Operations

Step by step guide to building high performing teams

December 8, 2022

Battle-tested tools that top CEOs and I have implemented with great results in building teams that thrive.

What does a high performing team look like?

Before we talk about the how, let me share with you what I believe a high performing team looks like. Taking from my experience coaching Series A through D CEOs and execs, as well as my time managing a team of stellar Mochary Method coaches, I was able to synthesize these commonalities.

  1. They are aligned with and motivated by the company vision and culture — High performers deeply resonate with the vision of the company. They are proactive in aligning their personal vision with the company vision to create win-win scenarios. They embody similar values as the company culture. For example, many companies we coach (and our own) have a cultural norm of transparent and immediate feedback. The high performers in these environments truly believe feedback is a gift; they are active in giving and receiving.
  2. They execute quickly — They are comfortable navigating ambiguity. They feel secure to iterate, fail and learn rapidly. They take an idea and run towards completion with accountability.
  3. They leverage their Zone of Genius — They have awareness around what their ZoG is and spend the majority of the time working in them. They also understand their weaknesses, and are proactive in outsourcing, delegating or making it awesome.
  4. They bring solutions with an owner mindset — They think of problems with a framework akin to Issue Proposed Solution, where they present you with solutions to get feedback. They state their intention and explain why instead of asking for permission (see Turn the Ship Around:  “I intend to …”).
  5. They lift each other up and strive for positive sum — High performers enjoy working with other high performers. They raise the bar constantly. They are eager to help their teammates and understand that we win together.
  6. They master the balance of asking for help and figuring it out — High performers don’t wait too long to ask for help. When they do, they clearly state their request and the work they’ve done already in tackling this problem.

If you resonate with the above, the following steps will make your high performing team a reality at your company.

Part 1: Hire and Fire Well

In order to create high performing teams, you have to hire and fire well. We have a full process on Recruiting. I will include some other battle-tested tools that help with the hiring process.

New hire and manager’s 30-60-90

A 30-60-90 is a desired outcomes plan written in SMART format when a new hire hits the 30-day, 60-day and 90-day mark.

I encourage my clients to come up with a 30-60-90 for the new role before the recruiting process starts. This will help you envision success for the role, and therefore you can better communicate it with a candidate. In addition to that, a CEO can come up with her own 30-60-90 to think about how she can best ramp up for this role. This is what I call a manager’s 30-60-90. See below for an example:

If you’re hiring a CTO, and you would like her to revamp the hiring process for engineers by day 60, then you can ask yourself: What are the things I can do in my control from day 0 to 60 to set her up for success? The answer may be to identify key success criteria and get historic engineering close rate from HR by day 30.

If you’re hiring executives, you may provide a rough draft of the new hire’s 30-60-90 during the hiring process and have a working session with late-stage candidates to finalize the plan. This is a great opportunity for you and the candidate to get a sense of working style, as well as see if you’re a great fit for each other.

Screen for value-fit

The best way to screen for culture is through direct personal experience or referrals.

For direct personal experience, design a trial project or period with the new hire where you can observe them in action. To hire our current team of coaches, we invited dozens of stellar candidates to participate in a week-long coaching bootcamp after moving through an interview process. We got to see how they interacted with each other and us in real-time. We also got to see how they performed.

As for referrals, here are some great questions to assess a candidate’s value:

  • What values do you think they embody at work?
  • How would you describe your relationship with them?
  • What has been consistent for them?

Anti-sell

Anti-sell is where you transparently share the uniqueness and the drawbacks of a role. You clearly state your values and filter out candidates quickly. It also creates trust and transparency with the candidate. Though anti-sell can be done at any point of the hiring process, I recommend that you do it early on to be sure you’re only moving on aligned candidates.

Anti-sell is effective when combined with selling the vision, company, leadership and the opportunity. The candidate should already be excited about the opportunity before you anti-sell.

It’s a radical method. But if candidates get through the anti-sell and still decide to continue with this process, you have increased the probability of them becoming a high performing candidate who is aligned with company vision and culture.

If you’d like to try anti-sell, here’re some real examples I’ve heard from CEOs:

This role pays 200K. Someone with your experience can easily go to a larger tech company and get paid more. You’ll never be able to make a high cash comp at our company. But we will give you the best coaching, development opportunities and exposure. What are your thoughts?
Not everyone is used to my management style. I’m direct and have been called “aggressive”. If there’s a feedback, I’ll give it to you immediately and honestly. However, I fight like hell for my direct reports to get the opportunities of their dreams. I challenge them so they have years of growth in months. People who like my management style have stayed with me for years and decades through multiple companies. Are you into that?

If you observe hesitation from the candidate, it would be a great opportunity to get curious and see if there are things you’d like to share to assure them. If not, then it’s likely not a good fit.

Fire well

According the Matt Mochary, the single most important thing to build a high performing teams is to fire well. This means that managers let go of every single not-good and good performers. Leaving ONLY high performers. This doesn’t get done enough. Even if it gets done at the CEO level, it is difficult to implement with other managers at the company. Here are the key components to firing well:

  • Create a performance reviews system that leverages frequent absolute feedback.
  • Have a clear talent density policy. For example, if a new hire is underperforming in A-B weeks, they will be given extra coaching, training and written feedback to improve. If the new hire is still not improving in B-C weeks, they will be let go with the Firing Well approach.
  • Making firing well part of manager’s performance review. They are held accountable to give clear absolute feedback and run peer 360 feedback to identify not-good and good performers. They will report on firing decisions with those employees.

Part 2: Create Trust

Trust is created with clarity, care, transparenc,y and consistency. Trust is the prerequisite to feedback. Feedback is the prerequisite to high performance.

So, how do we create trust?

On day 1, achieve clarity with three components:

Working agreements

My colleague Georgia Dienst wrote about how to create working agreements. I recommend having all agreements written down in your 1-1 doc. These are my favorite questions to ask my direct reports:

What does it look like when you get triggered? What can the I do in these situations? I will then answer the questions myself and write down the answers.

How will we use our 1:1 time together?

What excellence looks like

Share with them a written documentation of what 5 out of 5 looks like at this role and give them time to ask questions.

A simple version of 5 out of 5 is inspired by Absolute Feedback

Your current rating for your job function, 1-5, is …

  • 4-5 is above expectation
  • 3 is at expectation, and you can outperform by following next level guidance.
  • 2 is below expectation, and you can quickly improve with next level guidance.
  • 1 is far below expectation. I am now putting you on a written 30-day Performance Improvement Plan.

What you did that I liked is ...

What you need to do to get to the next level is …

For a detailed breakdown of 5 out of 5, you can use the Job Responsibility Rubric by my colleague Faith Meyer.

Reiteration of 30-60-90

Go through 30-60-90 plan for the new hire again to answer questions

Show your care by actively listening and remembering what is important to their professional and personal life.

To scale this, you can assign a DRI to track a personal info sheet for all incoming new hires

Run Magic Questions with your direct reports monthly

Ask for your direct report’s 5-year professional dream. Document it in your 1:1 doc and discuss progress against it at least every quarter

Practice transparency by giving clear, unbiased and challenging absolute feedback monthly at the very least.

You can refer to my Performance Review write-up to learn how to create a system of direct feedback.

Last but not least, lead with clarity, care and transparency consistently.

Identify the tools that make the biggest impact to your people, then assign an internal DRI to create reminders and repetitions of these tools.

I know two types of CEOs. One type will read the above and think “Wow, that’s way too much work.” The other type will be excited by the opportunity to deepen trust with their team.

For the first type, know that you can delegate some of these responsibilities to a COO, CoS, or VP of HR. Someone at the organization who is an excellent manager and loves doing this work. I would highly suggest not to outsource giving direct feedback and remembering personal info of your direct reports.

For the second type, have fun!

Part 3: Ongoing Development

Onboarding typically ends at 90 days, but high performers crave ongoing challenge and development. I will include a list of tools that are most popular with Mochary Method CEOs and the internal team:

  • Clear alignment — Frequently share the Mission, Vision and Values for the company. This is the CEO’s primary responsibility, but each exec team lead function will also circulate a more detailed version of MVV that applies to their teams.
  • Training and Teaching — Onboarding a new hire talks about shadowing, reverse-shadowing and feedback. This doesn’t have to be limited to the initial period. Whenever someone’s AOR or interest changes, they can continue to shadow and reverse-shadow. As your company grows, the CEO will be challenged to think about how to teach on a higher scale. A popular tip is to record Looms and assign a DRI to organize and publish them. One of my clients records dozens of Looms at a time talking about the culture, management style and values and schedules them to be sent out in Slack.
  • Accountability and verification — Assign a DRI at the company (I’ve seen CEO, COO, CoS, or Biz Ops do this) to keep track of team goals and their actions on a monthly to quarterly basis. Ask the team leads why they didn’t hit their goals and what they intend to do about it. Assign a DRI (can be the same or different DRI as above) to verify that all managers including C-suite are giving frequent absolute feedback. One Mochary Method CEO personally goes into their feedback management system and spot checks the absolute feedback herself for accountability.
  • Coach and challenge — The simplest and highest ROI coaching tool in the Mochary Method curriculum is the Issue / Proposed Solution template (1-1). Think about your direct report’s 5-year dream and find overlap with the company’s best interest. How can you challenge them to push them outside of their comfort zone?

Summary

Here’s how you can create a high performing leadership team:

  1. Hire and fire well. Ruthlessly screen for culture fit. Prepare in advance what success looks like to you and the new hire. Let go of employees who are not high-performers.
  2. Create trust with clarity, care, transparency and, consistency.
  3. High performers will need ongoing development. If new hires don’t meet the bar, have clear talent density requirements to let under-performers go gracefully.

It takes a lot to hire, motivate and train high performers. But it will be one of the most worthwhile investments you can make.

Linked write-ups

Gratitude

Thank you to the Mochary Method coaching team for giving me great feedback on this write-up. Moreover, you gave me the opportunity to test many of these tools and provide real evidence of what a high performing team looks like. Of course, Matt created these detailed write-ups in the curriculum that gave us a foundation to coach CEOs and experiment with our own team.

Special thanks to Regina Gerbeaux (@_rpgbx) for teaching me about managers’ 30-60-90s, and embodying what a manager is like for a high performing team.

Watch Sabrina Walk Through This Write Up

About the Author

Sabrina Wang is a CEO coach for extraordinary leaders of Series A to Unicorn companies. She is a founder, CEO, and operator who brings real-life experiences in building products and scaling revenue into her coaching. She is a writer, creative, and trained meditation teacher.

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About Sabrina Wang

Sabrina is the CEO of Evergrowth Coaching for extraordinary leaders of Series A to Unicorn companies. She has quickly grown Evergrowth to over $500K ARR in sales in under 6 months of conception. Evergrowth partners with CEOs, founders, and C-suite execs of best-in-class tech companies. Her clients include CEOs and co-founders of Wayflyer, Synchron, Opswerks, Code States, Tread.io, Tribe, RevenueCat, and more. Sabrina has also coached partners of YC Continuity, General Catalyst, Left Lane Capital, and Innovation Endeavors.

Before starting Evergrowth, Sabrina was the Head of Coaching at Mochary Method, started by Matt Mochary (top CEO coach for Reddit, OpenAI, Coinbase....). She hired, trained, and managed a team that sold 0 to 3m ARR in under a year. Sabrina is well-versed in the engineering, product, and design side of building a tech company. At Headspace for Work, she worked in product management building B2B SaaS products that reached 1 million users.

Sabrina is driven by her mission to help people achieve high performance and find greater impact. Her coaching is heavily influenced by her mindfulness meditation journey, studying Reiki, energy work, and other spiritual modalities.

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