The Jack Dorsey Playbook: Building a High-Performance Culture of Excellence

June 25, 2024

The Jack Dorsey Playbook: Building a High-Performance Culture of Excellence

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If you’ve shopped in-person in the last 10 years, you’ve most likely heard of Block – the company that made mobile phone payments possible. Co-founded by Jim McKelvey and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Block serves 50M+ users and 4M+ businesses. 

Dorsey had a clear goal – to create a culture that fosters excellence in every business aspect. This drive is not exactly shocking for a financial conglomerate like Block. What’s surprising, however, is the unorthodox practices that they’ve introduced (and the ones they’ve dismissed).

It’s a common misunderstanding that a high-performance culture can be achieved by following the most popular tricks in the book. For example, leaders often address internal issues with extra check-ins between management and employees, assuming that more face time will improve communication and problem solving. Unfortunately, the typical outcome of this approach is excessive time commitments that do not translate into additional value. 

The reality is that many traditional performance tactics — think detailed performance reviews, year-long plans, and company-wide check-ins — do not work as intended. Instead of lifting up your team, they can bog it down, obscuring individual employee responsibility and sense of shared direction. That’s why it’s critical to stick to your company vision and weed out the elements that don’t align with it. This is exactly what Jack Dorsey did.

Dorsey knew that to build a culture that perpetuates Block’s drive for excellence, he would need to know: How is feedback delivered and received? Where are company resources going? How do employees hold each other accountable? Each of these aspects directly affects team ability and strive to perform at a world-class level – and therefore each of them plays a role in company success.

Dorsey introduced changes on four main fronts – employee feedback, performance ratings, company focus, and leadership. Let’s unpack them one by one. 

1. Keep formal reviews to a minimum

Annual performance reviews are often seen as a key opportunity to identify and improve major company issues. But while they’re a common practice across organizations, they usually turn out to be a burdensome and expensive process that fails to foster meaningful improvement. 

To avoid these pitfalls, the team at Block consistently evaluates performance, ensuring timely and personalized feedback for every individual. It's a win-win – employees get advice at a cadence that naturally follows their work cycle, including important milestones like Sprint Reviews and Product Releases, while leaders get the visibility they need to properly manage their team. 

Even if some engagements such as calibration or due diligence remain synchronous, this internal shift brings the entire company one step ahead on their path to peak performance. Plus, it saves time and effort that usually end up wasted on other similar strategies, such as the formulation of Performance Improvement Plans.

2. Transparency is crucial from day one

Block champions open communication that cultivates constructive criticism and accountability. Unfortunately, when it comes down to sensitive subjects like work performance, this is easier said than done. To set up managers and employees for a meaningful dialogue, the team at Block rely on performance ratings which are made visible to each individual employee. 

The clear 3-tiered system of these ratings – exceeds, meets, or falls below expectations – further eliminates any ambiguity and prompts continuous growth. This high level of transparency allows Block to challenge the status quo and face tough conversations head-on, empowering every company member to achieve more.

3. Zero in on your core mission

When things get tough, your gut reaction might be to think about expanding – what new tools, services, or people might keep your team’s momentum? Contrary to this instinct, Block’s co-founder reminds to focus on your North Star and the next concrete steps that can help you achieve it. For Block, this means building revolutionary technology and pooling resources into key areas like design and engineering. This reallocation will not only accelerate productivity and innovation, but also open up the possibility to hire new top-performing talent. 

4. Prioritize exceptional leadership

Your team’s performance is a direct reflection of the ones who lead it. To build a team that can take your company to the next level, you need to pair them with someone who not only strives for excellence, but knows how to achieve it. That’s why Block holds their leaders to an exceptionally high bar, even if this means letting go of certain individuals who do not fit the role. Even though it might appear bullish at times, this sets clear expectations early on and sends a message across the entire company.

Beyond these four tactics, it’s mission-critical that business leaders remain objective about their own performance. For instance, Jack Dorsey still shares his own performance evaluation, demonstrating the same openness and accountability he expects from the Block team. 

To adopt these performance strategies and make them your own, you first need to identify your company goals and the factors that will play a role in their realization. After that, you can take action on removing the practices that don’t serve you and introduce new ones that will set you up for excellence from a team-wide performance and engagement lens.

Jake Honig

Jake Honig