How to Inspire Your Team to Put In More Hours (Though I Don’t Think You Should)

In startup culture, it’s an unspoken sin to leave the office before 6PM. When a few people start doing it, the trend spreads. Before you know it, you can hear a pin drop beyond the nine-to-five. Where did everyone go? Do they not care anymore?

Every boss I’ve ever had addressed clocking out early in only one way: complaining. Sometimes passive aggressively (ugh), sometimes by email (cowardly), sometimes at full company meetings (awkward). When these announcements spread, everyone takes the punishment, returns to their work with heads down and obliges like spiteful children – at least for a while.

Every time, individuals punished most by this approach are almost never the guilty ones. The goody two-shoes who always work hard hear the message and work harder. Those at fault for bailing early in the first place continue to rebel against Mom and Dad, never taking the message to heart. Complaining about early clock-out culture always results in the opposite desired effect: infractors keep infracting and you burn out your best.

As a leader, how can you keep people invested enough to stick around?

Lead by example. If, as a manager, you’re not the hardest worker pulling longer hours than anyone else, no one will hear you.

Reward visible hard work. Develop relationships with those who stick around late, engage yourself in their contributions, talk them up to their supervisor, privilege their projects over everyone else’s and move their career forward. Play favorites. When others ask why he or she deserves special treatment, make it clear. Time is scarce as a leader and the goody two-shoes stuck around after hours when you had the most available time. Everyone will start getting the idea.

Inspire with grand vision. No human will genuinely give their life away for quotas. When it comes to a greater sense of self purpose, who truly cares about percentage market share, impressions or sales? You think our soldiers risk their lives for America’s GDP? No, they fight to make America the greatest country in the world. If you lean on numbers for your company mission, you suffer from vision deficiency. Colonize other planets. Teach everyone to grow food. Cure cancer. Make everyone laugh. Raise the bar so high that you can’t possibly measure it. Keep your people looking up at the sky and they might stop looking down at their watches.

Set an example, reward good behavior and reach for the moon. Don’t punish the children.

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Mix Your Company Up

If you hardwire flexibility into your core company values, it will make things much easier to pivot later when you need to. Make a point to mix things up as much as possible. A new office layout, random events and shifting roles can keep things fresh for your team and prepare them for bigger changes when they come. Build an environment where everyone can comfortably go with the flow and you might actually survive a major company transition.

Bad Hires Beget More Bad Hires

One of the most costly and toxic mistakes you can make in building an organization is hiring people who do not fit or deliver. Especially at the management level. Bad managers that don’t fit tend to hire more bad people who don’t fit. Not a good situation to be in. If you continue to grow without amputating the infection, you might find yourself with a heavily weighted and unhealthy organization. Don’t do it. Never compromise on hiring. Make sure at any cost that the people you are recruiting can do the job and fit in. It’s worth hard questions. It’s worth confrontation and debate. It’s worth negotiation. Do not be afraid to be absolutely sure.

Vision By Numbers

It’s exciting to see the success and growth of an organization through the numbers: sales milestones, unique visitors, engagement statistics and more. It’s very practical and momentous to set metric goals that everyone can reach for and beat. But numbers cannot tell the whole story. And metrics can only inspire a team so far. It takes a portrait of the future painted zealously by leadership to truly inspire. Something greater to work towards. Something to believe in.

The best preachers don’t talk statistics or business. True vision cannot paint by numbers. There are no formulas or metrics for dreams. Speaking abstractly and passionately about a vision for the long-term future can open minds to the possibilities and help your team imagine their way out of the status quo.

Metrics and numbers keep an organization accountable to measurable improvements. Numbers have their place and should be respected. But they only serve to measure movements that already exist. Why not strive to make new movements and invent new metrics? A vision by numbers is not enough. The opportunities are boundless for your organization, but only if the vision you paint for your team allows them to be.

Growing Pains

Growth is an awkward and confusing experience. By building on the old and bringing in the new, life mixes up and turns to chaos. Oftentimes, you experience bumps and bruises. In the worst of situations, there may be casualties. Whether you like it or not, that’s the name of the game. The only way to stop growing pains? Stop growing. Or die. I endorse neither. Growth and change are instrumental to life. Hell, they’re key to adaptation and survival. Suck it up, learn to love the pain and enjoy the ride.

Hiring Should Be More Like Dating Than An Arranged Marriage

If you find yourself responsible for staffing a team, do not take the responsibility lightly. You will bring people on board with whom you may spend more time with than your real family. More than finding skilled people who fit the bill, you need to find people with whom you like to spend time.

The modern approach to hiring is more like an arranged marriage than dating. Members of the company sit in a room together and grill the candidate, call references, and put the interviewee to the test. It’s a lot like your romantic prospect’s family attending the first date and grilling you about housecleaning or parenting. Not a natural courtship process. While perhaps less “professional,” a reasonable amount of the interview process should be spent eating, drinking and hanging out with the interviewee. It’s one thing to get to know someone through his or her skills. It’s a whole other ball game to get to know someone culturally.

It does not matter whether he or she is a prodigy talent – if you can’t get along together in person, more harm will come than good. Never hire from a phone interview alone.

How do you find “datable” hires? Start by encouraging your team to invite friends. Friends of friends have a better cultural in than a random chap off the street. If no luck with friends of friends, branch out through the network. If you find someone promising, do not settle on business references alone; find a way to collect social references as well. If nothing else, take him or her out to dinner or throw a company party. Have a little fun. Make sure you can have a good time together. After all, you’re bringing on a new member to the family. Behave and celebrate accordingly.

Give Employees Feedback Permission

Seth Levine made me think a lot today about feedback loops within organizations. Employees fear giving feedback to their managers or superiors. Makes sense – if you take constructive criticism too far, you may find yourself on the street. Tragically, most managers and executives want and need advice to help them do their job better. While leadership coaches may help, third parties are not close enough to the conversation. Only people within the organization spend enough time around you to identify a specific and timely list of your faults. More importantly, outside help cannot understand all of the personality types you lead. Every team is different and takes a different approach. At the end of the day, you must own a leadership style that fits your team.

Fortunately, there are people who can help – your employees. By giving your team permission to provide feedback, you open a door to better-understand your style and flaws. Permission is not enough, however (remember: people fear the guillotine) – you must build structure to provide feedback. Some managers approach this anonymously, with surveys and the like. Others organize reciprocal reviews and have it out one-on-one. The anonymous approach allows employees to craft their responses and be more candid. A more open and direct approach can work for people who can manage tempers like monks. I suggest a combination of the two to get the full picture.

If your team corroborates specific faults across the board, you should take a pretty big hint. By including your people in the dialogue, you can empower them to challenge you to improve. If everyone can set egos aside, feedback permission can radically improve morale in the workspace, the drive for improvement, personal ownership of their role in the company, and collaborative honesty overall. I don’t care what numbers or information you share with your team; you are not truly transparent as an organization until teammates have the freedom to be honest with each other.