Get more bang for your burn rate, lift off. Don’t crash & burn.

How can you maximize cash, energy, effort, results, scaling speed? 

Accelerate people performance. Most companies don’t come close to realizing their people potential; this is a huge miss and an exponential opportunity. 

Startups and scaling companies will often refer to “runway” as the distance between “now” and “when cash would run out, if maintaining the current trajectory” – like a plane on a runway at the airport and the disaster if they don’t lift off in time. How fast you’re burning through cash to fuel your business “lift off”, is called your burn rate. (hot tip: there’s a great article on SaaStr about how Zoom had a burn rate budget) 

In reality your success is not only tied to cash or time. Unless you only have robots, your business performance is inextricably tied to your ability to accelerate people performance to achieve results. Every action or inaction, every decision, every second – the humans are determining your business performance.

Often founders are struggling with what looks like a trade-off choice: Do I increase my burn rate and burn through cash faster to lift off? OR conserve it? This at first glance appears to be a binary choice between Burn OR Conserve. There are alternatives but to see them, to see the “And’s” not just the “Or’s”, you have to increase the complexity in your thinking and back up to look at it from different angles. This aligns with Einstein’s thinking that you can’t solve a problem at the same level of complexity that created it – you have to take a step up and out of it to see. Building the skill of simultaneously examining opposing ideas is incredibly important and directly related to your ability to adapt and lead effectively. As you expand your mental models, how you think about how things work in the world, you can see new possibilities out of opposing views and create opportunities to solve challenges in new ways. 

A great coach I had once told me: “You want better answers, ask better questions.” 

Instead of seeing this trade-off between burning or conserving, maximize. One idea is to ask yourself: “How could I burn at a rate that accelerates the business AND conserve to make the most of it?” Maximizing is not just “your return on ads, or how fast you’re building your product, or efficiency in the sales process”, it’s actually all about your people performance – and so few really get this or act on it to enable lift off. The people (including yourself) are the ones actually driving the business forward or not, every minute.

People are infinitely more capable than they think they are. We limit ourselves to our tiny boxes of self-limitation for safety and survival – it’s part of what our brains were actually designed to do. Keep us alive by staying safe, playing it safe. Your win in maximizing people performance is actually not at all about “getting more out of them.” It’s about enabling people to take psychological ownership, and tiny steps in stretching beyond their capabilities to grow daily. 

Here’s where we often lose ground rather than accelerate. Maximizing or accelerating people performance is not about “hitting it harder” “demanding more results” “writing it down” “having more 1-1’s”… demanding, pushing, setting more expectations. If we were talking about robots or machines, you could just crank it up and have it go faster. We’ve all been taught to think about our companies as if they’re machines, when they’re really organisms, ecosystems of human performance (or underperformance). Zombies repeating the same actions at different speeds day in and day out. Your company performance is all about human performance. And the humans don’t work like machines. To perform, people own it, bring their best and adapt. 

Think about this like creating the environment for maximum people performance. Unleashing potential. Creating ways to help the humans grow faster because they can’t see beyond the box they’ve put themselves in. And always remember that people are infinitely more capable than they can see or think they are. Psychology has proven over and over that people have an innate desire for performance, mastery and autonomy – human beings find great meaning and purpose in this. We can nurture performance from wherever they are now, and exponentially grow together. And this is how we maximize the outcomes of the company, burn rate and runway. 

People are not overhead, they’re the heartbeat of your business. 

Tips to get this rolling: 

Actually help people grow.
Focus on joint outcomes – where are the win-wins that they’re excited about. 
Come from a place of genuinely wanting to help people grow, to build a better company, to make a more positive impact on the world through what you’re providing. Listen and build on what people are excited about. Be helpful. 
Focus on shorter action / feedback loops for faster iterative performance growth. Engage in conversations that expand thinking by asking questions and broaden perspectives. Have more frequent, shorter check-ins with a really tight, explicit focus to help the person find the next experiment they could try. Build growing into the work. Be future focused.
Remember that people have to own it and grow their own way to performance. It’s up to companies and leaders to create the environment to make this growth inevitable – that as an individual it’s a no-brainer to grow. Together, come up with experiments (let them lead), make experiments smaller and safer “tiny step today, this week”. The more risk the brain perceives, the less likely the individual is to “stretch”. Support the small stretch effort. 
Grow yourself for others to grow, they can’t pass you. If you’re hitting a wall, remember that you’re in your own box too and in order to overcome the next challenge means growing into the next version of yourself too. Read. Walk. Reflect on who you’re becoming and who you need to become in order to achieve your goals. What are the ideal things you want to be true? What if those things were actually true, how would you show up? 

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