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The CEO of a $700 million company uses a simple sentence to turn lazy employees around

Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn says it’s possible to turn around underperforming employees — all it takes is one sentence.
 Luis von Ahn
  • Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn has a strategy for encouraging underperforming employees.
  • He told the Financial Times that he tells them: “What you’re doing is really important.”
  • The technique ties back to the idea that people need to feel as if their work has meaning.

Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn knows exactly what to do with lazy employees.

The founder of the language learning app, which has been valued at $700 million, recently discussed his strategy for dealing with unengaged employees in an interview with the Financial Times.

“You can turn somebody from being a lazy person to being the most committed person if they honestly believe that the company and you, as a leader, think what they’re doing is important,” von Ahn told the Financial Times. “It’s amazing how motivating it is to sit with somebody and say, ‘What you’re doing is really important.’ I use that a lot.”

His technique is backed up by the results of a 2016 surveyfrom LinkedIn and Imperative involving 26,151 global LinkedIn members that aimed to find out how many people “optimize their job to align with work that matters to them.” It found that 73% of “purpose-oriented professionals” said they were satisfied with their jobs, as opposed to 64% of non-purpose-oriented employees.

And von Ahn has indicated that he’s on the lookout for purpose-driven people. He told the Financial Times that he doesn’t believe that waving around massive paychecks will attract top candidates to Duolingo.

“If it requires you paying them off to come work for you, I don’t think they’re going to be in it,” he said. “We prefer missionaries to mercenaries.”

The job site Glassdoor’s list of average base salaries at Duolingo provides a glimpse into pay at the company, saying that senior software engineers could earn $110,396, lead designers could make $97,793, and product managers could bring home anywhere from $83,000 to $115,000 a year.

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