Beyond Hiring Biases to Build Great Teams - David DeWolf

Challenging the Typical Hiring Biases and Building Great Teams

A recent article in Forbes challenged entrepreneurs to limit their hiring to senior developers, a practice that runs counter to the conventional wisdom of so many organizations.

While good intentioned and directionally correct, the piece falls short on logic.

The foundation for the argument seems to be based upon “the method that he implemented five years ago when he launched Smartling with cofounder Jack Welde: ‘find the right people and keep them motivated’.”

There’s no doubt that getting the right people on the bus is essential to any business. I agree wholeheartedly. But when did “the right people” translate into “senior developers”? I see two flaws in this thinking.

Seniority (years of experience) plays a role in one’s capabilities, but it does not tell the whole story.

My first management job was two years out of school. I took over the leadership of a small, high performing team of “senior” developers. One teammate, in particular, had 20 years of experience, a PhD and a resume that boasted of her “seniority.” I learned the hard way that this seniority didn’t translate into her ability to produce. Within six weeks it was obvious that there was one team member not pulling her weight and I was forced to let her go from the team.

On the flip side, several years ago, near the beginning of the 3Pillar run, I hired a junior developer who was one year out of school. This individual may have been one of the most talented, productive and innovative team members I’ve ever seen in action. He literally pulled the weight of multiple developers. He was inexperienced but had wisdom beyond his years.

Seniority is not the only measure of talent.

A group of “senior developers” doesn’t translate into a high performing team.

You don’t field a baseball team with nine shortstops. All nine shortstops may be the best athletes, but they won’t win the ballgame. You don’t field a basketball team with a bunch of veterans. You need to mix in some youth to make sure you have the legs left to get through the season.

The same goes for building software products. The right mix of talent, experience, creativity, passion, and, yes, even wild-ass, crazy naive ideas is important.

I have seen teams struggle to innovate because everyone wanted to lend experience and nobody wanted to think outside the box. I have seen teams struggle because everyone wanted to make design decisions and nobody wanted to implement new configurations. The right mix of folks is essential.

So, what is the right mix?

There is no cookie cutter answer, but it’s likely not an entire team of “senior developers,” nor is it the traditional “leveraged triangle.”

In my experience, the most innovative product engineering teams require a well led with deep experience, a small handful of senior developers to collaborate, lend their experience and challenge assumptions, a sprinkling of productive developers to fuel throughput, and a sharp, passionate all-star that’s a little wet behind the ears.

Question: What does your experience tell you? How do you create high performing teams? I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a comment by clicking here. Learn to live an integrated life with humble confidence. Get it Now Join the Discussion

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Why an Open Door Policy Needs More - David DeWolf

Why an Open Door Policy Needs More than an Open Door

Last week I visited the 3Pillar team in India and attempted to disrupt the status quo.

My typical visit to India includes a series of meetings – both one-on-one and with various teams. I eat meals with the management team and try to squeeze in as much time as possible to go around and talk with the teams. Unfortunately, the majority of my time is behind closed doors. There are just too many things to catch up on given that I’m only there twice per year.

This visit, I was determined to be different. I refused to pack my schedule. I agreed in advance to only schedule one meeting and one day with the press.

As I arrived, I noticed the typical sign on the corner office door. “Reserved for Mr. David DeWolf.” It was at that moment that I realized that I had little or no reason for that office because of my schedule. I made an impromptu decision that proved to be a game changer. I decided not to use it, and instead to sit at various locations with the team.

The results were amazing.

Midway through Thursday, one of our employees approached me as I caught up on email — while sitting amongst the people.

“I wanted to come check on you. On Tuesday, when you arrived, you looked different than your normal self. I was afraid that there was something going on with the business or that our pipeline was not strong. You looked very stressed out. I figured it was my job as your teammate to check on you and see if everything is well.”

After I explained that I was simply jet lagged and had slept very poorly, I realized the power of what had just happened. Someone who had never approached me before was willing to come address me and show genuine concern — all because I made myself physically approachable. This gave me an opportunity to answer this concern directly and, more importantly, understand how I had come across.

Throughout the week, I had several examples like this. One employee invited and hosted me for dinner. Another joined our group as we toured the Taj Mahal on Saturday before our flight. Several more opened up at our annual party, and I can count at least three different 10-minute “stairway” conversations I was able to have. Through these I learned a lot about what we can improve on and how well our teams are doing.

I left for India with an open door policy that I think most people respect. I left from India having learned an important lesson. Don’t just open the door — tear down the walls. Because I did, I was able to connect with and learn more about our folks than I ever would have from within that corner office.

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Dealing with Obnoxious Comments - David DeWolf

4 Steps for Dealing with Obnoxious Comments

I stopped, suddenly, as I read the next question. My blood began to boil. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. I read it again.

“Six kids? Regardless of your profession, it’s impossible to be a good parent to six kids. Not enough hours in the day.”

I quickly skipped down to the answer. How would Phillip Rivers, the NFL quarterback with 6 kids, answer the question?

As you’d expect, he stepped up into the pocket. A quick joke about diapers moves him away from danger. He then hits his receiver right between the numbers – following up the the joke by bragging about his wife and promoting a few of the merits of a large (by today’s standards) family.

It’s a two-year rotation: Once the diapers come off of one, we usually have a newborn. And we have another one on the way, due in October. I help when I can, but my wife, Tiffany, is the key. My big, growing family keeps everything balanced and grounded. My oldest is 11 now, and the kids are getting into football. They’re Daddy’s biggest fans, and they don’t get on you as bad as most fans. If you throw an interception, they still love you.

As parents of six ourselves, Teresa and I have heard our fair share of similar questions. Some are fairly innocent. “Wow, you have your hands full.” Others attempt to be funny, but border on being rude. “You know how that happens, right?” Still others, like Philip’s questioner, can’t help but insert their negative opinion.

As a result, I’ve become quite adept at dealing with obnoxious comments. What Phillip did so gracefully has undoubtedly come from years of practice. Here’s a quick four-step formula for successfully defusing obnoxious comments.

Take a deep breath

Nothing good ever comes by saying the first thing that comes to mind. Take a deep breath, collect your composure, and be the bigger man.

Tell a joke

Making light of the situation will immediately defuse the situation.

Divert the attention

The last thing you want is a personal battle with your adversary. Focus the conversation on someone else. Boost someone else up as the hero.

Promote the benefits

Don’t let it go without making your point. Instead of ripping apart the other person’s argument, speak to the benefits of your approach.

Following this proven formula may not make you a pro-bowl quarterback, but, it will help you navigate sticky situations.

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How I'm Going to Lose the Scrooge - David DeWolf

How I’m Going to Lose the Scrooge

I have a confession: I absolutely hate Christmas. Well, it’s not really Christmas that I hate. It’s setting up for Christmas that I hate.

I’m not kidding that the worst date of my year is the first day of Advent, the day my wife loves to set up the Christmas decorations. Getting the tree is hard enough: I don’t care if it’s a fake one or a real one. Strapping it to the roof and setting it up, putting the stupid branches in: it’s just a pain. It’s hard.

But what makes it worse is the lights. The damn strings of lights never work. You plug them in, you jiggle the light, and you can’t figure out which one is causing the string to be out. Every year, it seems I have to buy a new string. And every year, there’s another string that doesn’t work.

It drives me insane. It just gets under my skin.

Know who you are. I know this about myself and after three years of ruining this day of our lives, I’m planning to make sure that I lose the Scrooge.

I’ve also learned that I have to do something different. Last year, I tried to will my way through it. I told myself it was going to be the best year yet. And it was the worst.

So, I’ve decided to change it up. This year, we’re inviting friends over to set up for us. Well, with us, but I’m going to simply not get involved. I’m going to do what I can handle, but when it comes to the lights, I’m leaving myself out.

You see, I have a friend who loves, loves, LOVES this day. In fact, it’s his favorite day of the year.

So I’m going to be in charge of the fireplace. I’m going to be in charge of the snacks and the food and the beer. And I’m going to be in charge of making sure the football game’s on.

And he gets to set up the Christmas tree for us and for my wife. Knowing myself is going to allow me to have a much better day.

Question: Do you know yourself? Do you prevent yourself from getting in your own way? Do you allow yourself to lose the Scrooge so you can become a better person? I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Be intentional and go do something greater than yourself.

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What NOT to Do to Destroy Trust - David DeWolf

What NOT to Do: Take Advantage and Destroy Trust

Over the past several years, I’ve built a trust relationship with a vendor who I’ve relied on over and over. This relationship didn’t start off by producing big dollars for this company. In fact, for the first several years, it was a relationship based upon a free exchange of value.

They began by attracting me with some insights on their blog and over time, I became more interested. I read blogs, looked at infographics, followed them on Twitter, and then, over time, dove in and spent more time reading more in-depth perspectives and opinions, and even reading a book.

My commitment went from five minutes a day to 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Eventually, I made a first purchase. My first purchase was small dollars, but has been increasing ever since. I have trust in that they’ve provided tons of value.

But the trust that you can build in a five-year period of time can be destroyed in a five-minute period of time.

I recently had an experience in which I brought in several other people and began to add even more value to the relationship for this vendor. Unfortunately, they took advantage. Instead of the approach they have taken for years — adding value, building a trust relationship with patience, over time — they decided to get salesy.

I don’t have a problem with making money. In fact, I believe that value should be paid for. But they disrupted the brand equity they had built with me by taking advantage and trying to sell blatantly over and over. They had built a reputation that they were a value-added provider, that they were a partner and not a vendor, that they were about relationship and not transaction.

My most recent experience, in which I brought several others to the table, destroyed that reputation in one period of time. They became transactional overnight. They threw out their commitment to relationship. They decided that immediate monetization and immediate gratification was more important. It’s very unlikely that I’ll invite anyone back to experience them again.

I’m soured myself and am considering whether I should pull back in my most recent thoughts on how I would engage with them again. It’s disappointing. I feel betrayed.

Question: What are you doing to build your relationships? Are you taking advantage, or do you continue to be who you are, even once you’re successful in landing that new client? I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a comment by clicking here. Learn to live an integrated life with humble confidence. Get it Now Join the Discussion

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Go the Extra Mile - David DeWolf

Go the Extra Mile

I got a call from a buddy of mine a couple of days ago. He was super excited: he had just hosted his first ever offsite meeting. When the team arrived, there were name badges at the desk. In the conference room I had scheduled, our host had put pads of paper and pens on the table. There was a series of drinks with ice and snacks and I had an agenda for them.

The team was impressed. They thought I had put tons of work into planning this event. The reality was that I had just picked up the phone and asked the host to get us a room. I was lucky, because that tone set the stage for an incredibly productive meeting.

My friend lucked out. The friend he had used to coordinate the room (me) worked for an organization who understood the power of formality.

By being formal and by looking prepared, we stress to our teams that what we’re doing is important. It’s worth it to go the extra mile. It’s worthy of preparing and planning. It’s important enough that we took the time to make people comfortable, to optimize our time, and to make sure we’re on the right track.

If you’re looking to have an impact, for something to be meaningful, think about making it formal. Go the extra mile.

Do you need to get a point across? Don’t just write an email, put together an eBook or a one-page slick.

Do you need to have productive teamwork? Set up your own formal meeting. Carve it off. Create anticipation. Surprise people with how prepared you are.

Do you need to be noticed? Then go over and above. Think of something you can do to go out of your way.

I saw on the news a couple of months ago a company who was prospecting an advertising agency. In order to get their attention, they rented a billboard across the street and called them out. You’d better believe that got their attention. They went the extra mile. They made it a little bit more formal, but they did it in a fun way.

Look for those little extra things that can make a big impact.

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