The New York Times has a fascinating interview about using Big Data to guide hiring and management techniques with Google’s VP of people operations, Lazlo Bock. Two things in particular stood out.
First, “On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time”. I couldn’t agree more.
Second, “One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless”. This ties in well with rejecting the top-tier school pedigree nonsense and downplaying the benefit of formal education altogether. On the last point, Lazlo notes: “What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well”.
But beyond that, the interview is full of good tips on management as well. Especially around figuring out who’s a good manager and how they can improve. If that’s a subject you’re interested in, checkout our newly launched Know Your Company.
As we watched Apple unveil iOS7, the 37signals Campfire room quickly turned to awe of what they had achieved. A redesign so shocking and deep bestowed upon a product so popular left many mouths agape. Whether you happened to like the final product wasn’t as relevant as marveling at the vision, drive, and sheer determination to pull it off.
Apple has a way of making people feel like that.
But what followed next is at least as interesting: We all sought to explain just how they did it. Is it all Ive’s eye? Is it that they explore more ideas than anyone else? Is it never accepting “good enough”? Forgoing customer input and trusting their own instinct? Hundreds of triple-A designers and developers?
There were lots of suggestions. But stepping back a meter or two, it was clear that we all simply reached for our own grandest ambitions and rebranded them Apple’s secret sauce. Theorizing why Apple is able to do what it does is an organizational Rorschach.
That doesn’t make it a useless exercise. Au contraire. It just makes it more about you than them. It lets you tease out your goals and aspirations for your own work and process. It’s a kick in the ass to marvel at greatness and think of reasons “why are we not as awesome as that?”.
An organization as rich and storied as Apple has a thousand reasons for why it got to where it is. Pinning it on any one answer is futile, but it’s sure to spark a healthy debate. Indulge.
Rails ships with a default configuration for the three most common environments that all applications need: test, development, and production. That’s a great start, and for smaller apps, probably enough too. But for Basecamp, we have another three:
- Beta: For testing feature branches on real production data. We often run feature branches on one of our five beta servers for weeks at the time to evaluate them while placing the finishing touches. By running the beta environment against the production database, we get to use the feature as part of our own daily use of Basecamp. That’s the only reliable way to determine if something is genuinely useful in the long term, not just cool in the short term.
- Staging: This environment runs virtually identical to production, but on a backup of the production database. This is where we test features that require database migrations and time those migrations against real data sizes, so we know how to roll them out once ready to go.
- Rollout: When a feature is ready to go live, we first launch it to 10% of all Basecamp accounts in the rollout environment. This will catch any issues with production data from other accounts than our own without subjecting the whole customer base to a bug.
These environments all get a file in
config/environments/ and they’re all based off the production defaults.
Most corporate customer service departments seem to have been reduced to call scripts of apologies with no power whatsoever to actually address the problems they encounter. That’s the conclusion I’m left with after dealing with three business bureaucracies this year: Comcast, Verizon, and American Airlines.
All train their front line people to glaze the interaction with the plastic empathy that’s supposed to make you feel like they care, even when they demonstrably do not. It’s the customer service equivalent of empty calories, but worse, it’s also infuriating.
There’s simply nothing worse than someone telling you how sorry they are when you can hear they don’t give a damn. Nothing worse than someone telling you that they’re doing all they can, when they’re aren’t lifting a finger.
The emotional chain reaction is completely predictable: At first, you’re comforted that someone appears to care even if the tone is off (humans are remarkable at sussing out insincerity). Then you realize that their only job is to get you off the line, not solve the problem. Then follows the feelings of being powerless and betrayed. And then follows the anger.
That’s a vicious cycle and it must be almost as bad on the other side. Imagine having to field calls from customers every day who you want to help, knowing that the only thing you’re allowed to do is feign that “we apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced”.
What’s so sad too is how little it would often take to resolve the situations. You bend a policy here, you expedite an order there, you bubble an issue up to a manager. A natural, caring organization designed to create passionate customers stretches and bends. A rigid business bureaucracy looks to nail every T on policies, procedures, and practices—customers be damned.
(This post was brought on by my recent experience in American Airlines earned an enemy)
Managers who complain about slacking staff without examining their work environment are deluded. Being a slacker is not an innate human quality, it’s a product of the habitat. Fundamentally, everyone wants to do a good job (the statistical outliers who do not follow this are not worth focusing policy on).
The problem is that deluded managers expect unreasonable returns from their investment. They think you can get the best from people by thinking the worst of them. It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t crack the whip with one hand and expect a firm handshake with the other.
If you want star quality effort, you need to provide a star quality environment. No, window dressing like a free meal is not it. It can serve as a cherry on top, but if the rest of the cake is full of shit, that’s not going to make it any more appealing.
A star environment is based on trust, vision, and congruent behavior. Make people proud to work where they work by involving them in projects that matter and ignite a fire of urgency about your purpose. Find out who you are as a company and be the very best you. Give people a strategic plan that’s coherent and believable and then leave the bulk of the tactical implementation to their ingenuity.
If you’re doing work in a less than star environment, you owe less than star effort. Quid pro quo. By all means, do yours to affect and change the environment. Nudge it towards the stars. But also, accept the limitations of your power. You can drag a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.
So ration your will and determination. Invest what’s left over, after meeting the bar of your work environment, in your own projects, skills, and future. The dividends is what’s going to lead you to the next, better thing.
Everyone deserves to work at a place that inspires them to give their very best. Don’t stop reaching until you have that.
(Like this? There’s more where this came from. Pre-order REMOTE: Office Not Required, our new book on remote work.)
But tethering the Yahoos to their stalls in the company’s offices does not seem like the right way to go about boosting their output. Plenty of evidence suggests that letting employees work from home is good for productivity. It allows them to use their time more efficiently and to spend more time with their families and less fuming in traffic jams or squashed on trains. It can reduce companies’ costs… You can shackle a Yahoo to his desk, but you can’t make him feel the buzz.
Mayer Culpa, The Economist