What happens when you frame the work

One of the hardest parts of making the jump to being a manager, leader, or starting a company/org is learning to frame your work. 

This is a brutal truth: most people don’t know how to frame the work they are doing. 

It shows up all the time… 

  • Two people schedule a meeting and spend the first 20 minutes telling a third person about a conversation they already had. 

  • Someone with writing as a core part of their job delivers two projects. One is amazing and on-point, the other is ok but written for the wrong audience. 

  • A partnership opportunity appears out of thin air but the company/org can’t move fast enough to leverage it. 

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The myth of only hiring high performers

One of the things that’s surprised me over the last few years: most people are coachable, but the majority of managers/leaders are looking for people they don’t have to coach. 

This shows up in job descriptions regularly. Sometimes it’s arrogant, like when a founder or executive says “high performers only, we are not here to babysit you.” Other times, it’s more subtle, with a bullet point or two emphasizing the search for someone who is “highly autonomous.”

On the surface, this makes a manager or leader look/feel smart. You’re hiring someone who’s ready to go to work, they are motivated, and they will deliver results without needing much ( or any) support. 

There are a few problems with optimizing this way… 

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The difference between a marketplace and a community

It’s hard to overstate how much power online platforms now have across the globe.

They enable us to easily book a room in São Paulo, scan the news headlines in Nairobi, search for a job in Wellington, and connect us to the people, products, and services around us.

The dominant model for all of this activity is the modern marketplace.

Amazon, Airbnb, Didi Chuxing, Uber, Stripe, WeWork, these are all marketplaces, designed for people to buy and sell products and/or services. The model also extends to social media, where platforms like Facebook have marketplace features and are also viewed as a marketplace for information, ideas exchanged, views shared, beliefs tested etc.

But a marketplace isn’t a community, and as it turns out the difference matters quite a bit.

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Creating a talent pipeline that doesn’t look like the one you already have

For many companies fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion are considered an extra, something you do on top of the business model you already have.

In others, it’s a competitive point, one that opens the door (and tries to keep it open) for talented folks in customer service, engineering, marketing, design, operations, and more. 

In a very small number of companies / organizations, it is a core part of their DNA from the start, doing the work it takes to not only recruit and keep a wide range of talent, but also put ownership, responsibility, and impact into those hands. 

If you’re not in that last group, but you want to be, you may be asking yourself “where can I get 100% amazing talent that is also diverse and inclusive?”

Having worked on it as a hiring manager myself over the years as well as closely observing others, my experience is that there are two ways to do it. Great companies do both. 

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Do 85% twice

Every now and then, someone “explains” to the internet what 10x looks like.

Sometimes they do it with a good deal of expertise, like Ken Norton’s 10x Not 10% post from a few years ago breaking down how to think much bigger. Often it’s done with less finesse, like this recent thread of tweets about the mystical 10x engineer from Shekhar Kirani of Accel Ventures.

In those cases, writers choose to weigh the obvious (that some people have extraordinary talent) over the also obvious (glorifying + excusing behavior of high performers actually destroys teams).

There may be some value to aiming very high and never accepting the possibility of failure, but another way to look at it is that the best people on a team never aim for 10x. They get to 85% of what they can see should exist, make sure it works + everyone is involved/understands it, and then once they're done they go back and do 85% again with a result far better.

Simply put, they just move faster than everyone else, they’re more iterative, and they are willing to consider outcomes other people don’t. That doesn’t require any inherent genius (though in some cases it helps), and it doesn’t have to destroy the people around them either.

Long story short: if you do 85% x 2, you’ll almost always learn more and get closer to the moon pie in the sky idea you had anyway.