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Updated: Oct 21



In talking with founders and leaders, I often see great interest in growing sales and creating products, but no strategy for developing people.


The caliber of your contributors has a huge 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 ultimately facilitate necessary scale and push further growth.


Put concisely, supporting high-performing employees will drive productivity!


This article looks across 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€”news 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 for tomorrow. Itโ€™s tempting to find someone who can fix the problems from yesterday but push yourself to hire people who will be impactful when facing the scale and types of problems you expect may happen.


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. To set expectations for holistic success, every leader or team should be involved in explaining best ways to get work done, how to optimize collaboration, and how they apply the companyโ€™s vision and values.


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 quicker.

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 to 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 the expertise or tools to effectively perform yet. Would that person benefit from courses, training, mentorship, and/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.


In general, 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 a great 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 you 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 to evaluate 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 high goals. Research into employee performance compared shows goal setting increases individual and company performance. Bonuses, commissions, and other financial incentives increase performance further but remember the biggest impact on productivity comes from lofty aspirations.


The companyโ€™s goals should be broken down into team initiatives which, in turn, rely on individual performers. The connections between goals, initiatives, and performance should be clear and constantly reinforced.



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