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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Who's On Your Team?

Robert Swisher

The chief pursuits of any business are basically twofold; deliver value to the company and its shareholders and delight its customers with a product or service they want and need. To achieve these goals there are a few things every company needs to do; possibly the most important of which is to recruit, develop and retain top talent.

In Ben Horowitz's new book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things (among the best leadership books out there), Ben does a fantastic job of cutting to the core of many challenges all leaders face so simply and directly that you begin to wonder how you didn't see things his way before. One of the issues he touches on is the importance of training and expectation setting. The fact is that without clear expectations of what constitutes success, an employee cannot be expected to know what it looks like (Tweet This). If we don't provide these guardrails we're setting up our employees and companies for failure.

Related: The 7 Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Companies

While at Netscape, Ben was frustrated with the fact that everyone on his server product management team had a different interpretation of their job. It led him to define what he expected from his employees by writing something he called "Good Product Manager / Bad Product Manager", which is still making the rounds today. Ben polarized the Product Manager role into good and bad characteristics to define it simply, but I'm of the opinion employees fall into a few more categories. The first are employees who are A's: The Good. These are your best and brightest, the top talent you want to retain. The second are the C employees; The Bad. These are the ones who do a pretty good job, but really are just mediocre. Third, employees who are D's; The Ugly. These employees are meeting the minimum requirements, doing just enough to get by. You don't have any F's, because F's failed to meet your initial company standards; and you don't have any B's, because there is usually a pretty wide gap between your best talent and the next tier.

If you expect to become the world class organization you aspire to be, you have to set a high bar and stick to it. Whenever someone slips below, you just lowered your bar (Tweet This). One of the best ways you can set general expectations for employees is by defining your Culture and Truths clearly (you can read about's Culture and Truths here). What follows is "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly", inspired by Ben Horowitz and the culture defined at

Honesty & Transparency

Good employees are open and honest with their communication. They ask the tough questions and they give tough answers, even when it may not be what people want to hear. They are accountable for their actions and they own up to the truth. Good employees take responsibility for the facts. They offer up information with initiative and communicate early and often. They share information because they believe hoarding knowledge is an old school way of thinking. Good employees ask questions for clarification for themselves or others.

Bad employees communicate minimally and reactively. They make assumptions rather than get clarification to be certain. Bad employees communicate when it may already be too late. They hold tightly to tribal knowledge because they believe it makes them more valuable. Bad employees expect someone else to take responsibility for negative outcomes.

Ugly employees may hide the facts. They believe not sharing the whole truth is acceptable. Ugly employees place blame on others and throw people under the bus. They don't speak up or ask questions and they tell people what they believe that person wants to hear. Ugly employees make excuses.

Sharing & Dogfooding

Good employees recognize the value in "eating their own dog food" (using your own products) and they use our product and consume our content actively. They know it's an important feedback loop for improvement and contributes to the company's success. Bad employees pay dogfooding lip service or do it minimally, without feedback. Ugly employees likely don't use our product or consume our content at all.

Good employees believe in the power of social sharing and the impact it has on our business, so they share outside of the walls of the company (Tweet This). They recognize that generating interest in what we do is good for us and our audience. Good employees recognize that building their networks is valuable and know that by doing so they circulate knowledge both in and outside of the company. They engage in valuable exchanges with the business community. Bad employees just spam on behalf of the company. They share because they're expected to, not because they believe in it. They don't add much value to the conversation. Ugly employees share rarely (if at all) and make excuses for why they can't find the time or why it doesn't matter.

Related: Six Social Sharing Laws for B2B Marketers [Infographic]

Adaptable & Flexible

Good employees know there is not always a clear path laid out for them. They forge ahead and blast through roadblocks. They thrive in an environment where they don't have all the answers. Bad employees have trouble getting started without a clear picture. They want others to find their answers. Ugly employees expect to be told what to do or be willingly micro-managed.

Good employees are agile and flexible. They change direction when something isn't working; they pivot when necessary and are communicating constantly. Bad employees bang their heads against the wall. They keep doing the same thing while expecting different results this time. They are rigid in their habits and work hard, but not smart. Ugly employees give up when the going gets tough. They say things like "this is impossible". Ugly employees find problems, not solutions. (Tweet This)

Collaborative & Supportive

Good employees know the sum of the parts is not greater than the whole. They team up to deliver value and get the job done. They help each other to do what's best for the company. Bad employees believe they must do it on their own. Bad employees are too busy with their own tasks and goals to pitch in. They are too busy with their day to day to see the big picture. Ugly employees like working in silos. They expect something in return if they contribute to projects.

Good employees support each other through success and failure. They prevent mistakes and help other learn from missteps. Bad employees only celebrate the wins. Ugly employees focus the failures (Tweet).

Sense of Urgency

Good employees believe all great endeavors require a sense of urgency. They believe success is something you make happen. Good employees know the time is now. Bad employees think the stage must be set. They're worried about being ahead of the curve and want to see others lead. Ugly employees think good things come to those who wait.

Good employees get to work before they're expected. They want to make sure they don't keep anyone waiting. Good employees are ready to tackle whatever challenge they have in front of them. Bad employees show up at the exact time they should or maybe a minute or two late. They move at their own pace. Ugly employees are regularly late and always have excuses.

Good employees stay late when they're in the middle of something. They want to get to the next challenge and don't let things wait till tomorrow. Bad employees know tomorrow is another day and they can finish up then. Ugly employees punch the clock and rush off to whatever else they have to do. They've been packed up and waiting to leave for a while already.

Related: Why Your Tech Team Missed Their Deadline

Commitment & Passion

Good employees are passionate about what we're building and the value it brings to our audience and customers. They recognize the strategy and the market validation behind it. They jump in with both feet and execute against the strategy. Good employees are relentless and committed to delivering on our goals.

Bad employees come up with reasons why things won't work. They don't give 100% because they're not completely convinced. Bad employees aren't willing to take risks. Ugly employees are just here to collect a paycheck and don't really care about we're building.

It's very easy to create exceptions to the rule and find reasons to let the bar be lowered. When that happens you will find hiring and retaining top talent will get more and more difficult. You must clearly define the expectations for success to get everyone marching in the same direction. If your culture is not well defined and if your leaders do not embody it, you will find that it falls to the lowest common denominator (Tweet This). Employees will begin to see where expectations are set based on those around them and will sink to that level. You'll find that you've become The Bad or even worse, The Ugly.

If you nurture a culture of anything less than The Good you will never become the world class company you aspire to be. Nurture a culture of high expectations and you'll see the exact opposite. You'll find yourself surrounded with people who care deeply and want not only want to be successful, but refuse to accept failure. You'll find that suddenly you feel wind in your sails and things seem to just start happening. This is the benefit of a commitment to excellence.


Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images
Robert Swisher Member
Robert Swisher is the Founder & CEO of Frendli, CTO & Co-founder at FestPop and was previously Chief Technology Officer at He has lead Engineering and IT Operations teams and writes on topics including emerging technology, process, leadership, hardware, software and various other nerdy things. In 2015 Robert was selected by San Diego Magazine as a recipient of the annual Top Tech Exec Award, honoring outstanding leadership in the technology community. Robert studied Electrical and Computer Engineering at Colorado State University and has a background in both web development and operations. He has lead technology teams behind Alexa Top 800 web properties and was among the first to develop a method for streaming live video to the iPhone. Outside of work Robert enjoys traveling, video production, DJing, and the Southern California sun.