8 Ways to Get Employees to Overperform

Success comes a lot easier if you have great people working for you.

Furthermore, this is true even if you have no employees. How? Because you still have yourself, the entrepreneur. And how good an employee you are is by no means a static situation. Too many entrepreneurs don’t work hard enough to ensure that are a great employee in every sense of the word.

A great employee is not just someone who can do the work, but someone who is willing to do the work, and who is going to be enthused and upbeat about doing the work. If, for example, you work too many hours, don’t exercise, fail to eat right, or get enough sleep, and end up coming to work tired and burnt out, you are not going to be a stellar employee not matter what your innate skills you possess.

Even if you don’t have regular employees, you might have freelancers or other people in your work “ecosystem” whose performance is important to your success. Therefore, you still want to give them that little bit of extra energy by letting them know that you value them, and that their work is important to you. Remember that people, including freelancers, are not just motivated by money. They want to feel that their work is worthwhile, that it has a purpose, and that their work – and, in turn, they themselves – are valued and appreciated.

With regard to employees, I confess that I, like many but not all entrepreneurs, generally didn’t appreciate them enough. Instead, I would tend to compare their work with my work. Why didn’t they want to work all day and not talk like I did? Why did they stand around the water cooler for 10 minutes the first thing in the morning and talk about what their cat did the night before? Why didn’t they work as fast as me? Why weren’t they excited about coming in and working through the weekend on a major rush project?

Now, my outlook is more like: Even if this person is only working for my company part-time, they are giving me a good chunk of their time, and of their life.

Furthermore, it is totally unrealistic for an entrepreneur to think that his or her employees are going to get as excited about the work as them.

Another major perspective I seldom appreciated was that an employee’s talent was usually much less important than how motivated they are, or what their attitude was regarding their work.

I think it was J.W. “Bill” Marriot of the Marriot Hotel chain who in one of his books said that he learned it was much easier to hire really nice people and train them to work in their hotels, than to hire people with hotel experience and train them to be nice.

Now, if you are not in the hospitality business, being nice might not seem to be a core trait. But in any business, having a passion for the work, a good attitude, and a good work ethic can be very important.

These are the traits you want to look for in people you hire. They are usually much more difficult to measure, much more subtle than things like industry experience. But they can be critically important for building your business.

These are just the kind of ingredients that lay the foundation for building a winning team.

Generally speaking, people either have a good work ethic or they don’t. My personal experience is that the vast majority of people do. But the other key traits I mentioned – having a passion for the business and having a good attitude – have a lot to do with what happens after you hire people.

Making the best hires does not automatically translate into having great employees and creating the winning team (although that is a good starting point). It comes about from nurturing, inspiring, and building up your team every day of the year.

While I have put together a number of presentations on managing, here are a few summary points for getting the best out of people:

1. Make the explicit commitment to invest a chunk of your time in developing, motivating, and nurturing your team. I know that as an entrepreneur this may be hard to do. But as you transition to hiring employees and building a staff, you should start envisioning your road to success as increasingly related to the success of your team.

2. Let your employees know that you appreciate their work every chance you get. Remember, they might do something exactly the same as you, they might even do it just as good as you. You need to let them know that you appreciate their work.

3. Be careful with negative comments. It is amazing to me how quickly some employees can take any negative comment coming from the boss out of perspective, especially from the entrepreneur boss. If you have something negative to discuss with an employee, think it through first. Then have a discussion with him or her behind a closed door.

4. Keep your employees in the loop. Employees want to know what’s going on. If it’s great news, celebrate with them. In fact, celebrate every little victory you can. This helps make people feel they are on the winning team. Everyone likes to feel they are part of the winning team. Conversely, if there is really bad news, then have a company meeting and be candid with people. When bad news is in the air, employees tend to quickly assume the worst, and that their jobs may be in jeopardy.

5. Once you start to hire key employees, i.e. management level employees, you need to involve them in decision making. Not just making them the first to know after you have made a key decision, but getting their input before you make a decision.

6. Give your employees a path to grow. The very best employees often want a chance to grow, to move up into a better and more responsible job. Money and bonuses are nice, but the very best employees often really want to be promoted to a better position.
But what if you have few positions and few employees? There may be no higher level for the best performers to move into and you risk losing these people.

If you have a great performer, which is a precious asset, but no current position to which you can promote them, I suggest you consider creating a position just for them. Give them a truly new position with more responsibility, more money, and a new title. Give them some of your work. Involve them explicitly in more meetings and decisions. You don’t have to change all of someone else’s job description or even a majority of job descriptions to create a new position. But I believe hanging onto a well-motivated and talented employee is important.

7. Set aside regularly scheduled time to talk with your employees. If you have key players or a management team, meet with them at least once a week formally, and then briefly with each of them less formally on a regular basis. Also schedule a company-wide meeting for everyone once a month when you go over the latest news and developments. And, finally, set aside some quiet time alone, at least once per quarter, to think about what you can do to further build and nurture your team.

8. Sometimes you have to deal with a “bad apple” – someone who can do the job and perhaps even do their day-to-day tasks fine, but who disrupts your ability to build a team atmosphere.

You can’t let this situation persist, especially if this person is in a key position. You’ve got to address the issue head-on.

It may be that the employee has personal issue they are going through; everyone does at one time or another. Maybe this person perceives that you or the company is not treating them fairly. In any event, while you can’t expect, nor do you necessarily want, perfect harmony in the workplace, a truly disruptive actor can undo a lot of positive work.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.