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The Zen of Hiring and Retaining Top Talent in Silicon Valley – Part 2

In Part 1, I reviewed a general philosophy that starts a framework for managing very talented folks in Silicon Valley.  Remember, this is the Big Leagues of tech, and if you want your company to grow fast you need to attract and retain the All-Stars of the Big League!  In this post, I will go over some specific tactics that I have used to successfully support that attitude.

Strength training – A manager should let people develop their strengths and apply them to the company.  Many companies tell people what they are doing well and what they are doing wrong, with directive on increasing focus on things not being done well (areas to improve).  An alternative perspective would be that talented people spend their time, attention and love on things they enjoy doing and they do well at those things.  And that people neglect things they do not enjoy as much.  Rather than asking people to spend time on things where it will be difficult for them to do well, ask people to spend even more time, attention and focus on the things they love doing, get even better at those things, and maximize their value-adding potential to the company via their strengths.  Let them help identify the things they are not good at so you can help them offload those things.  They will be much happier to call out their struggles if they know it means they get rid of that work, btw.

Diversity – given every company has needs beyond the strengths of any single person, hire diverse individuals on a team so that collectively they are incredibly strong in every area that a company requires in order to win.  Another angle of this is hiring someone who is better than you at something which your company needs, and collectively your team will far surpass your ability to do almost everything.  Appreciate that diversity goes far beyond college major including age, gender, ethnicity, and anything that can provide a different perspective on problem solving.  It is very broad.

Collaboration – Collaboration is the best way for us all to learn and grow most quickly.  Both managers and individuals in their groups will learn more from collaborating together than by giving out and taking orders and everyone will have more fun doing it as well.  In a scrum style team meeting, team members can tell things they worked on and completed and what they learned from them, then what they are going to take on next (so that others can find them after the team meeting and collaborate if it is of interest to them), and then of course, places they will need help or see roadblocks, again so that teammates that can clear them efficiently or give help can find people after the team meeting and collaborate.  Everyone learns more when they are sharing their learning, and there is no better way to mastery than teaching.  After going around quickly on this update, have a different team member each meeting do a deep dive and teach everyone about something they have been working on.

Train your replacement – for one thing, there is no better way to mastery than by teaching someone else.  For another, a manager will never be able to focus on higher level, more impactful work if they are tapped all the time with their current work.  A manager should continually be offloading as much of their work as possible to their team.  This also has the extremely beneficial side affect of pushing decisions into the most efficient place possible for them to get done, by the people doing the work.

Give it all away – take absolutely everything you are responsible for today and assign it to someone in your team.  If they need help doing it, help them.  But let people own important meaty things.  Let them get the visibility and credit for their wins, but always take the blame if it isn’t a win (your prioritization was wrong, you didn’t set them up for success, etc).  Nothing makes you look better as a manager than having a team full of great people doing really important work.  There is a saying that the best way to get something done is ask a very busy person to do it, and similarly, the important jobs at a startup get done by the teams that are constantly knocking them off.  While your team is doing everything your area is responsible for, you can coordinate, run air traffic control, define success, and get new meaty jobs to do . . . which you can give away as soon as your team can handle the capacity.

Cross train – one of the best things about working at a startup is the broad responsibility and opportunity to gain experience and learn.  So in the spirit of strength training, why not amplify this benefit?  Encourage team members to cross train each other and even rotate responsibilities or trade temporarily.  In addition to happy, learning team members, a team will have more backup, bench strength and vacation coverage.

Culture Test – If someone you are considering is the first person you see when you walk in Monday morning.  Are you happy to be at work?  The answer for me always needed to be an emphatic yes.  Some people do the beer test, where you have to feel like you will enjoy going out to get a beer together after work.  But I have loved working with a ton of really great people that either didn’t drink, or would prefer to be home with their families versus having a beer with me outside the office.  I think the beer test is too limited.

Founders can get started and off the ground, but things won’t get large without a really successful team.  So be the place that really successful people want to grow their careers.  Happy growth, and happy Subtracting.

  • Kevin Way

    “Would like to have a beer with them” as hiring criteria is a pet peeve of mine as well. Your reframing also addresses another central problem with it; that it’s born of reversed causality.

    I think the situation gets confused because when a team works hard and wins ,they likely ​*do*​ want to hang out and celebrate. But while that’s a nearly inevitable output of success, it’s not a necessary input. The inputs are vision, values, and performance.

BIO :

Paul helps companies find balance between what the user needs, the business wants and what resources allow. A keen eye for young companies with huge potential, Paul focuses on mentoring across product, engineering and marketing efforts.

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