I spent the first 10 years of my career running recruiting, when John Lilly, CEO at Mozilla, told me that I could do anything that I wanted at the company, short of writing code. A decade of finding amazing talent led me to want to help make those people as successful as possible, so I expanded into the HR function. My first responsibility was to take over the annual review process. I looked at the Gartner “magic quadrant,” analyzed a number of software solutions and ended up with what I thought was my best option. It was after that first performance cycle that I realized the process was completely broken. I shared my thoughts with Bob Sutton, at the Stanford D-School, which to my surprise led to this blog post.
Right around that time I met the team at Rypple and we began to work together on changing the way companies thought about performance. Traditionally performance management tools have focused on “business processes” and creating workflows that made sure the proper people are notified about employee feedback. There was little to no thought on development. With Rypple, we wanted to get back to the dynamics between people and create the ability to connect consistently on key deliverables and developmental feedback. Yeas later Rypple continues to be adopted by forward thinking companies and one of the proudest accomplishments I’ve had in my career.
I’ve stayed passionate about products that help people and organizations get better. Earlier this year I was introduced to Culture Amp by Joris, CHRO at Atlassian, one of the most progressive HR leaders I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I was blown away but what they had built, and the simplicity with which they approached a sophisticated problem. Historically companies have spent large sums of money to construct company surveys and have consultants “analyze” the data. Others try running the survey themselves, which usually leads to a big lump of data that can be challenging to work with.
Culture Amp‘s product Murmur, allows companies to quickly deploy a survey and understand, team by team, the strengths and challenges in each part of the organization. Instead of blanket training, HR & Training departments can strategically focus on specific skills for teams and managers. They can create mentorship relationships for people that are strong in one area and weak in others. They can then re-run the survey on demand, or periodically, to measure to results. Most importantly it happens outside of the typical performance review cycle. Allowing people to focus on the data provided and how to address issues, instead of how feedback will effect their bonus or promotion. Separating comp and performance data has been a struggle for organizations for a very long time. People get so focused on relatively small changes in pay that they completely lose sight of how to make themselves better. Murmur has the chance to be the product that companies can consistently use to improve themselves with out having the distraction of compensation discussions to muddle the process. I’m excited to be working with them as an advisor on such an interesting problem.
Over the last few weeks the topic of how to hire your first 5-10 people, mainly engineers, has come up at 2 separate conferences. I wanted to give new founders a few tips on identifying there first few people.
1. Leverage Your Network
Systematically look through your network and identify everyone that would make a great addition to your team. Consider people from your undergraduate, masters, PhD program, trade, vocational school, etc…Think through every job you have ever had and reach out to the relevant people. Reach out to people in groups and associations you participate in.
*If there are great people who know you and are not willing to join on your projects at the ground level, you have to take a long hard look if it makes sense to continue on with what you have planned. If you can’t convince those around you to come play, maybe it’s not the right game.
2. Leverage Your Network’s Network
You should be able to find some core people to join from your network, the next step is hitting up your friends of friends. If people like you and believe in your idea, even though you may not have gone to business school your buddy that did may know classmates that are looking to join a start-up.
*Tip: Learn how to be a LinkedIn power user, it will save you tons of time.
3. Find People Who Care Deeply About What You’re Building or How You’re Building It
Look at their side projects and passion. If you’re building the next AirBnB for dogs, look at people who work at great companies, and volunteer for the SPCA. If you are using a particular technology, such as scala or node.js in a unique way, reach out to people that have created side projects with them, but don’t get to code on them for their day job.
Finally, don’t reach out to ANYONE Until you learn how to tell your story really well. Really, because how you tell your story will spread to other people. You want to make sure you are spreading the right word. Why is what you’re building important to the market? What is interesting about the technology you’re building? Why should it matter to the person your speaking with on a personal level? How does it relate to what they care about?
Competencies: These are, as HR would say, the identified behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities that directly and positively impact the success of employees. Examples would be: technical expertise, customer service, communication, teamwork, leadership, creativity. Why is this outdated? It’s not to say that these skills aren’t important, but employees don’t think in or even use the word competencies. Plus, they definitely don’t go around scoring themselves or their peers on them. There is also no universal set of competencies, all positions are slightly different and the skills that would cause you to excel in one, wouldn’t necessarily ensure success in another.
Ratings: People obsess on their score instead of the quality of the feedback. Just like in elementary school if you got a B, that’s the score that mattered. Rather, people should be focusing on the feedback they were given, not that they didn’t get the A. So instead of having a focused conversation around accomplishments and expectations, managers and employees are obsessively focused on a subjective score.
I’ve collaborated with some great companies like Gilt Groupe, Photobucket, Eventbrite and Facebook to get a view of how they approach these important questions. Fortunately, as workplace dynamics are changing, the old way of doing HR is being replaced with some new innovative approaches to evaluating a person’s impact.
Managers get a few chances a year, during these summary periods to take stock of where the people on their team are and companies need to be very thoughtful around the questions asked. There are 3 types of questions that I really like to help someone think about where they’ve been and were they want to go. Notice I said questions, the goal is to create a dialogue, not a report cards.
Over the last 6 months, what are you proudest of and what do you view as your biggest accomplishments and achievements? Is there anything you would have liked to achieve but didn’t? Please compare against your goals.
- The first batch of questions is meant to help the manager determine what the person actually accomplished or missed as it relates to goals. Goal setting is a flawed process at most companies, so often achieving stated goals doesn’t necessarily mean success, so you want to be able to determine if the person was able to work on the right things, despite what their goals said.
How much do you feel you’ve stretched? [not at all, some, considerably] How do you feel about that?
- These questions help the manager determine how much the person is pushing themselves. It also gives the employee the opportunity to think about how much they’re developing and how they feel about it. Stretching and developing is rewarding, but also a very humbling and painful process. The question creates an opportunity for a discussion around growth and potential for development.
What do you want to be able to say about yourself at your next summary? What do you want to have accomplished and what knowledge would you like to have acquired?
- Finally the last batch of questions helps the individual frame their aspirations for the next term and take an active roll in their own development. The more autonomy and control we give people, the more engaged and engrossed they are in their work.
Asking the employees the right questions is only the first part of the process, I’ll follow up shortly on the role peers and the manager play in a successful process.
I hate performance reviews, especially hate ratings. How do you tell someone they’re a 3 out of 5 with a straight face or that they need to increase their competency in collaboration by 10%? I have had issues with the system for a long time and sent an email to Bob Sutton that led to a pretty interesting blog post (the young head of HR he refers to is me). Since then I’ve vowed to not subject the people I work with to be measured and rated, but instead have chosen to focus on continuous feedback and ongoing development through 1 on 1s.
But this post isn’t about that. Chances are you work for a company that has annual or semi-annual performance reviews and you have no insight into how you’re scored. Most reviews are based on a rating system such as 1-3, 1-5, 1-10 and they’re usually attached to words like “does not meet,” “meets” or “exceeds expectations.” Some companies may share the score with their employees, but they rarely share the distribution or suggested distribution. The suggested distribution is essentially how many people the company expects at each level.
The bottom line is that in most companies your rating score affects your income. If you don’t care about your score, then keep on doing what you’re doing. But if you’d like to have some influence over your rating and accelerate your career, here are a few ways to influence a highly flawed and subjective process.
Determine your baseline. Have a clear conversation with your manager about the expectations for the position. Essentially understand very clearly what it means to do your job. If you want to get your end-of-year raise, you will need to hit your marks. That will get you by your 6 month or year review unscathed and set you up for a “meets expectations.”
To get an “exceeds” you have to do your job and pick 1-3 things outside of the typical scope of your job and crush it. Create a list and pick the ones that will have the most immediate impact on the organization. Every job has that opportunity, doesn’t matter if you’re in support, engineering or marketing.
Pick something that has a clear metric.
*reduction in wait times for support tickets
*increased web traffic
*reduction in time to hire for new employees
*training materials that lead to increased productivity
Engage your manager because your fortunes are tied. The better you do, the better he or she looks. Every month, check-in to make sure they know the extra projects you’re working on and the impact. If something is not working out, you can course correct. The vast majority of managers want you to do well. Make it easy for them to give you a great rating and fight for a promotion on your behalf. Good luck crushing your review!
Hiring like love, is a battle field (cheap 80s quote). The number one priority for most company in Silicon Valley right now is hiring. A number of established companies and startups are in massive growth phases. The valley has been dormant for a long time, but companies are feeling the talent crunch again. It’s creating some interesting dynamics and challenges. How do you distinguish yourself from other companies paying similar salaries? What do you talk about besides your comp, technology? What’s your culture, philosophy? Why would someone want to come to your company instead of Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn or Google?
People choose positions and stay at them because of their relationship with their manager, the ability to have an impact and the opportunity to grow and develop. How can you help mentor future leaders and create great experiences for new employees?
It’s important to start the leadership process early. At Mozilla I was responsible for HR and recruiting where we grew from 30 to 300 in about 5 years. Not the hyper growth you see at places like Facebook, but still enough people that you have to be deliberate about assimilating, developing and creating great experiences. Actually, regardless of how fast you grow, you should be taking those factors into account. Mozilla did exceptionally well in the battle over talent, despite not having equity. We focused on culture, transparency and impact.
We’ve made big investments in interns and it’s paid off in spades. In 2007 Shawn (Wilsher) was an intern. The following summer he joined us full-time. Since then he’s gone on to take on bigger and bigger projects and mentor interns. Though he’s not a manager, he’s learning all the right behaviors around staying aligned, coordinating actions, giving praise and seeking feedback.
Shawn’s learned the value of 1:1s and the ability to run them. His intern is having a great experience where he’s being challenged and mentored. He’s learning all the important skills it takes to be a future leader so that when he joins after college he’ll be in a position to have an immediate impact.
Great experiences and solid fundamentals has helped Mozilla’s internship program grow year after year and draw some of the best and brightest from around world. People hear that. Interns, new graduates and even those with industry experience. They want to be at a place where people and their impact is the focus. Where they can come in and learn how to be more.
For someone that works on a product centered around feedback, I still have a lot to learn. My girlfriend wanted to share one of her work projects with me. It’s her first week, so she’s still in training. Lets face it, the project is pretty dumb and really is more of a homework assignment. When she shared the assignment, I focused on the merits of what the company wanted and questioned why they would want her to work on something that has no intrinsic value. Why not have her work a real world example that they could reuse within the organization? It wasn’t the feedback she was looking for. She wanted me to acknowledge that the
work she did within the confines of a dumb project was good. Which it was, very good. But being a startup guy I couldn’t reconcile the wasted effort.
Take away. When someone is asking you for feedback, take into account the constraints under which they want that feedback presented. Most importantly, be aware of how critical you’re being. I learned that the hard way. Even if you’re feedback is fundamentally correct, the way in which it is delivered may hinder your ability to get it across. If you can’t get the feedback across, it’s not good feedback. And sometimes acknowledging hard work is all you need to do.
Last Tuesday was my first day at Rypple after nearly 5 years at Mozilla. Some first impressions:
Toronto is a great city.
We have excellent leadership.
The team is sharp, communicative and amazingly hospitable.
Everyone is in the office by 9am and they work late – love it.
Agile is very different than shipping major software releases.
It’s great to be able to touch and see everything, but staying focused is important.
People get our vision.
Users like the product.
Feedback and kudos make people happy.
Most importantly, I’m happy to be at a startup again.
I’m excited about the small team and notable customers I’m working with to build something remarkable. We’re at an incredibly interesting stage where we’re deciding what to do and more importantly what not to do. With limited resources you really have to focus on the set of actions that result in the highest yield. You have to know what to let burn.
At this stage we have to decide what type of company we want to be. Are we driven by sales and marketing? Should we lead with product? I completely agree with Phil Libin that the idea that “the best product doesn’t always win” is “complete and utter bullshit.” Check out his presentation.
I’ve been very impressed with the team at Rypple and their dedication to helping promote great work behaviors and making software that people love. I think we have an amazing opportunity to really change the world and help teams gather better insight, direction and deliver spectacular results. I’m pumped that I get to work with a group of talented people at creating a product that people not only love but couldn’t imagine working without.