Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Work around the general laziness ;)

This blog entry is primarily inspired by a rant from Jason Calacanis, during the episode #47 of This Week in Startups (full show, or directly starting near 5:20). During that show, Jason goes against the Generation Y people who are usually lazy and want everything before actually delivering...

Another source of inspiration is Mark Suster, the co-host of This Week in VentureCapital, with a series of posts culminating with The Long-Term Value of Loyalty.

What's their point-of-view?

Jason is mostly focusing on a group of people, a group that has been educated with a different mindset from his own one. Gen-Y people have more concerns about ecology in general, for example, they are used to getting free or cheap digital goods, and many of them live with their parents longer than before...

If I can agree on the fact that many Gen-Y people seem lazier than the the Gen-X or the baby boomers at the same age, I think the key differentiators is their relationship with money: the Gen-Y people think they need less money, so they don't work that hard to get always more!

In his first post of the series, Mark pinpoints job hoppers, employees who can resign anytime, without much respect for their commitment or for the situation of the company. If Mark readjusts the context in the second post by writing that “quitting a job because it's a mess is OK”, Mark still thinks that being “loyal” is important and everyone should stay loyal for long term benefits...

I can agree with Mark that working with such individuals is risky, that developing a business with not-so-loyal people is tough. However, I think that building a business with people from different mindsets and backgrounds is more valuable. To me, diversity, if you can manage it, is more important than loyalty!

Is laziness a syndrome limited to Generation Y?

Before becoming an entrepreneur, I was an employee like many others. In France, I worked for a very small company and then for a multinational corporation before immigrating to Canada. My first job here was for a medium Montreal company which was later bought by Oracle. I quitted Oracle to go with IBM Rational, which I quitted to go with Compuware. In addition to my professional life, I've been involved in many non governmental organizations.

Along my life, I've always been curious, interested in learning new subjects, debating around them, and trying to implement the best ideas, especially when I'm passionate. I've been lucky to team up with great people (note that I learned a lot too from the failed partnerships) and I've gotten excellent mentors. When I write “lucky”, I mean “I worked hard to consider myself as lucky.”

All in all, I can honestly say I haven't seen a lot of people working very hard at work, not that they are lazy, just that they have different priorities, different motivations. Although I've already proposed many times to be a mentor, to give lunch-n-learn talks, to organize specific trainings, etc., -on my own time, for the only benefit of the recipient- only few people have followed.

I've observed the “good enough” attitude with any types of people: old or young, men or women, immigrants or native country, Europeans or Americans, etc. In Western countries, we don't have to fight for a shelter or to find food, so the sense of urgency is blunted. Why would people with already enough (enough money, enough responsibilities, enough social involvement, etc.) go for more?

Maybe the Gen-Y people are worse than the others,because their “good enough” level is lower than before. IMHO, they are just like the common crowd, just normal people in our modern world.

How to deal with the general laziness?

As mentioned before, I think the diversity is important. Trying to stay in closed vacuum with the elite can help a bit, but not for a long time. The key point is to compose teams with top elements and less skilled ones. The newbies can learn from the experienced people and more help around them will reduce the “single point of failure” risk.

For sure, you cannot reward the in-learning people as you do reward the top team members. As I explain to my kids, there's a consequence to everything! If you work hard, if your help is valuable, if you go beyond your tasks, the system should reward you accordingly. If it does not come immediately, it should be clear that it will come eventually if everything goes well. If the hard workers don't get a tangible ROI, I think it's normal to expect them to slow down or to quit... (to expect them slowing down ?)

To me, the key factor in a successful project is the commitment of the participants. It's not that important that this intern has a lower velocity than an experienced engineer because we can plan accordingly. What's more important is that you trust that he's going to deliver as expected, or if he has some troubles that he's going to report them as soon as possible.

In the case of software developers evolving in an Agile environment, measuring their work progress is not really an issue. If the team is correctly equipped, everyone is accountable. In the peripheral teams (product managers, marketing, sales representatives, etc.), commitments are more difficult to get, and the more sources of non-productivity there are, the fewer chances of success you get.

A real case, please!

My partner Steven and I have developed the concept of work for attribution. Because we're a startup, we cannot offer salaries in exchange to work. However, we offer to attribute back the work to the ones who have delivered it. Immediately, contributors can use our environment as a lab to test and develop new ideas. We have a working product and it's up to them to adapt it, to make it better.

If our projects are successful, if we can cash them at one point, the contributors will be part of the success and then we'll try to reward them. If a big player wants to acquire us, top contributors will be probably part of the deal.

So far, many people have liked the concept and a few of them have committed to deliver something specific. Some of them are Gen-Y people, some are immigrants, and everyone work at different rates. If I can rely on people I trust, on people who are going to deliver what they have committed to, whoever they are, it's very cool!

A+, Dom

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