Take the Time to Acknowledge Management’s Performance

I’ve been in several board meetings over the past month where the companies are having a killer Q2.  A year ago everyone was still pretty rattled from the financial crisis and there was plenty of belt tightening, consternation, and general anxiety.  By Q409 we’d had a number of companies we are investors in end the year strongly and their growth has continued into Q1 and Q2.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve sat through plenty of good meetings and plenty of bad board meetings.  I always try to acknowledge the efforts of individual executives when they’ve exceeded expectations and the full team when they’ve crushed it.  I’m not afraid to be direct and critical and I always speak my mind, but I try never to forget to praise people for their efforts.

When I reflect on my peers, some of the best VCs I’ve worked with are amazing at acknowledging the efforts of the entrepreneurs and management teams, especially when they are dealing with complex situations.  This praise isn’t gratuitous – it’s targeted, focused, and appropriate.  And over the years I’ve occasionally seen it offered up at exactly the right moment.

Unfortunately, the opposite is more common.  I often sit through a board meeting and watch in amazement as the VC investors socratically pick away at the management team, asking question after question but offering no substantive suggestions.  If the business is having an issue, or the CEO is specifically looking to try to work through a problem, this can be helpful.  But in the cases where the company has performed well, this is at best a tedious exercise in wasting everyone’s time.  At worst, it’s insensitive and offensive to a management team that has performed well, especially in a tough situation.  And often, it’s incredibly deflating and demotivating.

So, fellow VCs and board members, take a moment and remember that when people do a great job, it’s worth spending a moment acknowledging them.  Most of the folks I’m working with are busting their asses to create real companies.  They are making many sacrifices and tradeoffs to do what they do. A little pat on the back will go a long way, especially after three hours of questions.

  • Oh, we don't need those pats on back… the joy of day-to-day struggles is more than enough 🙂

  • James

    This is one good reason to avoid VC if possible. Instead of building value, you're wasting precious time – performing like a monkey for your VC bosses.

  • Matt Blumberg

    Of course I like the sentiment, but I'd note that it takes two to tango. A good CEO can lead weak directors to be at least neutral, if not stars. Maybe they can't make a director give praise…but they can stop them from the painful, socratic picking and lack of helpful input.

    • I totally agree.

    • Claude

      and those "weak" CEO's turn around and take the negativity directly back to his/her team. Ripple effect.

      • Of course!

        My point wasn't that CEOs and management teams are uniformly strong. Rather it was that there are lots of cases where they do a great job (remember the context – these are companies that are crushing it) yet the VCs and/or board members have no emotional ability to hand out a little praise.

        • I think most solid leaders in any context provide constructive criticism and balance it out with positive feedback. You should not have one without the other (although they may be lopsided) and you should never provide either unless it is sincere (and not just for the sake of balance).

          • Derek

            When I'm crushing it, I don't want "positive feedback." I wanna hear "You fucking rule!" So do my employees. We try to make sure that kind of thing gets shouted from the rooftop.

          • Yeah – my form of \”positive feedback\” often is something similar to \”you fucking rule.\”

  • Great to read such a good article from another Coloradan! Feedback is a huge part of successful work relationships, and a little pat CAN go a very long way.

  • That is a good mentality to have, as the saying goes you have to give credit where credit is due. Most people get upset if their achievements are acknowledged but management's achievements are rarely acknowledged.