The 4 Quadrants of Employee Performance (+ a Story Confirming How It’s Important)

The Job of a Leader in a Startup Environment Is Hard

Don’t get me wrong: every job that includes being responsible for people’s growth and results is hard. But in almost every startup environment, a leader remains connected, to a minimum degree, with operational tasks.

As a consequence, we face high stress levels combined with the pressure to get some operational stuff done without the possibility of delegating it. This is why you need decision frameworks (like the Eisenhower Matrix) that help you to identify the next best action fast and minimize the possibility of making mistakes.

Lately, this great piece from Daniel Stillman reminded me how the 4 Quadrants of Employee Performance is helping me to keep my team motivated and to bring excellent results to my current company.

(Ah, I’ve discovered that Tim Ferriss shared this framework too! Enjoy the video in his post on X)

How the 4 Quadrants of Employee Performance Works

This framework takes into consideration two criteria:

  • Can-do/Can’t-do: Having or not having the skill set to do the job properly
  • Want-do/Won’t-do: High/low degree of commitment
Source: www.danielstillman.com

The result is four quadrants picturing different types of employees and what to do for each of them:

Flowers (Will and Can)

The best people a team can have. They are flowers because you can’t afford to take them for granted: watering them wisely is the key to keeping them engaged.

Puzzles (Won’t but Can):

They could bring value, but they have just decided not to bring it to your company. The only thing you could do is try to understand the reason behind their behavior and, if you have the time and power to fix it, great. If not, better let them go.

Candles (Can’t and Won’t)

Quoting Meyer:

“I’m going to put the candle underneath their rear end, and they’re going to have to learn that this isn’t working, because the longer that person stays…everyone else on the team says, ‘why should I try?’

Danny Meyer

It’s important that these people understand that they can’t survive if they continue this way. A clear ultimatum can help to fix even the most desperate situation.

Gems (Can’t and Want)

They haven’t the skill set needed to do the job, but they demonstrate with facts that they want to succeed. The wisest thing to do with these people is coach them intensively and make them “flowers.”

How the Quadrants, in 2023, Helped Me to Make the Best Decision for Me, My Team, and the Company

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, being a manager in a startup environment is hard, and frameworks can help to make the right decision, especially when the information set is not complete and the company is growing fast.

At the beginning of 2023, I had a team of 10 employees, and in just 10 months, we doubled it. The goal was to make the new employees productive since their second month and ROI-positive within their fourth month when, on average, just after six months, new employees create more value than what they consumed.

So, challenging goals, fast growth, and me still involved in some operations.

Under this scenario, the 4 Quadrants helped me to understand clearly:

  • The people to “water” (flowers) to give them more responsibility
  • The people to coach (gems) in order to boost results compensating the huge number of newcomers that – for 2-3 months – were unable to produce more value than what they were consuming
  • How to fix the newcomers that – despite an attentive screening process – revealed themselves as not a good cultural fit. Taking actions very fast, out of two “candles” we lost just one; the other one is now a promising gem.
  • Fortunately, I had no puzzles this year. In 2022, I had two, and I let them both go.

Conclusions

For everyone approaching people management roles or for the more experienced ones, I highly suggest this framework to have a clear overview of what is the best action to do with your teammates to make them flourish, achieve great results, and create an environment of people happy and engaged with the company mission.

Do you have any questions? Doubts? Leave a comment, and I will be more than happy to answer!

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