There is never enough time to do all the things that need to get done in a startup. Hence , we continuously look for ways to be more productive. I recently read an interesting natural study about inefficiency in the public sector and it got me thinking about transparency and its effects on output.
The case examined multiple public agencies performing identical tasks at different sites. Originally there was no transparency amongst the agencies about comparative performance and despite the fact that they were performing the exact same tasks, there were gaps in the levels of output. Tired of the disparity, an executive decision was made to make the output information available across agencies. Shortly after, the lagging agencies improved their performance significantly without any change in compensation.
I’d like to think that competitive nature kicked in here causing the low-performing agencies to pick it up. I think this case provides a good example of how limited information within an eco-system can thwart competition and output.
Pertaining to startups, I think this notion can be applied both within the competitive landscape and internally on your team. Nothing makes you want to work harder than knowing a direct opponent is outperforming you. It can be much harder to muster this fuel if you have no idea where the other guys stand. I constantly hear people say, don’t focus on competitors – just focus on building your product. I think there is a huge disconnect between this statement and what I’m talking about. I couldn’t agree more that startups should be far more concerned with their own product, company culture, and milestones than what their competitors are doing. However, I do think its beneficial to be aware of comparative success metrics (users, pageviews, etc). If you’re really invested in what you’re doing, nothing is more motivational than healthy competition.
In my own life, this takes me back to college football. I have vivid memories of coaches barking “just think about what the guys at (insert crappy ivy league football team here) are doing right now” during 6am runs. As an underclassmen, I usually was focused on just trying to make it through without losing yesterday’s lunch and preferred to be spared the cheesy rah-rah banter…did someone say disenchanted corporate employees? But as I got older and felt more ownership, I did find myself thinking about the other guys. In fact, I couldn’t stand thinking about them out-training or performing better than us and when they did, nothing was more motivating. Why? Because there was a direct comparison to myself and teammates. These feelings pushed us much harder than we would have ever been able to do by ourselves.
I think the same dynamic exists within the startup eco-system. Its not fun banging at the keys after 2am, but its a whole lot easier when there’s someone in the lane next to you. So acknowledge that competition exists and be cognizant of how they’re performing. It can push you to keep going when you’re ready to stop.
I think lack of information transparency within a team can be hampering as well. Nothing is worse than having no idea what your co-workers do all day. It is literally poisonous to a company culture. If you’re working hard, you want to have the confidence that the people around you are too. Why should you bust my tail if the guy next to you isn’t? Compare that to a situation where everyone around you is pushing it. Its a world of difference. We’re fundamentally competitive and no one wants to be the low rung on the totem pole.
I’ve seen some startups do some awesome things to thwart “information asymmetry” within a team. These include:
Team Standups: Members of the team periodically stand up as a group to talk about what they’ve been working on as well as what they still need to do. This is particularly popular amongst developers, but I think its a great practice for everyone.
Transparent Goals: Putting some form of success metric for each team member out in the open so that everyone can see. Great for accountability.
There’s probably some more cool things here and if you know any please share. Ultimately, teams benefit from internal transparency. It reduces contempt and inspires motivation/output by establishing accountability.
Output is driven by competition. Competition is driven by measurement. You can’t measure what you cannot see. So welcome transparency – whoa that rhymed.