Process Is Not a Bad Word

Anyone who has worked at a big company knows the danger of too much process. You have to get consensus from 7 different people before taking a step; if a feature isn’t on the 6 month roadmap, you can’t do it, even if 90% of your customers are desperate for it; you lose a great hire because the person who needed to sign your paperwork was on vacation. Process can definitely slow things down, and one of the beauties of a startup environment is the absence of process, and being able to pop over to your colleagues desk, propose an idea, write some code, call a customer, and get things done.

But process isn’t all bad. When you’re 2, 3, or 5 people, you don’t need much process—any bigger than that, and the lack of proces becomes dangerous.

Some benefits of having process:

  • Everyone is on the same page about company objectives, and can work towards a similar goal and feel like part of a competent team
  • Customers know (generally) what will come out when, and can plan accordingly and feel like you know what you are doing
  • You don’t duplicate work
  • There are clear swim lanes for employees, which reduces land grabbing and frustration
  • When you collect information in one place, you can see patterns and reduce time waste of searching or recollecting info

Process is like a stake for your tomato plant or agar for your bacterial culture. It’s something that helps you grow. The real trick is getting the right amount of process in place. If you’re at a startup, remember that the right amount of process will constantly be changing, and it may feel uncomfortable, but it’s totally OK.

How you know you have too much process:

  • You’re not releasing features
  • You spend more than 50% of your day in meetings (and you’re not in sales)
  • More than one person has to sign off on things that don’t matter very much

Embrace process. Just keep an eye on it, and be willing to alter it (up or down) when you’re feeling uncomfortable.

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Hire People Who Are Better Than You

My grandfather was a lifelong chemist at Miles Labs, the makers of Alka Seltzer. At his funeral, a colleague got up and told a story about a job candidate who they called a “rocket,” someone who was so talented that they would most likely stay a short time and then shoot off to a higher position elsewhere. “I don’t care,” said my grandfather. “If you can get her for even a year, it’s worth it.” Sure enough the candidate was hired, did great work, and left a couple of years later, and sure enough, everyone thought it was a good hire.

There are many reasons hiring managers are wary of candidates who seem more talented, experienced, or credentialled than they are. One is the concern above, that you’ll invest in them only to have them move on. Another is that the candidate will outshine you.

There are a couple of reasons why you should not hire someone better than you:

  • They are a difficult personality, uncollaborative, or otherwise a bad culture fit
  • They will be bored at the job, not learn anything, and consequently not do a great job
  • Their skills and interests are exactly the same as yours and there is no way to divide the work that will make you both happy

But otherwise, hire them. Don’t let fear or your ego stop you. It’s your job as a manager to hire them, train them, and then get out of their way so they can do great things. And in the end, their success will reflect on you.

The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Negotiation

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned in the last few years about negotiation from reading, talking to great negotiators, and negotiating with coworkers and bosses on small issues (getting things done) and big ones (salary). Negotiation is not about winning, putting one over on someone, or fooling the other party. If you’re trying to convince someone of something, that’s not negotiation. Negotiation only happens with both sides have something to negotiate with, and in the end, both sides should be happy with what they got in the deal.

In a great negotiation, both sides will look for things that they can offer that will benefit their counterpart more than it will hurt them. For example, if you’re negotiating salary, maybe the employer can’t pay you any extra, but they can offer you access to high level managers in another area of business that you’re interested in. Or maybe they can give you more vacation time without seriously impacting your work.

If you can find things that are more valuable to one side to have than the other side to give up, you’ve created value, and stopped negotiation from being a zero sum game. A negotiation will go better if there are good feelings on both sides – then you can genuinely explore possibilities for coming to a deal. But looking for value can work even in a hostile situation — just watch Sons of Anarchy’s rival gangs work out deals.