Momentum Podcast: 214

Multiplication by Substraction

by Alex Charfen

Episode Description

This is one of my favorite business theories that works for people with teams. If you have a member that isn’t showing up in the way they should, you're sanctioning incompetence. What you allow or put up with isn’t isolated to just you and that person. Whether you realize it or not, you’re sending a clear message to your team. If the people in life aren’t giving you momentum, they’re taking it away.

Full Audio Transcript

I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum Podcast, made for empire builders, game-changers, trail-blazers, shot-takers, record-breakers, world-makers, and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will.

We don't accept our destiny. We define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we're the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future, and instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent positive human evolution, and we always will be.

Multiplication by subtraction. This is one of my favorite business theories, and it works for anyone who's running a team. See, here's what multiplication by subtraction means. It means that if you have a team of true believers and you have a person on that team that isn't showing up the right way, isn't doing what they should do, isn't really delivering like the rest of the true believers, that person is holding everyone back, so much so that if you remove them from the equation, you may exponentially increase the amount of business you're really doing because you removed one person.

That's called multiplication by subtraction, and here's how you know that you have this opportunity. If you have a team of true believers, people who are showing up, they believe in you and what you do, they believe in your company and what you produce, they believe in your clients and the outcome they create in the world, and your team is excited about working with you, you probably know the person who isn't a true believer, the person who really shouldn't be there, the person who's not showing up in the same way as everyone else.

And if they're still on your team, I want to introduce you to a term called sanctioned incompetence. See, if you have someone on your team that is not showing up the way they should, they're not accomplishing what they should, they're not showing up in the way that everyone else is, they're not supporting the team, fulfilling their role, they're not doing everything that a normal person on your team does, here's what happens. If you don't do anything about it, if you just leave that in place, you sanction that level of incompetence, you approve of that level of incompetence, and here's what can happen in any team.

If you have one person on the team that's not showing up in the right way, it can slow down the rest of the team. It can hold back everyone else because what happens is they look at that person and even if it's just like ... the motivation they have goes down. Even if it's subconscious, when they know somebody else on the team isn't showing up in the right way, they show up as less than what they could, and so if you have a team where you have a person who isn't a true believer, who you don't have trust in, who you don't really think should be on there, I want you to know something.

Your decision has already been made. It's just a matter of time until you actually take action because if you don't believe in the person who's working for you, fire them fast. Far too many entrepreneurs hang on to people they don't believe in. If the person who's working for you doesn't believe in you, fire them fast because neither one of those two equations gets better with time. In fact, the more you have someone on your team, the longer you have someone on your team who isn't pulling in the right direction, the more you demoralize everyone.

A few years ago, I had a team of writers and I lost my key writer, and one of the people who was left was a really frustrating person for me to work with. He was a decent writer, but I had lost the writer who had done most of everything I needed. I was left with this person who was really not a true believer and gave me a really hard time most of the time, and was always like arguing the counterpoint even when we weren't looking for it and was frustrating me. I put up with it for months, and it was because I needed writing done and it was because I really needed him to be there because there was so much we had already planned on doing.

I got into a place where I put up with his behavior just to get the tasks I needed to get done from him, and it was a few months of like dealing with knowing he wasn't really on our team, dealing with his snide remarks and comments and being frustrating, and trying to please him. In fact, at one point I was like, "How can I turn this guy into a true believer?" And that was disastrous. He wasn't going to get there, and so finally, after a couple of months, I came in one day, and I don't remember exactly what happened, but it was a day where like the straw broke the camel's back and I was done. I called him in. I let him go. It was incredibly relieving to sit in the room with him and let him know that he was leaving. I don't like to fire anyone. I didn't like that termination either, but it was a relief.

Before the end of the day I had at least five people in my office telling me how relieved they were and telling me how they were so frustrated he didn't work like everyone else, and telling me how they would fill in and help. Like, could they help? Was there anything that I needed help with? It was crazy because before the end of the day, the responsibilities he had that I was trying to figure out how I was going to cover because I finally terminated him and I didn't really have a plan to replace him, but by the end of the day my team had given me the plan. The people around him had told me how we could fill in. Everyone told me how relieved they were, and when I say multiplication by subtraction, that's exactly what happened.

Everyone who was proximal to this guy, everyone who worked with him improved over the course of the next week, and morale went up, people were more excited to be in meetings. We started getting more traction on products. Or, sorry, projects. We started getting more done, and the team pulled together in a dynamic way. Here's why. I was sanctioning incompetence. I was saying it was okay on our team to be frustrating and to give snide remarks and to show up in the wrong way and to not be a team player. I was telling everyone else that, "Hey, I'm okay with this. I'm going to let this guy do it, so I might even let you do it." When I finally made the change not only did the team support me in making the change, the team fixed any deficit we had, and made sure that we didn't fall behind and made sure that we continued to achieve what we wanted to achieve.

So the question for you is, do you have someone on your team where you are sanctioning incompetence? Do you have someone on your team where you have potential mutiny started? Do you have someone on your team where maybe they're not pulling as hard as they can in the right direction and they're holding people back? Because in any of those conditions you have to know that if you're putting up with that person, so is everybody else, and if you think not everybody else is or not everybody else knows, I want you to know something. They know, they're frustrated, and they're ready for you to get the person out of the company.

So if you're considering whether you should or shouldn't, if you're thinking of making this your next move, if there's someone on your team that you have to move out, my message to you is to do is as quickly as you possibly can because every day you sanction incompetence you lower the overall morale of your team first. Then you lower their belief in the company, then you lower their productivity, and you don't want any one of those three to happen. And the day you stop sanctioning the incompetence, the day you make sure you have true believers on your team, the day you remove the potential mutiny or the person who really shouldn't be there, the person who doesn't buy in, believe, and pull in the right direction like everyone else does, you will experience massive momentum, because the people on your team are either give you momentum or they're taking it away. This is binary. It's either on or off. If there's someone who isn't pushing with everything they have forward, they are creating operational drag.

So if you have struggled with letting someone go, if you're frustrated about letting someone go, if you don't really know if you should, I want you to ask yourself this question. Are they creating drag? Is your team having to pick up the pieces? Is your team having to fill in where they aren't? Are the rest of you noticing that they're not doing what they should? Because if those conditions are present, they are hurting not only their position, and here's the big argument: they're hurting every position that comes in contact with them in any way. They are holding everyone who deals with them in any way behind. They're holding them back. They're holding them in place. They're slowing them down.

And I want you to ask yourself, are you willing to let one person on your team lower the return on investment you're getting on 100% of your salaries? I'm going to say that again. Are you willing to let one person on your team lower the return on investment you're getting on 100% of your salaries you pay out? Because here's how the math works. You leave someone in a position where they're not absolutely fulfilling it at the highest level, you leave a non-true believer on a team of true believers, you put somebody in a position where they're not actually making it happen and you leave them there, every person on the team is going to produce less for the same amount you're paying them.

So if you know there's been a decision you've been needing to make on your team, if there's someone you're uncomfortable with that hasn't been showing up in the right way, if you've coached them, you've moved them in the right direction, they have clarity around what they should be doing but they're not, it's time to make a change so you can experience multiplication by subtraction, because when you have a team of true believers, you will never have to motivate them. When you hire people who aren't true believers, you will never be able to motivate them enough.

If you're ready to start building the team that's going to take your business to the next level, if you want some help in building an organization and a structure, reach out to us. Go to Answer a few questions from my team. Let us know where you are in your business, and we will reach out to you if you book a call with us and help you build the team that's going to take your business to the next level, because if you're ready to leave your dent in the universe, create your mark in this world, actually have a profitable business, we can show you how to do it and you don't have to do it all yourself. You can build the team, have the affect you want to have in the world, and create massive value, all while creating momentum for yourself. Go to, answer a few questions, and we look forward to connecting with you.

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