8 Ways to Retain Top Employees

And a great talk by Ben Horowitz on management

Hey y’all — startups aren’t families, they’re teams (Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings agrees) or cults (here’s the playbook for building a startup cult).

And if you’re a founder, you’re the leader of the team.

But your strongest team members also hold the team together.

If they leave there’s often a massive hole, not just in terms of output, productivity, and creative thinking but also morale and culture.

I’ve led employees through crises and lost some great ones too.

This week I’m sharing the playbook for how to retain your top performers.

8 Ways to Retain Top Employees

Align on Expectations Before They Start

Joining a new company is a risk. Any employee you hire will be ruthlessly evaluating you and the decision they just made on Day 1 (and indefinitely into the future).

Harvard Business Review says that 17% of new hires quit within their first 3 months.

Why do people leave jobs so quickly?

They were sold something different than what they received.

Be candid in your interviews and any onboarding materials you give them.

When I joined Airbnb I knew right away it wasn’t the right fit for me:

  • My first manager told me in our first 1:1 that he was “excited to build trust with me” — I was coming from Uber, where the assumption was you were competent and trusted if you passed the interview process.

  • In my first week other team members joked that placement for selection into our Airbnb Plus program should primarily go to hosts living in “blue states” — I firmly believe decisions like that should be made on merit.

  • The data science org, which I initially joined, wasn’t empowered to help drive product decisions or run experiments like they were at Uber — I transitioned to Product Manager shortly after.

Perhaps I was naive or didn’t ask the right questions during the interview process, but it’s the job of the interviewers (or, in the case of a startup, the founder) to correctly set those expectations before a candidate leaves their job and signs on to join.

Understand & Manage Your Team

If you wanted to be a “manager” you would be working in big tech, but managing is part of the job of a founder.

And you can read all the management advice you want (this talk by Ben Horowitz is one of my favorites) but you’ll be better off developing your individual style. It’s not one size fits all.

For example, I like to be ”in the details” as Brian Chesky says and am entirely focused on output async, but very jovial when I’m in person. That works for me almost all of the time but that may not work for your personality.

More importantly, understand the people you’re managing.

Management is a weird non-competitive and one-sided game of poker — doing well is more determined by how well you can read and understand the current feelings, desires, and tendencies of the people you’re with than anything to do with you.

Take Feedback as Well as You Give It

The buck stops with the founder. You should be a sponge for feedback and seek it out from your team.

They will follow your lead on this. If you’re not interested in their thoughts, they’ll care less about yours.

No one wants a manager or leader who gives tons of feedback but isn’t willing to change, or at least earnestly listen, themselves.

Leave Them Better Than You Found Them

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