You pay for what you get?

Have you hired people whom you think will not do the right thing unless you give them a bonus?

When the subject of bonus payments based on some measure comes up, and I push back against the concept I often hear the refrain that if we don’t bonus people to achieve a specific metric, they won’t push to achieve it.

Let’s flip this on its head and see how it sounds.  Do we have people who will refuse to do a good job, refuse to do the right thing, unless it’s tied to some extra payment?  If this is true are these the types of people we want?  Mercenaries who will only fight for our customers, the company and their team when there is a stack of cash attached?  A transactional relationship? 

This type of employee isn’t what most people think of when they think of a well-performing employee or a great teammate is it?

    

Who hired these people?

I often hear objections when introducing new organizational concepts such as Agile to a management group.  Things like a lack of “accountability” or “strategic thinking” on the part of the employees. The employees, they say, cannot work in a self-managed way. Chaos will ensue or something to that effect.

One question I’m fond of asking is “who exactly hired these people?”  Isn’t management admitting its failure?  They’ve failed by making poor hiring decisions.  They’ve failed by not mentoring and growing the skill of their people.  The bottom line is that even if everything these managers say comes to pass the first place I’m looking for a cause is the managers.  

True, the structure is also a major driver of the problem and managers, especially mid-level managers are often operating in the environment created by those higher up the ladder.  I also know that too often mid-level managers use that as an excuse for lack of leadership.  They may have much room for maneuver within there groups.  The high ups can’t watch everything after all.  

Managers, even those in a toxic environment, assuming they choose to stay in that environment, should start asking what they can do to improve the situation rather than using the structure as an excuse.  

It’s a sculptor like way of working

The essential way to do anything great, you have to have some kind of incremental development philosophy because you’re just going to be wrong with your grand design that you don’t iterate on.

— Andy Hertzfeld

This short video interview of Andy Hertzfeld is interesting from a purely historical context but it also gives a glimpse into how hardware and software engineers worked at the dawn of the personal computer revolution.  It will sound familiar to anyone doing development today in an iterative fashion – no matter the specific framework.

One of the most exciting stories in the piece is about mouse acceleration.  This feature is something so fundamental to the experience of using a GUI but not evident at the start.  Putting work out in the world and seeing how it feels is the only way to detect these things. 

Bad Blood

Rating: Buy this book today!

Bad Blood tells the story of Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup worth billions that turned into perhaps the biggest fraud since Bernie Madoff. John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the Theranos story, provides a very well researched and yet digestible look into what can go wrong when a companies leadership is, shall we say, less than honorable.

As is pointed out in the book, Silicon Valley companies are often just dealing with data so failures or fraud may have financial implications but rarely have life or death impacts. For investors in tech startups, the assumption is that the vast majority of investments will return nothing, it is part of the game. In the case of medical companies, the implications of fraud can be life or death – even if the investors are willing to take a loss.

Theranos was pushing the boundaries of medical science — at least that’s what they said. Much is made of Elizabeth Holmes vision for blood testing, a small pinprick of the finger to provide hundreds of tests. Making this process cheap and easy would help people monitor their health much more closely and with much less pain. You can’t fault a founder trying to push the boundaries to help make lives better – after all, that is practically the motto of Silicon Valley.

I saw a different motivation, the motivation of a narcissist. The story borders on the unbelievable but the more I think about it, the more I know I’ve seen this type of person before. Or should I say, I see this type of person, today, in business. I’ve worked with people much like Holmes who seemed so intent on winning at any costs that they left destruction their wake. People who spend a great deal of time defining the narrative and destroying any adversary to ensure their success. In business we call this “managing up,” but it’s just a confidence game played by someone trying to manipulate the situation in their favor. They play by the only rule that counts, do whatever it takes to win. I’ve seen these people and continue to see them every day.

The sad part about the Thernos story is that the underlying dysfunction isn’t unique. You probably have this problem at the company you work at. It may not end in a federal indictment, but it surely is harming your companies ability to grow and adapt.

More of a visual effect

This Motherboard article is a fascinating look at Uber.

I know this seems a misleading to you but it is meant as more of a visual effect more than an accurate location of drivers in the area. It would be better of you to think of this as a screen saver on a computer. Once a rider request a trip there will be actual information about the partners [sic] location showing up in the app.

Uber makes no distinction, visually, between the little black sedans that are available to passengers, and those that may be part of a visual effect.

The way to deal with controversy with a very interested crowd

In what I believe is an extremely rare event, a very senior Apple executive appeared on a podcast in front a live audience.  The podcast, The Talk Show with John Gruber, was a very friendly audience, made up of folks attending the 2015 WWDC in San Francisco, so Apple developers and fans all.  On the other hand it’s an opinionated bunch when it comes to Apple, an opinionated bunch with very high standards for their favorite computer company.  

What I found so interesting in this discussion was how Phil Schiller, the SVP of Marketing for Apple, handled the difficult topics.  Areas such as software quality, which many Apple faithful will say has declined recently (I agree), were dealt with by reciting facts, the data Apple uses to judge software quality in the wild.   Even though the host took issue with the baseline (some of the most annoying issues wouldn’t necessarily show up on standard crash reports for example) Phil dealt with the controversy very calmly.   Most critically he didn’t apologize for the way Apple runs the show.  Mistakes will be made, but ultimately Apple is looking for the best options and priorities.  Sometimes it will work out well, other times improvements can be made.  

This interaction stands in stark contrast to many companies that fall all over themselves apologizing for the opinions they have or options they’ve taken.  You have to respect a company that has an opinion about how things should be and stands by that over the long term.