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The CEO of a $960 million company uses a simple sentence to turn lazy employees around

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 31/08/2018 Áine Cain
Luis von Ahn wearing glasses and standing in front of a building: Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn says it's possible to turn around underperforming employees — all it takes is one sentence. Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn says it's possible to turn around underperforming employees — all it takes is one sentence.

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 $US700 million ($AU960 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 survey from LinkedIn and Imperative involving 26,151 global LinkedIn members that aimed to find out how many people "optimise 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 $US110,396, lead designers could make $US97,793, and product managers could bring home anywhere from $US83,000 to $US115,000 a year.

Von Ahn previously told Business Insider that his team vetted talent by conducting extensive reference checks, ensuring that prospective employees aren't arrogant jerks, and refusing to hire any doubt-provoking candidates.

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