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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin

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Updated: Jan 28, 2023

In working with founders and leaders, I often see considerable planning in growing sales and creating products but no strategy for developing people.

The caliber of your contributors has an enormous impact on your success as a startup. You can identify, support, and encourage high performance across the employee lifecycle. When you invest in strategies that encourage optimal performance, you facilitate growth.

In other words, supporting high-performing employees will drive productivity!

This article looks at recruiting, onboarding, reviews, and recognition to explore ways to optimize performance.

Employee Lifecycle

Recruiting. Hire new employees who will push everyone to perform better. Create a process to identify, screen, and hire people who are experienced, motivated, flexible, and intelligent.

Smart and ambitious new hires may be off-putting to current team members. As the leader, you can focus the full teamโ€”new hires and current employees alikeโ€”on collaboration, problem-solving, and scaling the business. In doing so, you create an environment that is incredibly rewarding for everyone as the company continues to grow.

Finally, hire people who will be impactful in the future. Based on your expected scale, look to people who are flexible, smart, and motivated, as they can tackle a range of problems tomorrow, many of which you cannot anticipate today.

Onboarding. Set a tone of productivity immediately by clearly defining expectations for success. Checklists should exist for pre-boarding, an employeeโ€™s start day, and their first few weeks. Every leader and team should be involved in explaining the best ways to get work done and how to optimize collaboration to set expectations for collaboration and productivity.

Check on a new employeeโ€™s progress frequently during the first few months. This regular review is a lot of work; however, you end up with an employee who gets up to speed weeks faster than an employee who has not received this early feedback. Similarly, if there are issues around fit, you can address them more quickly.

Performance Reviews. Start all new hires with a job description. Three months later, you should review that document to make sure everything is covered. Use that meeting to also gauge initial performance and suggest ways to improve.

Sometimes, founders do an amazing job of attracting top talent to their company, only to focus on obtaining the newest hire instead of investing in existing talent. Thatโ€™s akin to spending all your money to acquire new customers at the risk of losing existing ones and going out of business.

Focus later reviews on ways to increase future performance rather than on past accomplishments or mistakes. Finally, one personโ€”whether you or someone elseโ€”should be consistently measuring performance throughout the company.

Tools and Training. Identify when someone has potential but lacks the right resources. A team member may not have the expertise or tools to perform effectively. Would that person benefit from courses, training, mentorship, or software to operate more efficiently in their role?

Invest in these areas to generate a significant increase in individual performance, customer retention, and revenue growth.

Recognition. Build a culture with benefits that recognize employee needs and look to recognize key contributors. Proper recognition increases satisfaction, which leads to higher retention, less recruiting, and lower training expenses.

At the risk of oversimplification, people may be motivated in three ways:

  • Affiliation: where they want to be seen as valuable to their peers

  • Achievement: where they are determined to get things done

  • Power: where titles and advancement matter

If someone does an excellent job, they may be excited by a luncheon in their honor, the assignment of a challenging responsibility, or an opportunity to meet with the board, depending on their motivation. Showing appreciation leads to commitment. Just like retaining customers, you want to invest time and money into retaining high-performing employees.

Invest in Optimal Performance

People require investment the same as businesses do. Your team is your largest asset and biggest expense, so you want to optimize performance in a way that causes long-term progress and growth.

Build meaning. How does someoneโ€™s role fit holistically? We all want meaning in our work. When providing feedback, explain why you need to see a particular changeโ€”โ€œThe company is entering a new verticalโ€ or โ€œWe need to level up as a teamโ€โ€”and how the recipientโ€™s role plays into the new goal.

When President John F. Kennedy visited NASA headquarters in 1961, he introduced himself to a janitor and asked what he did at NASA. The man responded:

โ€œIโ€™m helping put a man on the moon!โ€

The janitor enthusiastically understood and embraced the vision and his work.

Set clear expectations. We all benefit from guardrails and a description of expected behaviors, outputs, and outcomes. As you build new products, services, and functions, state their purpose clearly and spend the time evaluating progress against those high-level expectations.

As you make major changes that require people to pivot in their roles, consider a gradual approach. Offer the context and then ask for one small correction at a time, and give the reasons why you are making the adjustment. Once that change is effectively in place, move on to the next one. Explain how your business will thrive and how any new responsibilities contribute to growth.

Create ambitious goals. Research into employee performance shows that goal setting increases individual and company performance.2 Bonuses, commissions, and other financial incentives increase performance further. But remember that the biggest impact on productivity comes from lofty aspirations.

The companyโ€™s vision should be broken down into team initiatives, which, in turn, rely on individual performers. (This topic is covered more in Optimizing Teams.) The connections between goals, initiatives, and performance should be clear and constantly reinforced.

Key Takeaway: Revenue growth relies on career development and individual performance. Support your high-performing employees to launch productivity and growth.


Scale: Reach Your Peak has over 130 independent topics across 500 pages including leadership, growth, sales, marketing, operations, finance, and teams. Each topic takes five minutes to gain invaluable insights, best practices, and practical options like this one.

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