Tag Archives: corporate

Hire people who will quit. It is okay.

In April 2012, I was drafted to head the incubation center at IIIT Hyderabad. One of the first things I had to do was to recruit a team. This was a bit of a challenge because I had no network in India, no plug into the ecosystem and no big brand to attract employees. Nevertheless I set out to build a team with just one rule – to hire people who will quit.

This flew in the face of many an opinion that employees should be recruited for the long haul. Despite all the raised eyebrows, I think I got it right.

Our team was tasked with inspiring thousands of young minds to give up modern day blue collar work (IT offshoring) and to believe in themselves enough to build their own companies. I believed (and continue to do so) that such dramatic inspiration cannot be delivered by a team that had decided to “settle down with a job”. We needed to be a team full of ambition ourselves, and hope that some of our enthusiasm would spill over onto the impressionable young minds that couldn’t think beyond a job at Facebook (or worse, Infosys).

Two years hence I was running my own tech company and I was advised to follow the (absolutely disgusting) best practice in corporate India to “sign a 1-year bond”. This evil bond allows a company to demand a fee if a recruit quits before one year. Now, I admit that a lot of effort goes into training employees and it is a financial and logistical tragedy if they quit prematurely, but I also believe that this is the cost of doing business – the onus is on the company to retain the employee (and bonded labor is not a legitimate retention policy). Needless to say, our company doesn’t have that policy.

So quit if you must, we’ll be okay.

Lest I oversimplify, there are some caveats.
1. The entering team member should be “able and willing” – able to fulfil the job and willing to go the extra mile. If the recruits do a great job while employed, there will be no ill-feelings when they quit.
2. This logic might be more applicable to high-pressure jobs (such as product development or growth marketing) than to sustenance jobs (such as an accountant or a receptionist).

While I might have been skeptical of my own beliefs a few years ago, I have now completely bought into them. I don’t talk about a leaving employee in hush-hush tones. Instead I bring it up unabashedly while the entire team is out for tea and have everyone joke about it and wish them well. I can sense the relief in the team when they see that quitting is not a bad thing. And inspires them to stay on!

When the door is open, nobody leaves (my dog is an exception).

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Hinduism Inc.

I don’t find religion very compelling, but nevertheless I would like to borrow from Hindu mythology for this post. Amongst the vast span of Hindu Gods exist three primary ones: Brahma The Creator, Vishnu The Stabilizer and Shiva The Destroyer. Each of these three gods is entrusted with the responsibility of either creating, managing or destroying things respectively.

As an employee, I wish my job was as well-defined as one of these three but unfortunately I have to juggle between all three roles continually. The same goes for all my colleagues and friends. This situation of uncertain role definition begs the question “What can we borrow from Hindu tradition and apply to corporate culture?”

One way would be to strike out the designation of “Manager” as a misnomer and spread out employee responsibilities. For example, the “Marketing Creator” would come up with innovative tactics and strategies, whereas the “Marketing Destroyer” would rid the company of inefficient processes, investments and resources. The “Marketing Manager”, on the other hand, would ensure smooth running of all marketing operations – implementing the Creator’s innovative ideas despite the Destroyer’s ruthless cost-cutting measures.

This is however impractical – not only because we would have to triplicate a headcount to get the same amount of work done, but also because everybody wants to be a Marketing Creator and none a Marketing Destroyer.

The other, less drastic measure would be to digest the fact that a single employee will continue to juggle between different roles, much like in today’s corporate environment, and optimize the weightage of Creation, Management and Destruction across time. By way of illustration:

Phase 1: The Destroyer
In this phase you enter the role with a fresh perspective. Your predecessor, no matter how accomplished and stellar at his work, is bound to have done a few things wrong. So you set about fixing all his inefficiencies. The fringe benefit is that this is also an opportunity to prove that you know what you are doing and earn the respect of your colleagues. In this phase your role is weighted with about 40% destruction and 60% operational management.

Phase 2: The Manager
Over a period of time, as all the inefficiencies are culled, you free up time for other activities. This is the phase when you can afford hour-long lunches and off-days when you switch your mind off at work and chat on Facebook. With not much destruction to do, and with the laurels of an enhanced RoI to get your back, you have no pressure to perform. Besides, by this time you are already comfortable (and hence efficient) with managing operations. This phase, with 5% destruction, 40% management, 5% creation, 10% networking and 40% bumming around is the calm before the storm.

Phase 3: The Creator
By now questions are asked in whispers about whether you have turned complacent. Your boss wonders if the fire in your belly has been extinguished by your pompous lunches. Like the phoenix, it is time to rise from below. The networking that you accomplished in the previous phase comes in handy and gives you the opportunity to try new things, to experiment and to showcase your results. Your experience of two phases furthers your ability and credibility, so you lack the fear of going wrong. In this phase, you spend about 30% of your time managing and 70% of your time creating new stuff.

Phase 4: The Afterlife
It is important to note that you are as much a victim of this cycle as you are a benefactor. Once you move on to different pastures to destroy someone else’s work, your previous role will be usurped by someone – much like you at the beginning of your stint, who will set about destroying the inefficiencies in the creation that you managed in your last phase. And thus completes the cycle.