In my previous blog post, I discussed Steve Newcomb’s essay titled Cult Creation. I talked about how context matters when implementing someone’s advice. Looking at the principles behind the advice is necessary to understand how to apply the advice in any scenario.
The next piece of relevant advice that Steve gave is the following:
Your Team Must Have Ownership - from seeing the Powerset cult form in front of me.
This is actually something I touched upon recently in Spontaneous Responsibility. When developing software, the team needs to feel like they are the ones responsible for its success. When a member of the team sees something wrong, they should take the responsibility and make sure it gets fixed. If they have an idea while driving to work that would make the product better, they need to bring it up to their manager.
There are several ways of making a team feel like they own the product. Being included on planning meetings, giving praise when someone does something well, and giving feedback when someone does something wrong are all ways to build responsibility.
The role of managers and leaders should be to prop up the team working on the project. The people doing the actual coding need to be acknowledged and recognized for what they do. Managers and leaders are the ones that make sure the ball keeps rolling, and the team is responsible for doing the actual rolling. This separation of responsibility allows team members to flourish and take responsibility for their actions and the actions of their team.
Make Sure Every Single Candidate is Treated Like Gold
- so many startups I know don’t do this one, but it’s actually pretty big.
The point Steve makes here is that candidates need to feel like your company is the best company ever. Even if your company is totally out of their league, they need to have a positive experience during the interview process. Engineers talk a lot about their workplace and interviews. If a C-level is playing poker with A-levels that are considering applying, making sure the C-level had a positive experience will make the A’s even more compelled to apply.
Steve’s advice also applies to employees. Employees should be treated like gold. The people that do the work do the actual building and creation of the product. Without them, the wheel stops turning. In fact, the wheel would fall apart completely.
Being treated like gold does not mean that weaknesses should be glossed over. Being treated like gold means being treated according to your value. If weaknesses are glossed over and left ignored, they will degrade the employee’s value. Constructive and realistic feedback is an essential part to truly valuing an employee.
Why Buy Silver, when you can Rent Gold - from realizing it was the only way I was going to hire people at Powerset.
In Startup-land, there is a common scenario that plays out each time a hiring decision needs to be made. Two candidates will apply, one of them is slightly above average while the other is in the upper echelon of all candidates. The above average will produce above average code for years to come.
The top tier candidate will be a company-changer, but will eventually resign to start their own startup. They will want to start their own company as soon as possible, so they may be interviewing just as a courtesy with no intention of actually working at your company. Steve’s approach is to say he’ll teach them everything he knows about founding a company if they come work for him for six months. His success rate with this approach is very, very high.
This kind of dichotomy happens very infrequently outside of Startup-land. The top tier candidates gravitate towards smaller companies, so they rarely interview at most companies. Steve’s advice at first seems to be too specific to be applicable to most business, but the principle behind it is solid.
The principle is closely related to treating employees like gold. To get an employee to buy-in, their leaders must know and care about the employee’s own interests. If an employee’s manager cares about the employee as a person, the employee will respond positively to being led by the manager. By knowing the things that a person cares about, approaching topics from a specific angle will produce noticeably more positive results.
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