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3 ways to make your startup more productive

A founder worries his employees aren’t doing their best work. Advice columnist Maynard Webb offers tips to fix the problem, plus a reminder to tend to the star performers, too.

3 ways to make your startup more productive
[Photos: Ihor Kashurin/IStock; ALotOfPeople/iStock]

Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I don’t think people are doing their best work at my company. I’m seeing lackluster performance. What should I do?

—Startup founder

Dear Founder,

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What’s going on? What’s the reason people aren’t doing their best work?

I understand this must be frustrating, especially if you are giving it your all, but as a leader, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to understand the reason behind poor performance. Determine why the employees are struggling. Are they not able to give their full attention? Do they no longer like their jobs? What’s holding them back?

It’s time to have a conversation with anyone who seems stuck. I find that sometimes people are not ready to confront this situation, not ready to have an honest discussion. That does not mean you can ignore it. Tell them what you are seeing, and ask them when they will be ready to address this with you. Your job is to inspire people to do the best work of their lives. When you ignore that they are not, you’re not helping them do the career advancing work that everyone wants.

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Here are my recommendations on what you can do to get to a better place in which everyone will be making more meaningful contributions, and as a result, become more productive and more fulfilled.

Set expectations of excellence, and make sure there is clarity on all sides. Expectations must be set high but should be both aggressive and achievable. (With aggressive goals, hitting 80% of them is amazing, but hitting 100% of goals means you likely didn’t set the bar high enough.)

Communication is key. Be crisp and clear on what an underperforming team member must do to get better. Establish a culture that allows people to ask for help early and often.

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Fix it fast. If the situation does not improve, and the work does not get better, sometimes other actions are necessary. If this is a poor performance issue that lasts, you have to understand that by the time you are aware of a lackluster effort, your superstars are already aware of someone not pulling their weight. And, they are counting on you to address it.

Finally, I would like to address a more global issue. Often, in our efforts to get the most out of employees, we too often make a common mistake: We spend too much time worrying about poor performers and not enough time focusing on the star performers. The real secret to making the biggest impact rests in investing in your best people and ensuring they become even better.

Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Instead, the best players are viewed as so good that they are often left on their own. We have to think about it differently. If someone is tremendously good, you should ask, What can I do to make them even better? If someone is an A student, you must explore what you can do to make them an A+ student. After all, the recipe for greatness is generally not found by taking a C student and making him or her a B student.

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Instead of just focusing on energizing the people that need energizing, go find your best people, inspire them, and ask more of them. What you will receive in return will astound you, and it is what will ensure your company’s long-term success.

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