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Turning your company’s misfits into stars

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I’ve managed a lot of people over the past 20 years, and I’ve learned one thing is certain: You can turn just about anyone into a star player. There is also no correlation between employee grade level, gender, or ethnicity in terms of performance. All I look for is desire, tenacity, and a willingness to succeed.

I also give them plenty of room to fail, and to course correct. I tell them I value outcomes more than ass-in-seat time.

Lastly, I treat them like individuals. I ask each employee what they want, and I give it to them. Some want to work remotely, some want to pick their kids up at two o’clock and make them dinner. Some want recognition, some money, others vacation time. Whatever they need to feel valued and the flexibility to do their jobs, that’s what they get.

In return, I tell them I have high performance expectations, and of how they treat others on their team, across the company and their vendors.

So how can you make this work at your company?

Have the flexibility and responsibility conversation with your employees early and often. If they are new hires, discuss it during the interview process. If they are new to your team or veterans, do it during your next one-on-one meeting. Bring it up as often as is appropriate for the employee. Especially for those not used to that kind of freedom, it may take a few conversations before they realize you’re serious. Once they understand your philosophy, back it up with actions.

Only once in my career has someone taken advantage of the flexibility and responsibility policy to the point that I had to let them go. Everyone else starts to over-deliver on expectations to make sure they can keep it.

For example, there was a guy who used to run radio and podcast media for us at Citrix. He loved radio so much that you knew he was right for it. All he needed was the room to prove to us that it could be a successful media channel. I believed in him more than the media, so I gave him all the room in the world to figure it out and all the freedom he needed to do it. It took almost a year, and in the end, it was one our top performing channels of all time and he, in turn, was rewarded for his tenacity and drive. It wasn’t easy. We had plenty of failures along the way. But he kept at it and we stood beside him. In the end, even if it hadn’t worked out, his dedication and passion would have led us to new ideas and opportunities.

So next time you’re looking for that star player, drop your preconceived notions about Ivy League schools and big-name companies. Look no further than the scrappy misfits. Give them responsibility and the flexibility they need to deliver for you.

If you give them room to succeed, they won’t let you down.

David Baeza is CEO of Buttered Toast, a marketing strategy firm that works with venture backed tech startups.

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