On wasting talent

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Steve Jobs

It always astonished me seeing people in an organization performing worse than when they’ve started. Those people are clearly disengaged and they eventually quit. The billion dollar question is how they had become so disengaged. As studies show the high rates of disengagement year after year, HR departments spend more and more on trying to engage those people back. But they are missing the root cause of this process. Even companies that study the Toyota principles fail to recognize this biggest waste – the waste of human talent. Or at least their managers deceive themselves that they have a solid reason to ignore it.

It all starts when people want to do something that is not aligned enough with the company’s goals. Well, we all know how important is alignment. We don’t want to spend resources on things that have no or little value. A good company does its cost/value analysis and decides whether an initiative in worth taking or when to cut it off. There’s nothing wrong with cutting initiatives off by the way – avoiding the sunk-cost fallacy is a crucial skill, not only in business, but there is a cost in that too.

The mistake that is being made however is neither in cost/value analysis nor in cutting off failed initiatives. It’s simply in the cost calculation.

People assume zero cost of not doing anything. It sounds logical – you don’t invest your time, the cost is zero. You invest half your time, the cost is half your earning. Simple math, isn’t it? Except that it’s not. Not investing the time may cause the disengagement, thus leading to higher cost (due lost productivity) over time. As a matter of fact, those 20% time on side projects programs are not some genius business strategy – most such projects are killed – but a way not to spend on the 8th waste. They give the needed balance between wasting time – and money – and wasting talent. Bonus points if they lead to innovation. But that’s not the goal, it’s just a side effect. So when you decide you don’t have the budget to do something – or you don’t want to – think if you can afford not doing it. Yes, you need to balance. As with anything else in life.

On cultural fit and misfit

So people basically want to do a good job. They want to see the meaning of their work. Which is a different thing for different people. Some love to see their product used. They are customer-oriented. They prefer quick-and-dirty – but deployed and used – over clean, well-engineered but otherwise useless software. Other don’t care about the user – they care about the well-engineered software. Some perhaps are in-between – they want their code being good, but they want it also to be it useful for a wide audience. Or some may want to build only software they use – so they have a deep understanding of the user. The point is – people are different. They may want the same in the abstract terms – meaningful work – but their vision widely differs.

So the way you work – if you are customer-centric or not, the amount of planning and designing up-front, the granularity of the tasks – a lot of details in the work depend on the top management (in software development – usually on the CTO) and his vision what is the most effective way to build software. This affects the culture. It’s natural to seek people that would go along with the way you work. Otherwise the people you hire will be frustrated and will eventually leave. Hiring for cultural fit is hiring people for whom you can provide meaningful work.

And then there’s this advice to hire for cultural misfit. Only by by hiring people that see the world differently you can advance.

So there’s a clear conflict here. You need to hire for cultural misfit to get something better then you have. If you want to change the culture, you need to hire people that fit in your envisioned culture and not the one you currently have. If you need innovation, you need diversity, you need to escape group-thinking and so you need to hire for misfit.

But the people that do not fit would not be satisfied and will leave.

So how do you hire for misfit? Or more precisely, how you retain misfit?

The question is how much misfit your management can accommodate? How much you can tolerate? How much the “fits” can tolerate? Do you want everyone to work in the same way or you allow people to act on their own ways? Do you have standards, processes that are must, strict rules or are you loose? Can the misfit act on his way and are the others allowed to follow his lead, or you prefer the new hire to first follow the rules, then break them? How much variance you allow?

Here is an example. You have a very-well organized, priority-sorted backlog of tasks. Everyone have to pick one of the top 3 tasks (you allow people to pick not exactly the top one, if they feel they will be better working on something else, but still you restrict them to one of the top priorities). The new guy picks somethings that is not in the high priority at all. Even worse – does something that is not in the backlog at all. How do you react? Would you allow him to work his way -assuming that his work is good, but it’s not aligned with the priorities you’ve set – or would you let him know what is with priority, so next time he choose better? He ships a feature that do not meet your definition-of-done criteria – perhaps it doesn’t have tests, or it covers only 80% of what is required. Would you ship to your customers, or wait until it fits your criteria? Those might be some extreme cases – but they define how extreme misfit you may accept.

As a misfit is basically two things – a disruption, that can lead to innovation, better performance, new ways of work; and at the same time, well.. I didn’t find a better word, but misfit – a person that feels uncomfortable in your company and perhaps the people in the company feel uncomfortable too. Someone that is not thrilled about the work you do (or the way you do it). So there is a spectrum between the two and how much of the disruption you can accommodate determines whether you will keep the misfit and have a creative disruption or you will lose it and stick to the group think.

Щастие на работа

Вчера в София Алекс Кеърулф и Ник Маркс говориха за щастието в офиса. И двамата лектори казаха, че щастливите хора са по-продуктивни. И ако това не е достатъчно, за да направите нещо за служителите си, то аз искам да посоча още няколко причини, поради които не само трябва да ви е грижа за щастието в офиса, вие трябва да го изисквате!  Има още

Удовлетворение от работата

Иронично е, че когато говорим за „удовлетворение от работата“, обикновено се засягат теми като заплащане, работна среда, отношения с колегите и със шефа, докато самият израз предполага да говорим за самата работа. Има множество изследвания относно взаимодействието между заплащането и мотивацията, както и между мотивацията или ангажираността на служителите, и постигнатите от тях резултати. Интересно е обаче какво в самата работа я прави удовлетворяваща или не удовлетворяваща. И докато хората са различни, и техните нужди са различни, вярвам че има общовалидни принципи, които могат да направят работата на всеки удовлетворяваща, или напротив – да я причислят в категорията „правя го, защото за това ми плащат“.  Има още