Get Shit Done: The Worst Startup Culture Ever

get shit doneGSD! Just ship it! Fail fast! Fire fast! HUSTLE!

They’re the battle cries of the startup world, which maintains a culture of moving quickly.

Maybe you’ve experienced this culture?

I definitely have. I’ve worked at companies where “get shit done” was the mantra, actually posted huge on the wall.

If you weren’t performing, you were simply told “get shit done”.

That’s a bad culture.

It’s bad management. Poor communication.

Telling them to just get shit done is like telling a fat person to “just lose weight”. It’s like telling a wide receiver to “just catch the ball”. It’s like telling a kid to “just get better grades”.

It shows a disregard for the actual context of the situation.

If you have someone working with you or for you, that you know is talented but just hasn’t been as productive as they were in the past, they’re probably wondering the same thing… “Why am I underperforming?” It’s not like they want to be a poor performer.

A true manager will actually seek out the root cause of the problem, and solve for those issues.

Obviously, if they could perform better, they would. Understanding WHY they haven’t is the key to solving the problem.

There aren’t just productive people and unproductive people. Everyone has the potential to be productive or unproductive. There aren’t people who are A players and C players. Just people who are performing at an A level and at a C level.

If somebody isn’t performing up to their potential, it could be for a lot of different reasons. Most likely it has something to do with their environment or their personal routines and systems.

Toxic Environments

There are a great deal of external factors that might be affecting their performance. Maybe they’re having trouble at home, like a sick family member. Maybe they’re having relationship issues.

Maybe it’s your office environment. Are they having trouble communicating with other members of the team? Are they afraid to ask for help since everyone is heads down “getting shit done” and won’t make time?

Maybe their life priorities just changed and they’ve become more motivated by something else.

There’s a chance that a change in their environment caused a sudden shift in their productivity.

If so, determine whether or not you can alter the environment or wait it out.

If you can, great.

If you can’t, it may be smart to go your separate ways.

Lack of Disciplined Routines and Systems

When people are truly productive, getting shit done and exerting positive energy, it’s because they’ve developed effective habits.

They have systems in place for starting their day, for communicating and giving feedback, for focusing on the task at hand, for planning, etc.

A person’s routines are what empowers them to improve over time. They work their skills out, becoming stronger through consistent repetition.

If someone is becoming less productive over time, it’s very likely that their habits have changed and they haven’t properly addressed the state of things. This happens all the time in startups.

An example

Here’s an example inspired by my personal experience a while back. Does this situation feel familiar?

You start a new job at a startup. At first it’s great, there’s a high expectation of performance, you’re hustling, you’re bringing in new ideas and you feel yourself growing quickly as a professional. You work a lot of hours, often sticking around the office until 8-9 but that’s alright, you’re getting your shit done. You get a lot of emails, maybe 30-50 every day. You have anywhere from 5-10 different projects on your plate at any one time. You’ve been asked to manage a small team and so now you have 3 more people’s agendas to concern yourself with.

Slowly you become more responsive instead of proactive and reflective. You’re always on the move, trying to catch up. You fail to take the time to step back and formulate a system. You develop bad habits like constantly checking email, working long hours, eating lunch at your computer, focusing on 2 projects at once, etc… You sleep less, you stop working out, you don’t take breaks to clear your mind, you can’t separate your work from your personal time. Your energy levels start to fall, you feel on edge, you give off a negative energy and the people you work with and manage are feeding off that negative energy. Your performance starts to falter and you feel workloads and expectations piling up on top of you.

Now imagine a manager coming to this person and saying “You’re not performing well. You need to GET SHIT DONE!”

If anything, the “Get Shit Done” mentality is what caused the problem in the first place! Telling someone who’s failing to manage their time and energy to just get shit done is simply adding fuel to the fire. It’s only a matter of time before everything crashes and burns.

Instead, what a good manager does is help this person identify the things that are causing them to be unproductive.

They’ll help them develop new habits and encourage them in their efforts to adopt them.

They’ll force them to take a step back and see the bigger picture.

They’ll work together to build new systems that will help them be successful.

Shit, at the very least they’ll recommend a good self help book.

Or they’ll determine that they don’t have time to help the person and they’ll fire them. That’s better than “just get shit done”.

“Get shit done” isn’t a tactic, it’s a goal.

People get shit done when they’re motivated, they see the results of their work, they can communicate openly, they believe in what they’re doing and they know why they’re doing it.

They get shit done when they first make sure that they take care of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally which will always be at the core of our company‘s culture.

To be a good manager and leader, you need to help them reach that goal.

Invest the time to help them become the A player you know they can be or that they have been in the past.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to help people change their lifestyle just so they can perform better. I just need to find people who are already performing at that level.”

That’s fine and that’s your call.

If it’s not worth your time, then fire them.

That’s okay.

Just know, as soon as you start using “Get Shit Done” as a management tactic, you’ve already doomed that person to failure, it’ll just be a lot messier.

 

 

54 comments
RealChaseAdams
RealChaseAdams

Hey David!

I definitely agree with your thoughts on how destructive a culture can be where someone is being told to just "get it done", but I think this post is a red herring, so to speak, from the original value statement behind the mantra.

In most company cultures, both small 5-10 person operations (which I've worked at) and 1500 person operations (which I've worked at), too much value is built on talking...and meetings...followed by more talking...all to find out that 6 months later your right where you started, and nothing has gotten done. Because all we did was talk.

I don't think that's rare or an outlier or an anomaly. I'd say most anyone who's worked on a team has experienced this.

So I see understand it as, "Stop talking about what we're going to do, and let's just do it!" This isn't as much a management tactic as much as it is a sentiment/rally cry that bubbles up from the people who love to produce but are being blocked by bureaucracy from the top.

I do agree with you that it should be used to create room for people who are ready to do, to get things done. 

skeptic
skeptic

"There aren’t just productive people and unproductive people. Everyone has the potential to be productive or unproductive"

Provably false. Some research shows as much as a 10x factor in productivity for software developers. Heck even if that research is off by 200% it means your best players are going to produce 5 times as much as the worst. You clearly haven't really worked with true "C player". I have. (Note this person was eventually fired, but inertia kept them around for years)

The principle folly in this article is assuming a startup has "managers". LOL. Startups don't have managers, they have leaders.

gilespn
gilespn

'Get Shit Done' is meant to be a personal mantra so as not to procrastinate, it is not meant to be a company ethos.

Stephanie5
Stephanie5

This is an understatement and one I had to reintroduce as a pivotal point in this amazing article. I wish I read this 7 yrs ago . When a business is just starting, "getting shit done" is a survival tactic and maybe the only one known to bring in any business at the time. However the brilliant lesson in this article is that it evolves into chaos eventually as you grow, hire employees, and "a manager" it becomes a sub culture that is hard to break out of. I have found that Employees and managers resent the implementation of policies and procedures that are put in place after the fact. Getting shit done only works for a short time and then it turns around and bites you in the a$$. As the owner starts to see what issues are holding the company back from continued growth or is able to identify a more simple approach to something (which is something usually learned from experience and why an article like this one is invaluable) it becomes harder and harder to implement these strategies if everyone has been working from the "just get shit done" perspective. It is especially hard for the manager because they are overseeing the day to day operation of this mess and trying to implement these strategies that may be brilliant but it means changing everyone's way of doing their job. I have found most managers are incapable of handling this, so the owner gets involved in the implementation and there can be a lot of issues especially if a manager is great at getting their job done but not so great at managing people. Now your company is in the middle of employee issues which can stall the growth and development of any start up. SPINKS, where have you been all my life??????

Stephanie5
Stephanie5

This is an understatement and one I had to reintroduce as a pivotal point in this amazing article. I wish I read this 7 yrs ago . When a business is just starting, "getting shit done" is a survival tactic and maybe the only one known to bring in any business at the time. However the brilliant lesson in this article is that it evolves into chaos eventually as you grow, hire employees, and "a manager" it becomes a sub culture that is hard to break out of. I have found that Employees and managers resent the implementation of policies and procedures that are put in place after the fact. Getting shit done only works for a short time and then it turns around and bites you in the a$$. As the owner starts to see what issues are holding the company back from continued growth or is able to identify a more simple approach to something (which is something usually learned from experience and why an article like this one is invaluable) it becomes harder and harder to implement these strategies if everyone has been working from the "just get shit done" perspective. It is especially hard for the manager because they are overseeing the day to day operation of this mess and trying to implement these strategies while the owner is

adolf
adolf

Excellent article, you speak from my heart. Yeah in my 30+ years as a  professional I've heard it so many times. I got so sick of it that years ago I decided to start my own business . Guess what? I'm getting "shit" done now BUT IN MY WAY.

neutralino1
neutralino1

Things are always more complex than a punch-line.

bdskene
bdskene

Nice article. How about "get the _right_ shit done". Action-oriented, but intentional and present. Although we are habit driven, strive to periodically wake up and re-evaluate our direction ... but then don't be afraid to ACT. Lather-rinse-repeat.

I've had the fortune to manage over 250 people over my career, not all at once. This article is right. Maybe this is a stretch, but somehow (though I can't exactly say how) it feels like a corollary to the mythical man month. If you add more people than you can get to know, understand, and care for properly, you lose the capability to help unblock them from their habits or impediments. And then you are left with measuring progress as butts in chairs GSD, resulting in S.

digiarnie
digiarnie

Agreed.  I reckon "get shit done" is code for "let's all make a mess and ship now without caring how bad it'll be later".

corporateslavegeek
corporateslavegeek

Brilliant stuff. This isn't just in start ups, though. "Start Up Thinking" is something my large - very large organziation

jaymelone
jaymelone

I get the premise of the article. I tend to agree with others' comments, that while having a plan is optimal, there are plenty of times for simply GSD. Like everything, there's a time and place for both sides.

But one thing that seems out of sorts is the concept that within a startup your manager (startups have these?) should need to focus your time & energy for you. Every single person in a startup needs to pull their own weight and be overly pragmatic about their priorities and time. They also have to know how to say "no". If you can't do that much, a startup probably isn't a good fit to begin with.

templeos0
templeos0

I've been working on http://www.templeos.org for ten years.  "Get shit done?"  The question is what to do.  An outsider might think it's obvious, things could be done.  640x480 16 color might be where to start.  The truth is, there are just two PC operating systems for a reason.  In other words, you don't know fools errands such as supporting some -- pick one -- graphics card.  You think it makes sense to spend a year on some graphics card?  Then, we'd have only 200 other graphics cards to do.  That is not a winning strategy.

Knowing what to do is the problem.  I've been at this ten years.  What I need are brilliant new ideas not present in Windows or Linux.  I just invented sub_switch_start/sub_switch_end statements in my HolyC language.  http://www.templeos.org/Wb/Doc/HolyC.html

tsopi
tsopi

"Does this situation feel familiar?"

YES!

MarketerGraham
MarketerGraham

Love it. I think that Hustle and other mantras are more of an internal drive/ motivation than a management tactic. The Techstars moto of do more faster is a good example. if you read the book, there are some pieces of gold there. Maybe these slogans are just a poor distillation of the underlying elements.

Anonymous
Anonymous

You transformed "get shit done" into a performance related issue, my experience and interpretation of this mantra is totally different from a performance perspective and it goes more like "be pragmatic, done is better than perfect".

gsdboss
gsdboss

The timing of this article is amazing.


I am in the idea phase of a project to solve this problem. 

It deal with this specific issue of waning motivation 

and address the all different causes of them. 


I'm still looking for ideas to recognize those issues

and solve them.


Thanks David.

adam_haun
adam_haun

Tremendous. What I find makes a happy team member is learning new things. Moving on to the next project without taking reflection time on what you accomplished and what worked well is the absolute worst. Reflection time equates to personal growth and development. For me, that's a great culture and what a manager/leader should want to see in his/her team. 

HeatherWhaling
HeatherWhaling

You noted that people are most productive when they're motivated. My team and I went through a training session last week based on DiSC profiles. Basically, you identify your personal profile and learn how to read people around you to ascertain their profiles. Then you learn what motivates and demotivates people. For example, I'm a D (for driven), so there are certain things that motivate me ... and demotivate me. Other people on my team fall in the  "S" or "I" category and consequently have VERY different motivators/demotivators. Now that I understand their triggers, I can better manage them and help them stay motivated and productive. I learned that it's not about changing expectations, it's about changing the approach. So, for some people a hardcore "just get it done" mentality works. For others, that approach makes them want to disappear in a black hole. It's all about knowing the people you're managing and then communicating to meet them where they are.

Another great post. Keep 'em coming!

mirozoo
mirozoo

Great post, David! You especially nailed it with the paragraph about disciplined routines and productive habits. In retrospect, we'd wasted more than 10 years in our company by just getting shit done. Our solution to this problem was to keep a simple "logbook" to regularly record and reflect our achievements and experiences in a team context. (We released a public version of our internal logbook tool called "teamspir.it" a couple of months ago.) I must admit that it was damn hard to convince all of our team members that it is really important to write regularly. Even today most of the people I talk about this habit ask "Why the hell should I do that? I know what I've done, no need to write it down...". There are several good approaches for answers to this question in your post!

Kristjanfreyr
Kristjanfreyr

In some cases, the examples you mention are true. 

However, smart startup managers know, that in order for them to make the startup work, they will in most cases need to have users and preferably paying customers from early on. The most amount of work into getting those customers is figuring out the product market fit. To do that, they will need to have something to show the customers, and if people are spending to much time on doing highly irrelevant things while making experiments you tell them that done is better then perfect and to get shit done.

Im not saying it doesn't have problems involved in it, but I think the likelihood of a startup manager, "guessing", what customers want, and making sure everything is perfect instead of testing it fast, will have a dramatically lower chance of success. 

BenOvermyer
BenOvermyer

"Get Shit Done" is not a management style and never should be. As a mantra it can be flawed also, because it encourages productivity for productivity's sake. More appropriate, I think, is "Make Life Better." It implies helping customers, helping coworkers, and helping the company (in descending order of importance).

After all, startups make cool things because they believe they're making life more awesome for people. Or should, anyway. The health and awesomeness of a startup's team should not suffer for that.

MikeGraf
MikeGraf

Get shit done has a viable context-- One in which I am the primary blocker. Maybe I'm procrastinating at doing what I know I ought to, maybe I am less interested in what the company needs, more interested in something else at the moment.

I've heard this phrased as "Swallow the frog" meaning sometimes we need to build up the nerve to just do whatever it is that we're procrastinating on.

none the less, I like the comparison with telling an obese person "Just lose weight!" .

Daved
Daved

@skeptic "The principle folly in this article is assuming a startup has "managers". LOL. Startups don't have managers, they have leaders."


And here you have your misstep. Successful startups have managers that are leaders. While there is a distinct difference between the two - the ability to innovate and inspire vs. the ability to plan and organize - a successful startup is one that employs people who are able to combine the skills of both successfully. I know plenty of startups that had just managers, but the ones I know to have been successful had leaders that knew how to manage.


I think the other missed point in the article is that a person's productivity level is impacted by their environment, or external factors, and they are not simply an "unproductive member of society." This includes the job they are at. I have experienced some true "C players" in my experience only to see them as "A players" in a new environment. Just because someone is unproductive, or even unsuccessful, at one thing doesn't mean they are entirely. Maybe the firing of that person allowed them to find the environment that suits their needs.


Each person has different influences and outside factors that motivate and inspire them, or drag them down and deter them. This is where the ability of the true leader in a startup shines: figuring out what makes that person productive and helping them identify it. Sometimes the job just isn't right for that person and the leader has to make the decision to truly help that person realize that the job is actually the issue.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@gilespn I agree. Unfortunately it's often being used in the latter manner.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@corporateslavegeek truth. Definitely applies in non-startup cultures as well.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@jaymelone "within a startup your manager (startups have these?) should need to focus your time & energy for you"

That wasn't the premise. The point was that the manager has to either help the person figure it out, or cut them loose. But just telling them they have to pull their own weight is essentially the messier, longer way of doing the latter.

"Every single person in a startup needs to pull their own weight and be overly pragmatic about their priorities and time. They also have to know how to say "no"."

I agree. That would be great. However the reality is those things are hard and often there are a lot of reasons why even great workers will find themselves challenged to accomplish these things, especially in the stressful environment of a startup.

Anonymous
Anonymous

@templeos0 Congratulations on a completely irrelevant hijacking of the article to discuss your OS.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@Anonymous I think that's often the root of the mantra, but it then bleeds into other areas of the culture, like performance.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@adam_haun Spot on. Reflection is so important, but rarely celebrated in the startup world.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@HeatherWhaling yep that totally makes sense. 

In my experience, the "GSD" advice can be effective at the right time. But often it's used in the wrong way. The same person might one day feel driven and motivated by the get shit done cheers! But that's usually when things are running smoothly. When they're not running smoothly, that's where the GSD cheers forces that person into the black hole.

Thanks for sharing Heather (=

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@mirozoo that's really interesting. Once they started the new routine, did they find it helped?

The tough part about building new habits is it's pretty specific to the person. Making sure that they're embracing the right habits for them, and that they're using a framework that works for them in order to adopt the habit is the ultimate challenge.

Kristjanfreyr
Kristjanfreyr

To clarify, I don't believe the most effective way is to tell people to get shit done, but to encourage them through other leadership methods. However, if a startup manager is in a situation where people are working in a highly ineffective way, something must be done to intervene. 

You don't tell Usain Bolt to run faster, but you could point out that he is running the wrong way. 

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@MarcoBarbosa hehe glad you enjoyed it Marco, thanks for the comment.


Moving quickly and shipping fast is amazing! I'm certainly not arguing against that. It's a goal that we should all shoot for. I just want to make sure that I'm doing everything to help my team get there instead of just telling them to do it.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@BenOvermyer Spot on Ben. I almost wrote our own mantra at the end of the post which is similar to "Make Life Better".  I'd also add "helping yourself" to that mix. More on that soon (=

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@MikeGraf I hear you and as I mentioned in my response to Jason's comment, there can be a time and place where "get shit done" can pump energy into an already hard working team. But in the situation you describe, the fact that you're less interested in what the company needs than something else would be a huge red flag. There's a fundamental issue there that needs to be addressed, and "get shit done" will just push you further into the mud.

If it's just a matter of something you weren't properly prioritizing and as a result you procrastinated, a conversation needs to be had that ensures you're on the same page about priorities so that you know what needs to get done. If you still don't think it's a priority, and someone just tells you to get shit done...again you're not addressing a deeper issue that lies at the root of the problem.

Anonymous2
Anonymous2

@Anonymous @templeos0 

Congratulations anon on being a dickhaed. Do some research before you open your mouth.

mirozoo
mirozoo

@DavidSpinks Whow, couldn't have written that better myself! ;-) In our case, it took some time (about six months) until all team members had realized the various benefits of frequently writing and reflecting our experiences together. But once this habit is established, it gets more and more interesting to look back and to reflect lessons learned. (Looking back also opens a window to the (team/company) future.)

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@Kristjanfreyr All good and fair points. I understand the value of getting something out the door and testing. It's something I live and breathe every day in my own startup. What you're describing is an example of a manager taking the context into account and making sure the people expected to deliver understand that context as well. That's precisely what I'm advocating for.

MarcoBarbosa
MarcoBarbosa

@DavidSpinks Sorry, looks like I deleted my comment. I said something like "Haha it felt like this post was written to me! Thanks for sharing."

I'm glad you see the importance of managing a team correctly as well as still keeping the "ship it" line of thinking.

It's a fine line between them and it takes experience to manage it well. You seem like a good leader.
Cheers!

BenOvermyer
BenOvermyer

@DavidSpinks I nearly added "helping yourself" to that sentence, but I couldn't quickly think of where in the order to put it. If you've got a blog post in the works about that subject, I'd love to read it when it's ready.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@mirozoo very cool. Like many habits, the benefits often don't reveal themselves until later. That's why they're so tough to create because they don't have immediate rewards.

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