Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Critical Path" Roles

During an enlightening conversation with another Boulder entrepreneur yesterday we had a short side conversation that concisely exemplified a concept we're all familiar with, but often get wrong when hiring. In my mind, at the highest level of role characteristics abstraction there are two categories of positions, "critical path" and not. 

When evaluating candidates for a given role, you should squarely understand whether or not that role is "critical path," and subsequently whether or not a candidate matches that characteristic. You may be at a stage where all of your open positions are critical path, none are, or somewhere in-between. Bringing someone into a critical path position, who is great at, and wants to be in, critical path roles is a win-win. A mismatch in that headset however will break and neither you, nor the person you hired will be happy.

I'm sure you can call "critical path" many other things, and swap it out with other requirements like "leadership position" (or not), "management position" (or not), "individual contributor" (or not), etc. The point is that you've got to spend time clearly understanding the critical characteristics of a given position, and ensure there's alignment on them between you and a candidate.

Writing the job description for posting is a powerful exercise in vetting what it is you want/need, but I also ask myself "if this person showed up tomorrow, what exactly is it that I'd expect them to be doing?" That's always a great exercise to cut through the crap you may have conjured up, and get down to brass tacks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paying for Health: Give Forward

At Lindzonpalooza this past weekend in Coronado, CA, a handful of companies (varying in stage, though most very early) presented to friends, and potential investors. Give Forward stood out in an interesting way for me. Simply put, they're crowdsourced healthcare financing. They've been at it for awhile, and are doing great.

During the Q&A session Yoni Assia asked an intriguing, upsetting, magical, and innovative question (paraphrasing): "what if I could setup a monthly subscription to the service, and if/when I need the service myself, it covers my healthcare bills for me? kind of like insurance."

Great question, and on the surface it seems like it would work. What upset me about the question is that I was intrigued by it, even though I already shell out untold sums of money every year to "cover my health" yet I'm obviously displeased with the current model to the point that I'd gladly subscribe to the additional service Yoni was proposing. It was yet another moment of realization around how bad healthcare has gotten.

Intriguing to think that Give Forward may actually be solving the healthcare financial mess by simply circumventing the money part of it altogether.

It was also disturbing to hear that the healthcare companies themselves are considering getting into Give Forward's game. Chew on that circular reference for awhile and see how it tastes.

What GF's done is awesome. An incredible story of passionate caring in a for-profit model wherein everybody wins. Evidence that we, the entrepreneurs, will indeed find a way around the broken massive industries that have plagued and sucked the system dry in so many ways.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Discretionary Energy

"You're investing in a great challenge when you're applying discretionary energy to it."

I don't recall who first told me this, but it has guided me for well over a decade now. It motivates me to select things to work on that I deem "great." It motivates me to ensure the challenges at work are great enough to engage others' discretionary energy such that it's applied to the challenge as well. I'm fully engaged on a challenge when I allocate discretionary energy to it. If the challenge is something I can just "do," that's great and all, but not as fulfilling in the end.

You can gauge a lot about a company, and the people in it, by whether or not anyone there chooses to apply discretionary energy to it. That energy may be expended during business hours, or not. Niether the amount of discretionary energy, nor when/where it is applied are the point of this post. The point is whether any discretionary energy is being allocated.

If the ratio of discretionary energy to paid-for energy is 0:1, then all that is happening is that a crank is being turned. If the company is not profitable, that's a real capital problem because it's likely that nothing creative is going on to get the money printing press going.

If the ratio of discretionary energy to paid-for energy is 1:1, then things are in high-gear. As we all know, that can be good as well as bad (potential imbalance, burnout, call it what you want).

We should strive to ensure we are in work situations with a ratio of >0:1. For some that's 0.0001:1. For others that's 1:1. However, if it's 0:1, you're not pushing yourself; you're not engaged. You could potentially just be punching the clock.

To be clear, I am not making a statement about work/life boundaries. Some of the most amazing people I've had the pleasure to work with cordon off their "work" life from their "personal/home" life, and apply relatively little discretionary energy to challenges at the office.

Be conscious of your discretionary energy ratio, you'll live a more deliberate and aware life.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Scaling Me 2

This timely post, that I stole the title from, by Matt Blumberg took the words, in a timely manner no less, right out of my mouth. I'm seeking inspiration from Matt (unbeknownst to him) to get some of my "first time CEO" challenges out on paper for therapeutic purposes.

Gnip has grown a lot/fast over the past year or so. I've, idealistically, and at times detrimentally, carried beliefs and values near and dear to me through that growth, thinking they can scale without modification. Some of them scale just fine (e.g. honesty). Some of them don't scale as well.

Transparency

In a smaller team (say ~12 or less) you're all relatively close in proximity, and in thought/conversation, on a day-to-day basis. As a result, there's a general sense of understanding of most topics across the organization. Joe can see Jane's frustration level when she's moving through a challenge. Mark has an ambient sense of how Jenny can power through technical challenges of certain shapes and sizes.

When you move past ~12 people on the team, individuals simply have to compartmentalize more of their thinking, and must drop certain levels/depths of awareness in order to stay productive. The result is less overall context and understanding of everyone else's headspace. To drive the point home, here's an extreme example (something I love to provide, which I'm also learning isn't as effective as the team scales). If your good friend says to you "let's go have some fun," you probably have a decent sense of what that means. If someone less familiar to you says the same thing, you have no idea what that statement means to them. In both cases, the other party was being fully transparent about what they want to do, but without the right context, the latter can leave you dangling. As the team grows, that ambient contextual awareness changes.

As we've grown, it's become clear to me (through direct feedback, and my own observation) that the off-the-cuff transparency I've always enjoyed with my thinking and thought process, can actually be damaging. What I would consider a transparent comment about a certain direction I think we should be going in can be interpreted many was, with many unintended consequences. Matt nails it with the "the CEO said" or the "CEO thinks" points he makes. That stuff can be disruptive, confusing, and derailing.

The result is that more preprocessing (natural for some, unnatural for others; somewhere in-between for me I think) and better awareness of one's surroundings is required. That, to me, can feel less transparent, and my initial reaction to that has been that it is bad. It's required to function however, and therefore I wind up in a place where I view it simply as adaptation to environmental changes.