The Pyramid and Pitchfork — Employee Performance made Easy

During my 20 years as a Startup entrepreneur, I’ve worked with some truly amazing folks that have inspired and taught me much.

Unfortunately, as a hiring manager, I was not always so lucky, and definitely made a few mistakes along the way.

Extentech was a small software shop, there seemed to be no need for a heavy corporate HR department style paperwork, but after having to fire a few folks and suffering through some bad-fits over the years, I realized that bad hires will just drive you crazy.

It was clear that I needed some framework for dealing with human resources management.

By that time, my own experience had developed to where I could recognize what I needed and wanted in an ideal hire. On the other hand, if it was something that would not get used then what is the point? So, I simplified employee evaluation (and for that matter my own performance was always fair game) and I developed my own version of an “employee evaluation” scorecard which was based on an easy to remember 3 word acronym.

Of all of my “handy startup CEO tools”, this one has been one of the most invaluable over the years.

The Pitchfork and the Pyramid

R.A.T. -or- A.R.T. Depending upon whether you were on the good end of the scale

Attitude: shows up, puts in extra effort, team player, customer focus, positive and motivated, liked, greases the wheels of commerce

Talent: raw IQ, aptitude, ability, knowledge, skills, and experience

Results: hits targets, meets deadlines, closes out tasks, sets reasonable goals and achieves them, gets things done, creates efficiencies, optimizes, generates revenue

  • Those that scored 1/3 or 0/3 would need to be let go in most cases
  • 2/3s could stay to be mentored further
  • 3/3s were promoted or retained in management
  • The tricky little secret of my pet theory is that it’s rigged to help people succeed.

    In my experience, many 2/3’s are usually just 3/3’s in disguise. If someone has 2 out of the 3 then reality is most of the time you get #3 with a little coaching in the right place.

    Consider that you almost always get results (eventually!) with great talent and attitude. And having great results and talent typically implies something about your attitude works for you — even if it’s a cranky one and not considered “great” by your coworkers.

    As the renowned Entrepreneur and VC Michael Skok mentioned, a 3/3 must be able to mentor:

    I’m so glad you included Attitude in your evaluation, it’s so often passed over.

    It’s interesting that you think of 3/3 as potential management.

    I’d want to add one other key thing there and that is to ensure that even with 3/3 themselves, the person was really going to be good at enabling OTHERS to be their best, get the 3/3 with good coaching and support…

    — Michael Skok, Northbridge Partners

    As Michael Skok points out, this is all a continuum on the mentorship scale. In fact, I consider this “Pitchfork and the Pyramid” to be a mentoring approach — it informs the decision on who needs mentoring attention, who just needs to be thanked and left alone, and who you need to let go and not waste any more time on.

    A 2/3 is the mentorship zone — someone has a missing piece or a blocker, you coach them through to 3/3: the Pyramid — a solid foundation for any business to grow upon. As for those that are 1/3, even with good intentions, getting to a 3/3 is not something a startup can afford to take on, usually. They are on the Pitchfork — a 3 prong thing that is going to foist them out the door.

    Example 1Great Potential


    • Talent+, Attitude+, Results-
    • speaks for itself. slump? newbie?
    • A brilliant person with a great attitude will get results with minimal guidance, thus becoming a 3/3.
    • DO: Provide mentorship, training, support

    Example 2Key Hire


    • Talent+, Attitude-, Results+
    • Ahh, the crotchety programmer who is just a genius but not known for “people skills”
    • They never be or want to be management but can make or break a product and take your business to a new level
    • DO: minimize negatives on other staff morale, empower with tools, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Just leave them alone to do their magic!

    Example 3


    • Talent-, Attitude-, Results=
    • this one probably has to go
    • Without the talent to build on, or the attitude to get through the building, you’re not going to be able to turn this one around in time.
    • DO: let them go. You are a startup, you cannot afford bad fits. It is better for everyone the sooner the departure occurs, the better. Believe me.

    Example 4


    • Talent+, Attitude-, Results-
    • Hey, we all have slumps, it’s a manager’s goal to get staff through it without the team suffering.
    • A talented player could be a few wins away from turning it all into a winning streak and becoming a 3/3.
    • DO: closely monitor attitude, support with getting through the slump, confidence building tasks (quick wins, fun tasks, low hanging fruit)

    Example 5Loyal Soldier


    • Talent-, Attitude+, Results+
    • Talent is relative! These are the ones working their way to the top no matter the obstacle. They come off the shop floor or mail room to run departments, subsidiaries, and companies.
    • Total keepers.
    • DO: give training, close mentorship, delegation and confidence builders. These are your good soldiers, treat them right.


    The fun part of all of this is building a process driven business tool that defines these terms and weightings for your particular business. I will share a version of the one I used for Extentech if anyone wants it, just contact me directly.

    Anyway, with proper guidance a 2/3 will become a 3/3 most of the time, that’s why we retain them.

    And no matter what you do, a 1/3 will probably not turn it around and depending upon the details could sink your startup.

    0/3 does not (hopefully) ever get hired in the first place. I have yet to hire one so…

    So whether my method is the Pitchfork or the Pyramid, whether it is R.A.T. vs. A.R.T. — it all just depends upon whether you’re a 1/3 or a 3/3.

    About John McMahon

    John is a serial entrepreneur and full-stack developer. John is currently CEO of Starter Inc. a mobile and web development company, and is the founder of Humor Me Inc. maker of the Chukles consumer mobile humor app. John also currently serves as the CTO for MatanzasGroup, a Global Pharma Consulting Firm. John founded Extentech in 1998, growing it into a leading Web 2.0 spreadsheet tools vendor. In 2012, John sold his 100% stake of Extentech to Infoteria Corporation -- a publicly listed Japanese company. John has recognized expertise in startups, mobile and web development, open source, and cloud computing. John has been a contributor to Accounting World and has been interviewed and featured in stories on PandoDaily and

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