Catherine Graham is CEO of commonsku and president of Rightsleeve.
Last week, in a well-read article in The Globe and Mail, Grouplend CEO Kevin Sandhu told readers how he gets employees to work 80 hours a week. The piece's theme perpetuates the belief that in order to be successful in the startup world, the only option is to devote all waking hours to the endeavour.
I can relate to the world he describes, as my company, too, is looking to make significant change in our industry. We too have a passionate team that's hell-bent on putting a dent in the universe. But building a company is a marathon, not a sprint.
While building two companies from the ground up, I've seen employee burnout first-hand. At times when we pushed people too hard, things fell apart and the whole company suffered as a result. We learned that to win the long game, we needed to adjust our timelines, grow the team or face shipping a subpar product.
In the startup world, particularly when you are funded, there is massive pressure to get results. I understand how this leads to thinking that you need to work all hours of the day and weekend to get there. There's nothing more stressful than wondering whether you are going to make payroll that week. But working harder does not equate to working smarter.
Countless studies have demonstrated that the brain needs rest to function optimally. The inverse productivity curve, where the quality of code decreases with the number of hours a developer works, is a well-known concept in the software world. Our software directly affects a company's financial operations, so we can't afford to make mistakes. We need our developers to be fresh and write bug-free code.
Building a high-impact company requires huge amounts of innovation and creativity. Every role in the organization needs to be creative. Developers need to come up with creative and elegant solutions to architecture and code challenges. Marketers need creative solutions to build the funnel. Even finance needs creativity to deal with the challenge of cash pressures. This kind of thinking happens only when the mind has time and space to come up with innovative approaches.
A mind that has down time is better able to focus and function efficiently during the day. In this digital age of high distraction, our brains are constantly subjected to context switching. The end result is a huge loss of productivity.
We have seen first-hand how our team brings more to the table when they get down time and come back to the office refreshed. The interests they pursue outside work include family time, sports, book writing and open-source projects. These interests are what make them engaging people and contribute to making them better at what they do in our companies.
What drives results is a culture of performance and accountability, not how many hours you put in. Working 80 hours a week should not be viewed as a badge of honour, but a warning that things can be done more efficiently. Work has a way of expanding to fill time; having a defined end point results in greater focus and discipline.
Canada needs as many startups as possible building disruptive and innovative businesses, but it also needs more companies capable of surviving the 90-per-cent startup failure rate. This requires building long-term sustainable teams and creating environments that attract top talent. This is how we will drive Canada's innovation economy and build $100-million-plus companies and a thriving ecosystem.