

Three universal truths about driving performance:


Set clear goals


Give clear feedback on a regular basis


Prioritize constant cycles of communication and agile check-ins

These foundational tactics are more important now. You have to trust that you’re giving really clear direction because your teams are going to be doing their work asynchronously: So give clear guidance, but within that structure also give people space because there’s so much going on.

Mastering clear, consistent feedback loops is how companies will thrive in the new world.

Matt Hoffman

What is your guidance on annual review cycles?

I have never recommended annual review cycles not then and definitely not now. More than ever, we’re cognizant that the world evolves quickly, and our ability to predict three weeks in advance let alone three months in advance has changed. A long-term feedback cycle is not helpful for companies that are growing and adjusting every single day.

At a time where real-life connection has decreased, setting clear goals is key. We have to get better about giving feedback more quickly, more candidly, more agilely.

Thoughts on the future of work?

Leaders will become more flexible about when their employees are in the office and where work is done. Employees can engage if and when they manage their work-life balance. On the other hand, real-life connections will become more powerful and interactions that we may have once taken for granted will become more meaningful.

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