Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

7 Indicators of the Work Ethic in Your Startup Team

Great entrepreneurs have long been the epitome of people with a great work ethic. But many complain to me that it is becoming harder and harder to find team members and employees who demonstrate and live the same culture. Somewhere along the way, work ethic seems to have been replaced by a pervasive sense of entitlement, especially in the younger generations.

Now is the time to assess your own situation, set out clearly what you expect from each and every team member, and unleash the entrepreneur inside every employee. As a guide, I enjoyed the analysis of Eric Chester, in his book “Reviving Work Ethic,” which provides a leader’s guide to ending entitlement and restoring pride in the emerging workforce.

His focus is on young employees, whose habits and ideals might be more easily moldable. But with people of any age, work ethic is knowing what to do and doing it. Warren Buffett has been a tireless model of this work ethic for the last thirty years. According to Eric, there are seven elements which are essential to an individual’s work ethic, as follows:

  1. Upbeat, optimistic, energetic, and positive. Attitude is nothing more and nothing less than a person’s outward expression of his internal views. A positive attitude at work is infectious, so the more you call it out to others and encourage it in key team members, the easier it will be for you to radiate it throughout your culture.
  2. Reliable, no matter what. Reliability begins with showing up – being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. It extends directly to your customers through dependable products and services. It isn’t a value that only benefits the employer and customers. It makes for a valued worker, who will stay in high demand.
  3. Neatly groomed, appropriately dressed, and well mannered (professionalism). A professional puts the job ahead of personal norms and desires. Nonconformity is not the culture in most businesses. The best time to address expected norms is before hiring, and mentoring with one-on-one conversations must supplement rulebooks.
  4. Ambitious and dedicated (not satisfied with merely “good enough”). Initiative is all about the discipline of investing now – putting in the effort, sacrificing, doing more than the minimum, rather than waiting for the world to change (“Pay now, play later”). Leaders need to clarify the initiatives they expect to see, and reward exemplary results.
  5. Trustworthy (uncompromising respect). Every job relationship must start with the employee giving respect, before demanding it in return. This means respecting the work contract, coworkers, and the line between work and socializing. Entrepreneurs need to clarify expectations and rule relevance, mentor employees, and reward compliance.
  6. Integrity and coach-ability. Nothing will win coworker respect and admiration like honesty. Aim to be100 percent ethical and above board, 100 percent of the time. Talking about integrity is not enough. You need to call attention to it when you see it, recognize it, reward it, and celebrate it so that it radiates throughout your organization.
  7. Determined to do anything necessary to delight every customer and coworker (gratitude). You need your team members to show gratitude in all phases of their job. In this context, problems are good things to have. A valued employee understands that his job exists to solve problems, so he doesn’t run away from them, but toward them. That will delight your customers, and set you apart from competitors and less-diligent workers.

The Gallup Organization estimated over ten years ago that there were 22 million employees with a poor work ethic, or actively disengaged, costing the American economy as much as $350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness, and other problems. The longer-term problem is slow growth, and an ultimate failure to compete.

Are you and your company part of the problem, or part of the solution? Remember that a poor work ethic by even one person in the organization is a virus, which can spread like wildfire and bring down the whole organization. The antidote is daring to face the work ethic issues in yourself and your company, early and often, to keep you in the ranks of the great entrepreneurs.

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

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