Why Pitching a Really Bad Idea Isn’t the End of the World

March 23, 2016, 12:30 AM UTC
Photograph by moodboard

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you keep your team motivated? is written by Rod Drury, CEO of Xero.

Building software is part art, part science. To create beautiful art, you need passion and ownership, and the same goes for building beautiful software.

At Xero, we’ve grown to more than 1,300 people spread all over the world. As we’ve scaled, we’ve had to invest in our people and carefully think about their career progression to keep them motivated.

One productive software developer is better than five unproductive developers combined. So keeping our people motivated and working toward a common goal is good business sense.

Here’s how I rally the troops:

  1. Purpose is everything

Clearly defining your purpose, communicating it through strategy—which is continuously iterated based on two-way feedback—and empowering your employees to get on and make decisions is one of the purest ways to motivate a team.

At Xero, everything we do should help to boost small business profitability. If small businesses earn more, more jobs are created, they contribute more to the national GDP, and there’s more money to build better schools and hospitals. With better health care and education, we have stronger labor pools, and the uplifting cycle continues. It’s a powerful idea and one that is highly motivating.

By articulating the higher cause and ensuring that everything you do boosts that cause, you attract people who align with your purpose. Harnessing that passion to see the company purpose come to life and empowering teams with the right tools to do their most beautiful work is how you win.

See also: Why You Can’t Motivate Your Employees

  1. Positive feedback: five to one

Empowerment is the key to motivation. For every negative criticism you give, ensure you provide five pieces of positive feedback. Using platforms like Yammer to give every employee a voice—and the opportunity to participate in company-wide conversations—instills a sense of ownership, whether you’re the CEO or the intern.

I also use Yammer to keep an eye on what’s happening in and around our organization. It gives me the opportunity to like and interact with posts, reinforce great initiatives and ownership, and correct behavior that is inconsistent with our strategy or culture.


  1. Being (visibly) wrong is great

If you’re in an organization that is truly centered around learning and filled with smart people, it should be expected that people will either poke holes in your ideas or come up with better ones.

It takes humility to admit you’re wrong in such a public setting. But by taking on feedback and correcting yourself, you learn how anyone in an organization can influence the strategies that are established.

  1. The George Costanza theory of management: Do the opposite of convention and trust your instincts

Large companies often fall into the boring, safe bucket because they rarely stray from doing the same old thing.

Maintaining convention is the quickest way to develop stale teams.

In my favorite Seinfeld episode, George Costanza works out that if every instinct you have is wrong, doing the exact opposite must be right.

When it comes to motivating staff, convention would have it that you should throw more money at them, start an internal professional development program, or ship them off to a fancy conference to learn a new skill. While we do a lot of that, we’re flipping over to match our highly valuable team members with up-and-coming startups so they can operate as mentors outside of our business.

They quickly discover that they are already experts in their fields and have the ability to make incredibly valuable contributions. By using their skills in a new situation, they gain perspective and develop confidence that is valuable inside of our business. It also feels really good.

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