Everybody wants something
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Everybody wants something

Fred Wilson wrote a blog post about employee retention that includes these sentences: >There are highly loyal teams that can withstand almost anything and remain steadfastly behind their leader. And there are teams that are entirely mercenary and will walk out without thinking twice about it. One of the big responsibilities for any manager is to keep their team together, and obviously cultivating loyalty is part of that. I agree with his three tips for retention – leadership, mission, and location are all important – but I hate the “loyalist” versus “mercenary” framing of the discussion.

I don’t think that companies or managers should think of people who leave as being disloyal. People leave for a variety of reasons, and those reasons always make sense to them. In nearly every case, leaving a job is a really, really tough decision, even if some aspects of the job are pretty terrible. Most people have friends at work, projects that they care about, and a sense of responsibility to the people and mission that they were dedicated to until they decided to make a change.

Describing them as “mercenary” is disrespectful. Rarely do people start thinking about changing jobs because of salary or because they want a bigger chunk of equity. Usually something about their job just isn’t working for them. Maybe they want different kinds of projects, maybe they changed managers and don’t like the new person, or maybe they feel like their best work at the company is already behind them. Even if it is just money, maybe the fact that you’re paying them far less than they could earn elsewhere is your problem, not theirs.

Once I left a job because I wanted to move to a different geographic location. Once I left a job because I wanted to work at a startup and have more responsibility. Once I left a job because I didn’t trust that the company was going to be in business much longer (they’re still doing fine, many years later, as it turns out). Once I left a job because consulting wasn’t for me any more. All those moves made sense to me at the time. All of them were good, although in several cases not for the reasons I expected.

As managers, we work hard to build companies where people commit to the job and stick around for the long term. At the same time, we have to be prepared that people will move on, generally for good reasons. Building a team that is resilient is part of a manager’s job as well. The worst case is not a building a team that people leave to go on to other (hopefully bigger and better) things, but a company where people are happy to show up every day but aren’t committed to doing great work.

My favorite thing to tell people when they move on to a new job is, “Maybe you’ll hire me one day.” I prefer working with people with that kind of potential, with the knowledge that retaining them is going to require my best work as a manager.

Identifying people who are too busy to be nice
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Identifying people who are too busy to be nice

In a piece discussing the horrible effects mean bosses have on the health and productivity of people at work, Christine Porath also catalogs a couple of excuses that these bosses use:

I’ve surveyed hundreds of people across organizations spanning more than 17 industries, and asked people why they behaved uncivilly. Over half of them claim it is because they are overloaded, and more than 40 percent say they have no time to be nice.

I may just start asking candidates I interview flat out whether they sometimes feel like they’re too busy to be nice. More generally, it feels like a series of questions about how a candidate handles stress may be really useful. Some ideas:

  • Tell me about a time when you felt like someone else’s mistake reflected poorly on you.
  • What do you do when you feel like someone doesn’t feel the same sense of urgency you do about a task?
  • How do you get a meeting on track when you’re the only person who’s prepared?
  • How do you handle it when it’s obvious that your boss didn’t read your email?
  • How do you handle it when a peer/subordinate didn’t read your email?

I’m always looking for ways to identify people with toxic personality traits in interviews. Digging into responses to stress seems like another way to get there.

Drop the charges against Edward Snowden
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Drop the charges against Edward Snowden

As we see the elimination of surveillance programs he unveilled, let’s take a moment to recognize Edward Snowden. He published an op-ed in the New York Times last week:

In a single month, the N.S.A.’s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and disowned by Congress. After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack, even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated. This is the power of an informed public.

For The New Yorker, John Cassidy argues that the US should drop the criminal charges against Snowden:

To repeat, none of this would have happened without Snowden’s intervention. Doubtless, the intelligence agencies are pressing the White House to stick to its hard line about prosecuting him, on the grounds that dropping the charges, or making some sort of plea bargain, would encourage other leakers. But that is a self-serving argument, and it doesn’t stand up to inspection. In a free society, we want whistle-blowers who have persuasive evidence that great wrongs are being carried out to come forward and tell us about them.

And finally, Glenn Greenwald looks at the reaction of media outlets that have called for punishing Snowden:

When it comes to taking the lead in advocating for the criminalization of leaking and demanding the lengthy imprisonment of our source, it hasn’t been the U.S. Government performing that role but rather – just as was the case for WikiLeaks disclosures – those who call themselves “journalists.” Just think about what an amazing feat of propaganda that is, one of which most governments could only dream: let’s try to get journalists themselves to take the lead in demonizing whistleblowers and arguing that sources should be imprisoned! As much of an authoritarian pipe dream as that may seem to be, that is exactly what happened during the Snowden debate.

If you haven’t watched Laura Poitras’ documentary on Snowden, Citizenfour, you should check it out. More recently, John Oliver interviewed Snowden for Last Week Tonight.

Link
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The Daily Beast reports on Uber’s argument that it is exempt from disability laws, because it’s a tech company rather than a transportation company. The other day I wrote about Uber, and I still have complicated thoughts about the company. What I think is that the market is full of companies that seek to save money by evading regulation, and it’s up to us as voters to elect politicians who are serious about enforcing them.

On the media’s lazy response to Seymour Hersh
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On the media’s lazy response to Seymour Hersh

Trevor Timm tells the media to quit dismissing Seymour Hersh and to start following up on his reporting on the holes in the official account of how the CIA found Osama Bin Laden. While there are many elements of Hersh’s story that seem implausible, some details of the official account are implausible as well. The implications of the differences between the official’s account and Hersh’s reporting are important:

Hersh’s assertion, which has by now been at least partially confirmed by multiple news organizations, that bin Laden was found thanks to a “walk-in” tip—rather than by tracking his courier as the government has claimed—should be a major scandal. For years, the CIA has said it found bin Laden thanks to information about his personal courier—information that was obtained by means of torture.

There’s much in the story that Hersh reported that seems likely to be wrong to me, because it just doesn’t make sense. What I wish, though, is that reporters would dig into the story itself rather than going all in on the top item on this list of fallacious arguments.

What I think about Uber
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What I think about Uber

This week’s don’t miss article is Emily Guendelsberger’s look at what Uber drivers really make for the Philadelpha City Paper. The article is well-researched and well-reported. It’s also an entertaining read. Even if you don’t use Uber at all, its business model is being emulated throughout the service industry, and the company’s future is tightly entertwined with the future of ground transportation in general.

The article also captures the conundrum that transportation consumers face. It’s very convenient to land in a strange city and know that you an get a ride wherever you want to go using the Uber app, and that successfully communicating with the driver about where you’re going is not necessary. There’s no excuse for ever drinking and driving if you are in a city where Uber is available. And, of course, thanks to cutthroat price competition, Uber is cheaper than ever in most places.

On the other hand, Uber’s management is pretty revolting, and their relationship with their drivers becomes more and more exploitative over time. They company also ignores the law in many cities, and is encouraging large scale insurance fraud. Knowing that taking an Uber car means supporting Uber the company offsets the convenience that they offer.

It remains true, though, that for the most part, taking a regular cab often isn’t any better. The work of a traditional cab driver is also full of exploitation across the board. A cab driver in San Francisco told me that he pays to rent his cab, tips the guy who runs the garage to put him in a decent car, tips the dispatcher to send fares his way, and generally tips one or more hotel doormen so that they call him instead of other cab drivers.

Finally, if you care about the environment and quality of life in urban areas, you have to hope that it becomes easier and easier for people to live without owning their own car. Bike lanes, better public transportation, and walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are all part of it, but cabs are a part of it as well, and for the most part, taking an Uber is a much more pleasant experience than taking a traditional cab from the moment you decide to take a cab until the car drops you off.

I hope that Uber changes its business practices, either voluntarily, or because the government compels it to do so, but I am certain that Uber (or other companies like it) are a big part of the future. With some changes, I think that’s a good thing.

One hundred one on ones
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One hundred one on ones

Here’s one thing I think about when I’m evaluating candidates after interviewing them – do I want to have 100 one on ones with this person? One hundred one on ones is roughly two years, which is probably roughly the minimum amount of time you’d expect someone to work with someone, assuming it isn’t a disaster. To me, this question is a reminder of the commitment one makes to a person’s professional well being when they hire them.

The catch, of course, is that there’s some overlap here with the idea of hiring for “culture fit.” There are a lot of ways to think about culture fit, and that many of them amplify the patterns that limit diversity in the tech industry. However, when you hire someone for your team, it’s the beginning of what will ideally be a long relationship, one that requires good communication and trust on both sides to be effective, and some personal chemistry really helps.

This thought experiment works both ways. When you’re interviewing for a job, if you meet your future manager, how do you feel about the idea of having 100 one on ones with them? It doesn’t matter how great a company is, reporting to a bad boss is going to ruin your experience there. Is this someone you can trust? Is this someone you can stand? Think about what you’re signing up for.

The pleasure of building big things
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The pleasure of building big things

Accomplishing big things takes a long time, even in the modern world of software. I was reminded of that today when I read Mike Kruzeniski’s post Jony’s Patience. Here’s the crux of it:

I doubt that it took 20 years for Ive to come up with the idea for the Watch, or to find the right design for it. For the past two decades, Apple and Ive have been carefully building a company that’s capable of building the Watch. That’s 23 years of finding talent, hiring the right people, building the right teams, developing relationships, investing in skills and technologies, establishing manufacturing and distribution, and proving out the products and business models. Ive’s patience to grow with Apple over the last two decades allows him to design the greatest products in the world today.

In a world of accelerators and frameworks and cloud services, the reminders that you can build significant companies and products very quickly are all around us. It’s worth taking a step back to remember that the really big jobs take a long time. Soon we’re going to launch a big infrastructure project at work that has been about a year in the making. In December, I gave a talk on the years of foundational work that put us in a position to even start on this project. After we launch, we’ll have a number of new capabilities that will enable us to build some stuff that has been on the drawing board for years.

Quick wins are great, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about companies, teams, products, and infrastructure evolving together into new things that can only be created with years of effort.