Editor’s Note: This article was first published by Inc. here.
One of the things that gets me out of bed each morning — is striving to build a company where everyone on my team can succeed.
Believe me: It ain’t easy.
Building an incredible product, delivering incredible customer support, growing revenue…all of those things are relatively simple by comparison. But building a company where employees feel personally (and financially) fulfilled, a company that employees want to work at for the rest of their careers, that’s tricky.
After launching five companies, Compete, Ghostery, Lookery, Performable; and now Drift, I’ve finally learned something about building a company where employees thrive and feel good about their work. The “secret” really isn’t a secret at all. Instead, it’s a well-known concept that a lot of successful entrepreneurs have been talking about for years:
What is meritocracy?
Here’s how Mark Leonard, CEO of Constellation Software described meritocracy in a 2018 letter to shareholders:
I want to support and encourage employees who work hard, treat others well, continuously learn, and share best practices. I try to make sure that sycophants, spin-doctors, and mercenaries don’t survive in Constellation’s senior ranks. Harder, but not impossible, is helping identify and remove hidebound managers who rely upon habit and folklore to run their businesses rather than rational inquiry and experimentation. Constellation is as close to a meritocracy as I have experienced. I hope it will continue to provide an environment where entrepreneurs and corporate refugees can invest their lives and their capital and thrive.
As Leonard explained, in order for a meritocracy to work, the following types of employees cannot be tolerated:
- Sycophants: People who go along with everything you say in an attempt to get ahead.
- Spin-doctors: People who lie to make themselves look good in an attempt to get ahead.
- Mercenaries: People who have no loyalty to your company at all and will do anything to get ahead.
Now let’s look at the types of people you need to invest in.
The Three Factors That Make or Break a Meritocracy
At our company, I want to create a meritocracy where people get ahead based on the following three factors:
- Loyalty: Do employees put the interests of the company first?
- Harmony: Do employees contribute positively to company culture?
- Results: Do employees produce measurable results year over year?
Let’s break these down one at a time:
Loyal employees are the opposite of mercenaries. They care about the mission of the company and always put the interests of the company first. No matter how popular or results-driven certain employees might be, if they don’t have loyalty, they’re ultimately going to be a drain on the company.
Treating coworkers with dignity and respect sounds like something everyone should already be doing. Unfortunately, rude, disrespectful people sometimes finagle their way into getting hired — especially if they have a proven track record of driving results.
But just because someone might be good for your bottom-line doesn’t mean they’ll be a good long-term investment — especially if they disrupt the harmony of your team. So when hiring for a meritocracy, you need ask yourself: Is this someone who’s going to make their teammates better? Is this someone who’s going to be a positive amplifier? If not, don’t hire them.
Of course, you can’t run a meritocracy without looking at measurable results. That’s how you make it easy for everyone to see why certain people within your company are getting hired (or fired), or promoted, or given a raise. Of the three factors, having a proven track of driving results is the easiest to understand. What are your numbers? What’s quantifiable? Where’s the incontrovertible proof that you’re making an impact?
How to Evaluate Employees Using the Three Factors
In a perfect world, all of your employees would have high levels of loyalty, harmony, and results. In reality, you’ll find that employees have varying levels of these three key factors.
So, what do you do when you encounter an employee who has high loyalty and high harmony, but low results? Or high results and high loyalty, but low harmony? Here is a cheat sheet to help you make the right decision.
- High Results + High Harmony + High Loyalty = someone to invest in
- High Results + High or Low Harmony + Low Loyalty = not a good fit (mercenary)
- High Results + Low Harmony + High Loyalty = someone to coach
- Low Results + High Harmony + High Loyalty = someone to coach
- Low Results + High or Low Harmony + Low Loyalty = not a good fit (spin-doctor)
- Low Results + Low Harmony + High Loyalty = not a good fit (sycophant)
The Drift team grew over 200 percent last year and these equations have helped me immensely during the hiring process. Ultimately, you need to figure out what works best for your company — but I encourage you to start here.