Keeping Score

Managing people in your company is a relationship.  In relationships, lots of people keep score.  This is why a lot of marriages fail.  When I was trading on the floor, most people assumed it was just about the numbers.  It was really about taking risk and building relationships with people.  If you didn’t build relationships, you didn’t get the trade.  Whenever I see a person from the trading diaspora I try and take a photo of them and put in on Instagram with the caption, “Look who I found”.

Union Square Ventures managing partner Fred Wilson had a post up the other day, “When You Have Concerns”.  It’s about getting rid of an employee.  It is always hard to do that, but if you actively manage the relationship it may never get there.

From day one, your company will succeed because of its culture.  Culture develops over time.  As new employees are absorbed into the company, they become immersed in the culture and instinctively know how to act.

Hackman-Oldham theory of motivation really works.  My professor in college was Professor Gregg Oldham.  At first I totally rejected the theory.  Once I got out in the workforce, I found it was totally accurate.  Keeping score will kill a theory like Hackman-Oldham.

Keeping score when you manage employees becomes tit for tat.  It can also devolve into a checklist.  Keeping score can create passive aggressive actions that bite you in the ass later.  Instead of “I did this, this and this-you did this, this, and this” the conversation needs to be different.

First, set expectations.  This is what we need you to do.  Instead of telling an employee, you might ask them what they think it is.  Get their ideas out on the table.  People love to participate with their own ideas and you might learn something. It also builds trust when they feel like they can participate.  Ask questions.  Then, build together.  As CEO, you know where you need to go.  But, instead of putting hard and fast numbers on a white board, help your employees help you think about how to get there.  If what they are suggesting isn’t going to get the company there, be honest and clear about why.  In a trusting relationship, they will come up with another way.

Second, set up continuous feedback loops.  Not where the CEO goes over a list every day and grades an employee-but where the employee can get constructive feedback on their performance and adjust on the fly without a manager being all over them.

Third, don’t have a yearly review.  In a startup, a year is way too long.  Create a continuous conversation.

I also think it’s important to remember that even though business is about the numbers-it’s humans that get you there.  Your workplace culture needs to be safe enough so people can express their true feelings.  They need to communicate with one another so that they feel safe enough to say, “This bugs me and here is why”-and it’s not perceived as an attack.

If you create a culture like this, you will also see the flip side.  You will hear a lot more complimenting going on and teams cheering for each other.

It’s really hard to create a culture like this.  Sometimes software can help.  Often times it gets in the way.  One program that I have seen people have success with is JuvodHR.  It’s cheap and you can try it.  I am not an investor but I know the founders.

Don’t keep score if you want to develop relationships.


  • Set expectation, have continuous feedback, create continuous conversations.

    More and more companies are going to this, in the form called Agile.
    Very successful from software development, moving into some company’s org structures other than development.

    There are other techniques, but more successful companies are following more of them.