“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act. It is a habit” – Aristotle
This is a continuation of my personal thoughts regarding the hiring and on-boarding process (I am applying this to the public sector specifically in this series of posts) and what I think can be beneficial or leaders should apply consideration towards when thinking of building a team of people and creating it in an effort to build a greater culture. After all, I believe that creation of a talent pipeline and good hiring and on-boarding is critical to any organization and should be at the forefront of a leader’s thoughts.
And based on losing some people recently who have moved on to “bigger and better” things as they grow within their career, I will discuss what I feel is the best outlook towards off-boarding of employees top new opportunities and why that matters as well.
In my prior post, I identified several things that were driving factors that helped me shape and guide my personal approach to this activity within the public sector.
- Hiring the “right candidates” that provide cultural value-add (as opposed to the ever used “cultural fit”, which just means everyone is the same and we have no diversity) to the current culture in helping it grow.
- Providing an on-boarding experience that is timely, engaging at both the micro and macro levels of the organization and provides a positive experience that engages and supports them from day 1.
- Create an opportunity to “prepare them for success” in their new role through proper tooling and focused education and direct experience before introducing them into their daily routine of their role.
- Possibly hire them with other team members so that through the process an underlying sense of bonding can occur to create a secondary support system when they transition to their daily work.
In the first post, I centered most of the exploration around the first and second points of this direction. This post intends to explore more of the concepts, using the public sector as a area of context, of how we might on-board new employees and create a trajectory for success for them starting on their very first day through investment and engagement.
We just wait for them to show up, right?
Unfortunately, with all of the “pre-work” that occurs when we hire someone new, this is the general mental place we often come to when we prepare to on-board someone.
We perform the required things of requesting accounts, hardware, necessary paperwork, jumping through finance, HR and process but in terms of our preparation for being an active continued investment in the person we hire before they step a single foot into the door we often can fall short. And I mean a tangible investment. One that makes them feel connected to their new company and one that helps them feel comfort that they selected the right place to be as well.
You have just made a significant investment in time, people, effort and process to hire this person; the hard work to connect them to your culture has just started. Don’t allow that gap not to engage your employee immediately and begin to demonstrate the investment that they have made in you! Some people say “I merely don’t have the time” and they may be right as hiring can be one of those “other duties as assigned” which is why people often do not work to get good at it. A lot of private companies (and more public organizations) are investing in groups to better and more effectively talent acquisition and management as a tangible investment b y the company.
In the public sector, there are lots of hoops to jump through as often times a great deal of the “things” a new employee needs. It is that “web of bureaucracy” that you often hear about. It really does exist. It’s an actual and tangible thing. But overall, it’s just extra work. And we can do the work. Establishing that experience of the person from the very first day can be valuable about how they tell others about your organization, grow with you and how they feel they can contribute. Believe or not, there are a lot of folks who really appreciate the ability to shape their working world. And let’s admit it, the first engagement to a new employer is often a very exciting and engaging time for a new employee. Let’s do it right.
I have compared our current hiring practices with some of the same size or larger enterprises and find us on par if not sometimes above.
Enterprises take time. Startups are often much easier, they like you, they want you and the guy “Larry” who owns the company may write your paycheck personally or even make you the offer as he is a founder who is now the CEO, CTO, etc.
As companies become larger with insurance plans and benefits to choose from, retirement or matching plans, etc. it often just takes more pieces of machinery within an organization to manage all of this. In this case, it is often a more deeply managed effort that has moving parts and has to be coordinated. Add in the public sector the overwhelming concern to ensure that fairness of the process limits the scope of liability and this can be a significant process of oversight.
I think that many in organizations do a poor job of communicating this time investment to our prospective employees and keeping them engaged during this process. One thing I find really important is to discuss this with the candidate upfront. They should understand how long it takes to secure approvals to hire someone so that they can reasonably set their expectations. Does this mean that you will lose some candidates who are unwilling to wait through the process? Sure you will. But ask yourself if you sold the position as one worth waiting to be ready for them.
My hiring process (with all the approvals and hoops I need to take) takes no less than 4-6 weeks on average for a one week posting, including the initial posting, interviewing, selection, hire processing, etc. It’s not optimal but we manage within this process.
We do not throw are arms up and talk about how “we can never hire under this process”. Is it more difficult, yes. But work is hard and it takes your commitment and focus if you want to build something great. Blaming the process or allowing yourself to just give up is not going to get a single employee hired.
Start engaging your candidates before they even show up. Do everything you can to ensure that they know what’s important to you, what values you hold and they can begin visualizing how they fit into that? If not, I encourage you to find a way to market better.
To give you some context, ask yourself this … why do people wait to be hired at Google? Is it the money? Is it the prestige? Maybe both? Ultimately if you are worth your salt in silicon valley, I speculate that Google is not the only place you can get a job. It is likely the place that you want to work and I also suspect that once they have sold you on the company and the job, you’ll wait to get that job. The money could be lower than you want, you could be a grunt on a team, etc.
The process in 2016 took on average 4-6 weeks to hire for a job at Google. It has been recently projected to be streamlined to 2-4 weeks. So in the context of this, did they “hook the candidate” better and make their job worth the wait? I have to say, I am operating under the time constraints so it seems that it is up to me to sell my environment as the place someone wants to wait to be a part.
If it’s a pure competition of money, I will certainly lose but I speculate that many of us learn in this industry, the pursuit of money can leave us to very bad environments that are perfectly willing to pay you outrageously to work in a bad environment.
Learn your hiring pipeline process. Know it. Stay aware of it and make partnerships with the people that help you get it done. After all, to be really successful means “getting the right people on the bus” according to Jim Collins.
My Organizational Cultural Beliefs
*As a precursor to this section, this is how “I” personally look at building and running an organization.
I have several basic things that I believe in when it comes to an organization:
- Hire well. Don’t allow yourself to hire for people who just “show up”, hire for the people you need for the job that needs to be done. If they do not show up during your process, do not hire people who you justify can meet that need or you think you can get there. Balance this with taking risks based on passion and drive but also be willing to separate if the ROI just is not there.
- Money and Perks do not mean retention. Not just financially or in terms of perks. Money and stuff will only keep people getting out of bed for a certain period of time. People want to be part of meaningful work that they have a direct hand in guiding. I can recall working for a company once that had a putting green in the office for employees. I can honestly promise you that my choice to get out of a warm bed and drive to an office to do my work never had a single decision made based on that putting green. Was it neat, was it fun? Sure. But in the end of the day, the thing that brought me there and kept me there (for a while) was doing meaningful work that was challenging. And money and perks are never infinite, I do not care what company you are. Eventually how do you “one up” yourself?
- Invest in the person you hire. This becomes especially important when they are more junior developers. Find ways to create learning opportunities on a recurring basis. Feed their minds for their careers. And guess what some will flourish with it and others will not. Be OK with this. People learn differently. Never stop providing the opportunities whenever possible. Allow them to experiment via hackathons or business challenges. Let them show you possibilities of which you cannot imagine.
- Build a culture first not just a software group. Jobs are easy to leave when you are a talented individual. You can just make up your mind, find the person hiring your skill set and win the job. But a culture is a social strategy. It’s a mission and the thing that permeates how you make decisions, guide the work and what you cling to when chaos surrounds you. Changing cultures is hard. It takes deeper soul searching to reach the determination to see if the grass is indeed greener on the other side. Everyone that has ever left my organization says it has been a really difficult decision. Good. It should be. That means we are building the right kind of organization. Build something that makes people reflect before they leave. Understand what the people in your organization find value in from their job on a regularly basis. The job of building and maintaining culture is not a “one and done
” sort of approach. For each employee you bring on you potentially impact your culture.
- Be realistic in your view of software careers. The average time frame before a person is likely to change jobs in the software industry is 15-24 months. 1.5-2 years. This means for your highest performing workers, the likelihood is that they will move on by at least 36-48 months on the average (if your retention is good). A lot of factors can contribute in their staying, continual hard challenges to tackle, regularly pay or promotions or maybe they are just comfortable in how they work today. But someone around them will leave. And once someone does, an immediate thought by others may be “should I consider leaving”? Here is the cold hard fact. People leave jobs. It’s OK. It does not mean you are not creating something wonderful, it sometimes just means that people need a new challenge, new faces, new teams, new growth. How can a you developer remain assured that this culture is amazing if they have never experienced another. How can a talented developer not want to continue to grow, maybe faster or in a different direction than you are going? I am probably one of the last generations of people who joined the work force with the hopes and promises of some longevity within a business. This is just not the way it is today. People will remain while they are inspired to be here. Many of us were more risk accepting when we had less tether to other responsibilities.
- Let people own the work they do. Create a culture that trusts the expertise of the people you are hiring to give you the honest and most accurate estimates of the work ahead. Let them use the power of openly and honestly telling you what effort is needed and let them commit to levels of work that they can successfully deliver. If you set projected dates, communicate this and allow them to know what compromises they may have to make to achieve your goal. Respect teams knowledge to refactor work and make it more robust and supportable. Giving a solid team a voice into their work will do amazing things. It’s a scary and fearful thing for teams to experience as it implies commitment and responsibility. Couple this with learning (such as using failure as an opportunity to learn and not a point of contention or reason to “take over”) and you will see teams grow, take commitments highly serious and deliver consistently. And if you have people not taking this power, you may have the wrong kind of people to build this type of culture.
- Know when it’s time to go. I dislike the word “fired” or “terminated”. It implies that someone has been physically harmed. I tend to believe that these terms grew from the contentious end situations that usually someone is being asked to leave a company experiences instead of addressing it and then parting ways if not resolved. I don’t think it has to be this way. I think this contention usually arises from the fact that we do not communicate in an ongoing fashion the expectations we have of people through whatever mechanism we have as to what is important in our culture and what we expect of them. We tend to say “we can teach them” and in many cases this works but in the ones that do not, I often see people reach frustration and say “we gotta fire person X” when no one has told person X what a terrible job they have been doing or how they are unequipped to do the job we need. I’ll speak of this a bit more in the off-boarding section.
Bringing them into your Culture
This starts the moment they seek to know more about you from the marketing you do online to the engagement you provide when they accept your offer. Here are a few suggestions into my thoughts on this.
- Ensure you create a presence in which to connect them that outlines who you are, what you believe and why you do what you do. Let them learn about you before they ever even meet you. And I hope it goes without saying but be genuine. The worst thing you can do is to talk about how you work and not demonstrate that same culture during a phone or face to face interview. People can sniff out a scam typically.
- Let them know about what you care about as an organization but give them the opportunity to care at the level in which they feel comfortable. Having a company that believes in “Toys for Tots” and requires everyone to build bikes is great but some people would rather donate money rather than time than effort. This does not mean they do not care, it just means that they may value that time for something else and rather support folks in a different way. Give people some space and flexibility in the way they contribute or let them decline to contribute at all. Not everyone can care about everything the company cares about. It’s OK if someone chooses to work rather than be charitable.
- Give them a way to get to know their new co-workers if at all possible. Have a blog, newsletter or arrange coffee or drinks for them with some of the new workers after their hire. Some companies may assign a “big brother/big sister” concept to give them a point of contact. Use your imagination to see how they can begin to get to know you and have a pipeline to the people they will work with. Engage them early and support them when coming on-board with your company. This small thing will pay off in the long run.
- Do not hire out of panic. As a leader, we all get pressure from above to do more with less. Hiring should be a core skill that as a leader you have and do but be strategic and hire well. The cost of a bad hire, not only in the time and effort it may take to rid yourself of a mistake, can be detrimental to good hires you already have. The adage of “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” can be true. Be decisive and protect your teams from this kind of experience.
Where do I go from here?
Hiring, on-boarding and occasionally off-boarding team members is an ever changing landscape. Pay attention to it as a leader. This is not a “one and done” activity. You have to research other companies, look at how you compete and determine how you need pivot when necessary. Sometimes, you have to push boundaries like perhaps paying a potential candidate for working on a project to see how they work or if hiring for a team, bringing all potential candidates in to work on a toy project to see how they can work together possibly. The options are endless and you have to know what the state of the industry hiring is and how you need to adapt. But never compromise. Don’t get a “butts in the seat” attitude and remember that utilitarian players and deep experience can be of value. Don’t lose site of the power of diversity of your people. That will enrich the depth of your teams and provide many new team members exposure to experience that they may never gain elsewhere.
Just focus and hire the right people. Give them interesting work and get out of their way. You might be surprised what you see.