Early on in my career, I had over-indexed on how “smart” someone was. I used to be in awe of people who could solve the toughest computer science and math problems – problems which took me days to get my head around. During my working years, I realised that the following virtues were more valuable,
The growth of any business relies on its predictability. For sales-driven businesses, its predictability of revenue. For engineering-driven businesses, its predictability on product delivery. All functions depend on it – from marketing collateral and customer outreach to internal and external training.
I learnt over time that the best engineers weren’t the ones who were the smartest, but the ones who were most predictable. If I give a person a task, will that person be able to complete it correctly and on time?
Humans aren’t well oiled machines. There are always times when we need to compensate for others and have others compensate for us. Having people with empathy for their peers and for the business creates momentum on the team and helps with its morale.
Team morale is a fickle thing. It can quickly snowball in either direction. Having a pulse of the team; especially when it comes directly from empathetic individuals can alert you to situations and help mitigate them. As their manager, no matter how grounded you think you are, you will quite often fail to notice certain things.
Vocal, empathetic people who bring things to your attention, who have the courage to stand their ground can make a humongous difference to the team. These are the people who always volunteer to help. Who reflect on themselves, the needs of the team and the needs of the business.
The third quality is Autonomy. Can I give the person a job to do and then forget about it, knowing that the person will either,
- Get it done and report back to me OR
- Raise it early with the issues they are facing.
Or do I have to keep following up with them? How much hand-holding do they need?
I love autonomous people. I must admit, I am really bad at micromanaging people. I hate it. Firstly, because I personally don’t enjoy being micromanaged. Secondly, micromanagement imposes an additional workload on me and a further drain on my already limited time.
Ask yourself - Is the best use of your time looking over someone else’s shoulder? Or thinking about the next most awesome thing?
So how do you identify autonomous people? I try to assess this in face-to-face interviews. I usually ask them to walk me through a few large problems/challenges that they faced at their previous job or university and ask pointed questions on the exact nature of the difficulties faced and how they went about resolving them.
Roles invariably change over time. Responsibilities change, tasks change and expectations change. In the fast paced world of startups, a job description becomes obsolete the moment the new hire steps through the door!
Under such circumstances, the people who are most adaptable to the changing needs of the business are the ones who have the biggest impact. It is really hard to predict the trajectory of a startup pre Series-B, and during this usually tricky time it’s your highly adaptable people that help pull the team through!
I look for adaptability with my hires. How open are they to different programming languages? How happy are they to roll their sleeves and dive into the problem? How eager are they to move between stacks? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you used a wrench to hammer the nail in – so long as the building is built!
The aim of any good manager or CTO should be to make themselves obsolete through coaching and transfer of skills. In any team structure, there should be a clear path for progression for each individual.
When I hire, I look for candidates who can grow quickly, can challenge their managers and who can take on more and more duties over time.
- It makes my job easier as I can delegate some my tasks. This frees up my time to focus on things that have the most leverage for the business.
- It sends the right signal to the team, saying, if you are able to grow, you will get more responsibilities and promotions.
- I am not a huge fan of hiring externally when there is talent available within.
Ownership is about,
- Feeling responsible for the product’s success or failure.
- Feeling especially responsible for the product’s failure.
- Understanding the WHY behind the product and the business problem it solves.
- Driving the future direction of the product.
- Knowing who all the stakeholders are and effectively communicating with them.
- Having the right level of technical understanding of the product.
Think back to your team. How many people truly own their respective areas?
In the original series of Star Trek, Captain Kirk often quotes, “I do not believe in no-win scenarios”. This is a really powerful statement and something I wholly believe in. No matter what the situation, it is salvageable; and then it is winnable. All you need are people with unconventional problem solving ability.
During my 10+ years working at multiple startups, I have been amazed multiple times with how many dire no-win situations were turned completely around due to the resilience of problem solvers. And then in some cases where situations could have been turned around but weren’t because of the lack of such people in the organisation.
I have tried to build teams which people with a healthy dose of the above qualities. Looking back, the teams that failed to be high-performing were because the individuals didn’t exhibit these qualities.
I am really proud of my team here at Facebook. We are working on some really hard product problems and trying to transform the way advertising currently works. With the people on the team ticking all of the above, I am really confident about getting there :-).
2016 is going to be an amazing year!