#83 - 17 Sept 2021
Trying harder to hire; increasing silos; coaching and career development; simulate, don't guess
We’ve talked here in several issues about the “great resignation” that many companies are seeing as the pandemic starts to wane a bit. It’s true, but I think there’s also an (even bigger) problem bringing people on.
I mentioned in #81 that teams needed to be ready to compete, and they do; not just for work but for workers. Having a well-defined specialty and being known for something helps.
Collectively, we’re going to need to up our game when it comes to hiring. Some things change slowly with time and a lot of collective effort, such as developing career paths, improving compensation, etc. But other things are entirely within our control. Writing job ads that raise the frankly abysmal bar set in our industry; spending time actively recruiting; being clear on what the benefits of our team is and what our team’s goals are; having a well-thought through, well-communicated, non- made-up-on-the fly interview process; making sure team members get the support they need, and opportunities to shine in venues they care about. These are things we don’t need anyone’s permission to do, don’t require HR sign-off, and by and large don’t require funding approval.
Hiring’s hard and isn’t going to get easier any time soon. There are a lot of exciting and well-paid challenges outside of our industry. We can compete! But we need to try.
On to the roundup:
The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers - Longqi Yang et al., Nature Human Behaviour
This is a peer-reviewed paper covering some data reported earlier in blog posts; Microsoft looking at internal messaging and calendaring traffic of its US employees over the first six months of 2020. They found that, internally, the size of communications networks fell; groups became more siloed, and as a result presumably it is harder to communicate across different divisions of an organization.
This is consistent with what we found in our team. I found that the collaboration’s communications is actually much better than before the pandemic - we put a lot of work into that - but there’s no free lunch, and my communication with other teams at my organization is relatively poor.
This does point to areas where managers need to work - making sure there are bridges built to other internal teams we need to interact with and putting extra work into communicating messages that we want heard widely like successes or changes.
Why the best way to hire is incredibly boring - Laszlo Bock, humu
Again - management isn’t complicated, it doesn’t require profound insights into the human condition or the right personality type - it consists of nothing more than the discipline of attending to the details.
Bock despairs of the “one weird interview question” genre of articles that promises to give you that profound insight into a candidate without having to do any real work.
But hiring doesn’t work like that. When hiring a human being to do a job for the team and grow the team, you need to find out if they can do the job, and if they’ll grow the team in a way that the team would benefit from. As Bock points out, the way to do that is exactly what you’d expect:
Define Job Attributes
Ask for a work sample
Ask behavioural questions
Average scores and make a decision
Constantly check that your hiring process actually works
It’s boring, it’s mundane, it’s a lot of work, and there isn’t another good general option.
We recently went through and have nearly completed hiring a technical project manager (I can’t even tell you how excited I am by that prospect), so this is all fresh in my mind. This is our first TPjM hire, so we spent a lot of time putting together interview materials to determine what we needed, what a new team member would need to do to demonstrate success in the role, what the criteria are, and then how to get that “work sample” - in this case, a “project planning meeting” interview. in addition to the behavioural questions interview (where we provided the questions ahead of time, along with the scenario). It was a lot of work, it greatly clarified within the team what we needed, it greatly clarified for the candidate what they were proposing getting into, and it basically sets up the goals for the first six months of the candidate. It improves our, and their, chances of success.
The one place I’d disagree with Bock is about averaging scores. You don’t want to hire someone that, on average, the team wants to work with.
You absolutely have to weigh all the input, and use that to inform your decision. But I’d suggest two things.
First, any well-justified objection to a candidate based on the agreed-upon criteria should be pretty darn close to disqualifying. Second, the “decision” can’t be made by an artificially dispassionate scoring system, as comfortable as that would be. The decision has to ultimately be your responsibility, the hiring manger - for the very simple reason that if it goes horribly wrong and they have to be fired, that responsibility will fall on you and no one else.
How to coach an employee who is performing well - Claire Lew, Know Your Team
As managers, the tendency is to focus on problems, and on team members who aren’t performing well in their current tasks. As a result, team members who are capable and already growing tend to suffer from benign neglect; but this isn’t fair to them, and it’s a missed opportunity for the manager. Someone who’s already shown they can grow under conditions of benign neglect can grow faster with some help. What’s more, if you don’t offer that help, they may reasonably start looking for jobs where their growth and career development is actively encouraged - wouldn’t you?
Lew walks us through the steps of making sure someone who’s doing well and is already growing gets the coaching they deserve. As always, coaching isn’t about you telling someone how to do something better, but about giving them the opportunities and resources - and accountability - to grow their skills:
Understand their motivations
Give choice that aligns with their motivations
Connect their work with progress towards their core motivation
As with so much of management, this isn’t hard or complex! The difficulty is in the discipline to keep performing the practice. In #60 I shared the quarterly goal setting & review template I use; by checking in every three months, and understanding their goals in their larger career, as well as at this job, that makes it much easier to ensure that new opportunities and resources support them in their growth as well as in the work the team needs.
Computer games for education have been around since the beginning - here’s the story of 1964’s The Sumerian Game, complete with teletype, slide projector and narration on cassette. I played the 1978 version of this, typed in from Basic Microcomputer Games.