The art and science of motivating, aligning, and focusing people

depositphotos / ccaetano

Performance targets can make or break your team. Done right, they will motivate, align toward common goals, and drive focused work. Make a mistake and you will get a demotivated team focused on gaming the system for their personal benefit.

Wells Fargo bank was long considered the most successful cross-seller. A client with a checking account would be encouraged to take out a mortgage, set up credit card or online banking account. Performance of the branches and employees was measured by how many products a client had on average.

In 2016, a story broke that Wells Fargo managers opened as…


It is sad to watch competent people making ill-informed decisions because they think conversion rates are simple and straightforward.

Conversion rates are some of the most important metrics. They help predict future productivity, identify bottlenecks, and calculate ROI. You have to get them right.

“What is our conversion rate this quarter?” is a deceptively simple question. You just take number of things that “converted” and divide it by a total number of things, right?

A typical conversation goes like this: - Executive: What is our conversion rate this quarter? - Marketing Manager: 2.35% - Executive: How do you calculate that…


Every company is unique, at least every company worth building.

All companies increasingly rely on software to operate.

It is impossible for enterprise software companies to make their products infinitely customizable to fit every company’s unique workflows. They don’t want to become like Microsoft Word at its worst.


If you are the CEO of a fast-growing startup, you have a lot on your plate.

About a year ago, I built a simple semi-automated system we call GSD (Getting Shit Done). It allows our CEO to delegate tasks and not worry about their timely completion. The system was so successful that we want to roll it out to the rest of the company this year.

It uses the simple principle described below.

There is a rule for getting things done that is so obvious that people often completely miss it.

To get anything done it is necessary and enough…


Three and a half years ago my perception of time changed due to two factors: meeting my wife whom I love spending time with and finding a job I enjoy doing so much I would do it for free. This created a level of pressure on the 24 hours available every day.

When you do not have time to do everything you want, decisions must be made. The simplest and the worst decision is to start cutting corners. Sleep less, do things half-assed, take less care of yourself. Too many of us go this path. Don’t.

The second approach is…


Hedgehog in the Fog

People suck at predicting the future unless it closely resembles their past experience. Even worse, people systematically overestimate their predictive ability.

“I know that and take it into account,” you may say. Science shows that even if you are aware of the bias, you are still over-confident of your ability to predict the future. There is a entire article on Wikipedia on the topic: Overconfidence Effect.

If you work on a team that is creating something new, something that did not exist before, this is bad news. …


Do you need ambitious goals to achieve great results? Some smart people argue that setting goals is counter-productive.

Many of them take inspiration from a book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” Its author is Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comics. His blog post describes the idea in a nutshell: Goals vs. Systems.

The articles contain legitimate criticism of goals:

  • You can achieve a goal (say, lose weight) and then return to a status quo.
  • Goals may make you miserable if not achieved.
  • If you focus on a goal too much, you may miss…

No matter what work you do, at a high level you are simply setting goals and building machines to help you achieve them.
— Ray Dalio, Principles

When I was 6 a programmer friend of my dad’s did something that made a lifetime impression on me. He spent five minutes typing on our ZX Spectrum, then sat back and invited me to the screen with the program on it. It displayed two random numbers, asked me to multiply them, and revealed whether my answer was correct. …


About a year ago I switched from software engineering to business operations. A large part of my job is identifying and removing bottlenecks preventing the company from growing faster.

A startup is a fairly complex system with multiple cause-effect relationships. It is physically impossible to keep all the moving parts in my head when diagnosing problems. I needed a tool to augment my working memory.

You are probably familiar with mind maps. They are a great tool for thinking in breadth and extracting all the relevant thoughts from your head. …


Did you ever want to make a change in your organization but didn’t have authority to do it? Or didn’t want to use your power because you want people to make own decisions? Then this text is for you.

This is a story of how I discovered a way to improve things by using metrics right.

Usually, metrics are brought up as a way to control (you cannot control what you cannot measure) or to understand the situation.

I will tell you about a different quality of metrics that works not only for managers: communicating importance in a very clear…

Daniil Bratchenko

Building software and data systems that enable business operations; VP of Business Engineering @DataRobot

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