This abstract is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

This study explored whether and how startup leaders in China use motivating language to foster relationships between startups and their employees. Startups are defined as privately-held, small-to-medium-sized enterprises which are less than ten years old and driven by innovation and tech. Because startup leaders are key decision-makers in creating and growing startups, their communication with employees can significantly impact startup culture, identity, and employee attitudes and behaviors. Researchers examined entrepreneurs’ leadership communication from the use of three types of language:
direction-giving: when leaders give clear directions and explanations on tasks and reward system
meaning-making: connect employees’ values with the startup’s values
empathetic: provide emotional support to employees

The authors also investigated whether motivating language affects employee-startup relationships. Employee psychological need satisfaction (i.e., needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness in the workplace) and organizational identification (i.e., employees’ sense of belonging with organizations) were proposed to explain why leaders’ motivating language can cultivate quality employee-startup relationships.

Researchers recruited 1,027 startup employees in Mainland China through an online survey. The average age was 30 years, and 55% were women. About 27.6% of participants were founding members, 34.8% were mid-level managers, 25% were lower-level managers, and 11.5% were entry-level employees. More than half (52.6%) of the startups where participants were employed have been established for five to ten years.

Key Findings
1.) Chinese startup CEO use of meaning-making, empathetic, and direction-giving language effectively and directly fostered quality relationships between startups and employees regardless of employee job position levels. Because startups often lack an established corporate brand and culture, CEO use of meaning-making language can be instrumental in helping employees make sense of the work they do.
2.) The use of motivating language from startup CEOs also facilitated employees’ psychological need satisfaction and their identification with startups. This type of leadership communication is well suited for the new venture environment, which is often filled with challenges, uncertainties, and setbacks due to the fast change of market and lack of resources and experiences.
3.) Employees’ psychological needs and organizational identification, in turn, nurtured employee-startup relationships.
— When employees’ psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are satisfied, they are more likely to identify with the startup and develop better relationships with the organization.

Implications for Practice
Startups leaders should 1.) recognize their roles as strategic communicators and proactively develop effective communication skills with counseling from communication professionals, 2.) be aware of the importance of using meaning-making, empathetic, and direction-giving languages in their day-to-day communication with startup employees to communicate culture, values, purpose, genuine care and support, and clarity, and 3.) develop communication strategies that can increase startup employees’ feelings of autonomy, competence, relatedness, and sense of belonging and pride.

Men, L. R., Chen, Z. F., & Ji, Y. G. (2021). Cultivating Relationships with Startup Employees: The Role of Entrepreneurs’ Leadership Communication. Management Communication Quarterly. Online Advanced Publication.

Location of Article
This article is available here.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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