Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hire Adults, Expect Results!

You’re a manager who has just been given control of an important new project, and you want to do absolutely everything you can to make it a sterling success with features and functions that will guarantee strong market success (generating great revenues), outstanding quality, on (or ahead of) time delivery, and within budget. You’ve been given some range of freedom in building your new team; some to be chosen from among existing employees, and the authority to hire some new employees specifically for your project. Most of the available existing employees have been around for a while, and have a mix of capabilities and motivations. You know most of these folks, to varying degrees, and can learn more about them from peers and others. Your new hire budget (as with your overall budget) is, of course, fixed, but you have a choice of how you want to spend that money. You can bring in a good number of inexperienced (and less expensive) people, or fewer (and more expensive) experienced people, or a mix of both. What should guide you in building your new team, and how should you go about it? In the words of my good friend Lee Beaumont**, “Hire adults, expect results!

First let me clarify what I mean by experience and by adult.

Experience in this instance should be viewed as directly applicable and applied knowledge about one or more aspects of the project that are essential to its success. Experience in this definition has little to do with age. There are people straight out of school who may have specialized experience that may be absolutely critical to success, and there may be people who have been around for a long time, but whose experiences, while significant and valuable elsewhere, may not be at all applicable in this project. If you want to succeed, you will need experts with the right kinds of experience.

Being an adult has far more to do with behavior than with chronological age. It has to do with levels of personal responsibility, integrity, and trust. Adults are people who can be trusted to honor their commitments and deliver honest and reliable results in the times they said they would (see Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, and Do What You Say You’ll Do!). With adults, you don’t spend your time babysitting and resolving stupid conflicts, picking up dropped balls, listening to “can’t do” excuses and other childish behavior. With adults, you get a level of initiative, creativity, and leadership that can emerge and transform the team and project to a new level; breakthrough products can result. With adults, new people in the organization have excellent role models to learn from, and a healthy mentorship relationship can develop that brings benefits to the mentor, apprentice, team, and project (see Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More from Bad!). With adults, you have people you trust to talk to and collaborate with in problem solving. With adults, problems can be foreseen, anticipated, and avoided much earlier and at much less cost. With adults, people rise to the occasion, and delivering on commitments becomes expected and fun. In my career I have known people straight out of school who exhibited outstanding adult behavior, and well-seasoned, even experienced people who still behave like children. Some children (of any age) can be trained, and some cannot! Being an adult does not mean you shouldn’t have fun in your work. Adults can still have fun at work, but not at the expense of others or the project. In fact, having fun should really be a prerequisite, since it is one of the key elements that motivate responsible adults to look forward to going to work every day.  

My daughter once worked for a ‘dot com’ company shortly before the bubble burst. The concept this company had was actually a fairly good one with reasonable prospects for success. They brought in an experienced team with a solid background. However, the management team made childish decisions that proved fatal to the company. On many occasions, when she described what was going on in the company, I commented to her that the company needed some adult supervision in management. Their decision making processes appeared to me to often be random and capricious. The company limped along for a while, making questionable, and often wrong, decisions along the way, but the crowning glory of immaturity came when the management team decided to spend their scarce and precious funds on expensive office furniture rather than investing those funds in building the business. When I heard this, I told her the end was near, and sure enough, a few months later they shut the doors, due to lack of funds, on what could have been a successful operation in adult hands.

On the other hand, I once worked at a company that started out as a true garage operation and grew to about a $1.4B business. The founders there, despite their many child-like quirks and idiosyncrasies (some things they did were fun for everyone, and others were just bizarre), had their heads screwed on straight when it came to delivering what their customers wanted and in keeping costs down so that the business could grow. All furniture was bare-bones and bought used at fire-sale prices. All the meeting rooms had no chairs and stand-up tables, with an emphasis on getting in, getting done what needed to be done quickly, and getting out. While there were many other things wrong or questionable at this company, they ran it as a focused lean, mean, fighting machine and for a long time it grew and prospered.

So, you want to build a team of adults with applicable experience to embrace the project and help ensure it will be a great success. While adults in the team are mandatory throughout, and experience is critical, you don’t necessarily want a team filled exclusively with experts. You also need members on the team who will complement the capabilities of the experienced experts. You need people who can carry out the tasks and experiments critical to proving and practically implementing the concepts that the experts develop. Pick the mix of experts and implementers carefully. You also want to avoid clashing egos and turf battles, so it is critical that members of your team can get along with each other and cooperate and collaborate well. Another key element is to give your team the freedom and opportunity to spread their wings and make this project far more than the sum of its parts. Trust this team (with reasonable controls) to show that they can make pigs fly! (See Pigasus – When Pigs Fly!

Now it’s time to actually build your team. First, look over the available existing employees and choose carefully. Based on the specific areas of expertise and experience you need, who among these people best fit the project needs? Think of it like casting a movie, finding the best person for each role, not just the stars. If you need people who you know would be perfect for the team, but who are not in the available pool, see what you can do to bring them on board. Perhaps you can barter with a peer and agree to trade someone they have for someone you have (this works particularly well when the trade is good for all involved). Perhaps you can get a person you’d like in a reasonable timeframe. Perhaps you’ll need to escalate this to your boss or higher. You don’t want to damage someone else’s project, but often you need who you need and someone at a higher level needs to evaluate the tradeoffs and priorities (see When Everything Is High Priority, Nothing Is High Priority!). Bartering, trading, cajoling, escalating, threatening, and other possible actions should all be considered, although carefully. Using this process, or something like it, go through the list of available people, and others who you’d like to be available, and start building your team from within.

Next, think about what you really need from new hires. Do you want experts, or are there enough of them in house? Are there experts available outside and how do you find them, how can you get them, in what timeframe, and what will they cost? Do you need worker bees who are fresh and highly motivated to get in and help the experienced people accomplish their goals, and gain experience while doing so? Are these people better found inside or outside?  

What are other ways you can increase your effectiveness and efficiency? Think outside the box. Would it be better to consider some outside help in the form of consultants or contract development resources with specific expertise that would enable them to very quickly provide a critical element of your project that it would take considerable time to develop internally? Are there elements of the project where pieces could be effectively outsourced (locally, domestically, or internationally)? In looking at such choices you need to think carefully about how you would manage such outside-the-box choices; the management challenges are generally far greater than you may initially think. Still, your goal is to get the job done in the most effective fashion within an available budget. Your primary limitation is your budget, not how you choose to spend it. Get creative to think outside the box about ways to get the most bang for your budget buck.

However you organize it, populating the team with adults is one of the most critical elements, but it may not be the most critical. In the end, you are likely the most critical (yet often nearly invisible) element in the success of your project. You need to lead by example. Don’t ask others to do things that you would not do yourself (assuming you had the skills and expertise of the members of your team). Nothing should be above you and nothing should be beneath you. When you demand extra efforts and time of your team, put in the extra efforts and time yourself. When difficulties arise, be the leader who moves the obstacles out of the way so your team can do their jobs more effectively (see Move the Rocks and People Travel Faster). Shield the team from unnecessary distractions and impediments (see Shield Your Troops!). Get your team the tools to enable them to be most productive (see Use the Right Tools to Do the Job Right). Don’t set your team up with unrealistic expectations or sunny day scenarios (see Unrealistic Expectations, and Sunny Day Scenarios). Communicate, communicate, communicate! (see What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate!). Most important, establish an environment where the team feels trusted and earns the trust of you and others (see also Trust Me, I’m Not Like The Others!). Trust is earned and not owed, but you have to show trust to gain trust. Show the team you trust them and that they can trust you.

When done right, getting a critical project launched properly can result in a project delivered with spectacular results. This means the right people, the right product, the right plan, and the right execution. Key to that success is the team that pulls it off. When done right, the experience can be nothing short of exhilarating! It can make every day an exciting one you wake up early to and look forward to. The members of the team are critical, and to maximize your opportunities for success, you need to hire adults and expect results!

** [Note: This topic, the expression ‘Hire Adults, Expect Results’, and his usual clarifying comments come from my good friend Lee Beaumont (see prior articles The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game, Start Spreading The News!, and Can You Pass The Red Face Test?). Lee has and continues to be an outstanding source of thought provoking concepts, ideas, and insights. Please also check out Lee’s excellent website, and particularly his pages and]

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