Six Mistakes Stopping Your Company From Hiring The Right People #longread

Screenshot 2016-09-02 15.27.58

The future of hiring is here; it’s just not evenly distributed.


That paraphrase of the Silicon Valley proverb from Alan Kay tells a lot about the problems in virtually every company.


Some companies are struggling to find good people. Some can’t keep them. Some can’t keep them busy. Some can’t manage them. And others are just losing the perks arms-race with hip startups.


Meanwhile, futurists have been saying that the future of work is the Gig Economy. And some experts say it’s already here. They claim it makes these headaches go away.


Need quick research on whether Chicago is a good market? Get it done with HourlyNerd. Need help penetrating an elusive sales target? Use Emissary. How about an offsite presentation writer? Try Upwork.


Press the button, get it done, move on. No endless job description, recruiting, rounds of interviews, sell day, training, and then the inevitable 50% that don’t work out.


But most companies still do the latter.


Why is your company stuck in the mud?


Six reasons.


1. Your HR department

Conventional wisdom has been saying that more jobs will give way to Gigs – temporary, flexible and (hopefully) more fulfilling arrangements as the Internet makes it easier to connect people and projects.


You see it in Uber drivers and Taskrabbit taskers.


But companies are overwhelmingly filled with full-time or freelance-but-long term staff. Many companies have remote offices in the US or offshore, full of those same roles.


In New York this year at the Work Awesome (link conference, a panel of star human resource leaders with titles like “People Operations” and “Guild Leader” from startups like Spotify, Google, and Buzzfeed were asked: “can you tell us how you use on-demand, outsourced gig talent?”


“We don’t,” they all said with a shrug. “That’s an ad hoc effort,” “that differs by function,” we use contractors a lot in [non-core] areas like customer support.”




“Yes they do” says Rich Gardner, an executive with ondemand expert platform HourlyNerd. “We have at least one of those as a client.”


Which points to the issue: HR focuses on hiring humans pretty much the old fashioned way. Managers inside the working departments are the ones who go outside and find solutions to their needs, sometimes just paying with their credit card and expensing it back.


Like that genius from the viral story about the IT guy that outsourced his entire job to China and took every day off. (

2. Your management style

“Shovel-ready projects don’t come along that often in the typical company”, says David Hammer, the CEO of Emissary. Most management styles make big elaborate projects with bundles of ongoing activities. “Manage the accounts”, or “get us customers”, or keep the warehouse working every week.


But an increasingly popular movement in technology companies, called Agile Development, focuses on breaking big projects into small hour-long or day-long tasks. The approach focuses moving little “cards” forward one by one.


Cards are “make a poster design for Friday” or “transcribe this hourlong interview” or “contact these twenty leads with an email” or “make a list of 30 items we need in inventory”. Makes sense. A big project has many small parts. But the key to embracing this movement is to just list the small tasks and start before you even list them all. It’s a mistake to try to assemble the master plan — it’s always wrong.


As Jeff Sutherland, a creator of Agile, puts it in his book Scrum:


It’s just so tempting: all the work needed to be done on a massive project laid out for everyone to see. I’ve visited many companies that have people whose only job is to update that Gantt chart every day. The trouble is, once that beautifully elegant plan meets reality, it falls apart. But instead of scrapping the plan, or the way they think about the plan, managers instead hire people to make it look as if the plan is working. Essentially, they’re paying people to lie to them.


Certain innovative companies are applying this collaborative work approach to areas beyond coders — to writers, designers, product management, operations. One of us has a short book, Ship While You Sleep ( which has toured conferences from SXSW to DLD with the an approach to large scale collaboration and management.


When management starts orchestrating the movement of concrete cards, some of those cards can be assigned as gigs. Suddenly it starts to be possible for employees to work seamlessly with gigsters from anywhere.


But it only works if you start thinking in cards. Then you can bring in the shovels.


3. Your meeting style


Lots of companies use live meetings or calls to review progress. The agenda is stated live and the next step are agreed in person. It can work well. Factory floor, retail store — check. And many offices work this way even though everyone has email and laptops handy. The management of one of the world’s largest e-commerce businesses, Adorama, the multi-billion-dollar online photo and video equipment store, “has never had a meeting” according to one consultant to their business. It’s management by walking around, to turn the classic phrase about Hewlett-Packard’s excellence in the 1980s.


“No meetings” or “live meetings” can work, but they are spoken not written, and mostly in-person. So it also means someone new to the team can’t get up to speed by browsing through the last few meetings’ notes. And someone working remotely can’t get on the same page. They have to show up and hang around long enough.


Innovative companies have been moving to no-meetings cultures — the most widely used software on the Internet, WordPress, is powered by a large, distributed team that literally never meets in person. A profile written of team WordPress focused on how they had modified their own blogging tools to run their entire company virtually — all in writing (


If you change the way you do meetings and go from oral to written tools, suddenly the meetings aren’t just “happenings”, they are repositories of knowledge, decisions, tactics, and contacts for anyone new to quickly get up to speed on.


And that’s what makes this feature key to gigs. You can’t onboard folks easily and painlessly if your meeting culture blocks it, and then you can’t use gigs.


4. Your tools are 10,000 years old


The biggest reason folks use live meetings? They work. They’re also 10,000 years old.

Pen and paper, nearly as old. Has there been no innovation that helps us get more done in the office?


Of course, there is. It’s from roughly 1990: e-mail. According to research by McKinsey & Company and reported at the Inbox Awesome conference in New York (, the average office worker spend 14% of their day in meetings, and 28% doing email.


Your company surely uses a couple more tools that have revolutionized the workplace.

  1. Smartphones, so you don’t have to be at your desk.
  2. Chat (or even better, things like Slack), which can keep the short message traffic somewhere everyone can see and collaborate around.
  3. Project and task management (Basecamp, Asana, Trello, Atlassian’s Jira).
  4. Shared document editing and shared drives (Dropbox, Box, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Drive).

Got all that? Hope so.


So what are you missing? Here’s a secret in the engineering department that has changed everything: the software repository. It’s been around for ages, and in recent years the flag-bearer of this technology is Github. It lets a developer “check out” a piece of code, download it to their computer, work on it, test it, check it back in, and then alert everyone that the work is done. The repo stores the history, lets multiple people work simultaneously in different places, but ultimately has all the knowledge, commentary, and work in one place.


It’s what makes distributed coding teams so doable, and makes outsourcing, offshoring, and gigs completely seamless for most engineering teams.


Walk into an elite engineering office and people are headphones on. They could be anywhere for most of the time. Can it work for marketing, sales, operations or finance? Can business teams work this way?


They can, and a generation of new tools are designed for this with something like a “Github for Management Workflows” model. Two examples: Quip (, the mobile-centric chat and documents app acquired by, and Knotable (, the “notes for teamwork” product one of the authors designed to keep teams on the same page.


Bonus: now that your tools show everyone what’s up, what’s happened, and what’s next, you can onboard people for gigs with no effort. Just send them the link.


5. Your interview process.


Let’s talk about how you interview people. The way you interview is perhaps the most risk averse thing your company does. “One bad employee can destroy your entire company,” goes the common saying.


Can’t you fire that “hiring mistake” before they ruin the company?  Of course. But nobody likes doing that. And often they don’t do it at all. And you overcompensate on the front end.


Gig platforms that provide on-demand workers struggle with this step. Much of their marketing focuses on “we provide you the best talent”. Gigster ( talks fancy degrees, TaskRabbit emphasizes vetting, and so on.


Multiple days of back-to-backs with every employee they’ll touch. Your best candidates probably aren’t making it through the gauntlet you’ve created for them.


In fact, Google, the poster-child company for intensely demanding hiring, reviewed their results after tens of thousands of grueling interviews. How did interviews correlate with candidate success? “We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess,” said Laszlo Bock, their head of people operations. (


So here is a radical notion that becomes possible when you have fixed some of the worst management habits we are discussing. You can simply give someone a small assignment, or two or three, without interviewing them at all.


Using gig networks to source a few people, with the job nicely defined in Knotable or a Google Doc, with the context laid out in the tool and the team’s past work all available to search in Slack or Asana….well, you can onboard folks in a few minutes. And if their work is great, maybe you can still interview them before you hire them.


6. Your definition of a job


Most people define a job by the “job listing” they put out for it. You hire a person to do that bundle of tasks. However, in a world where technology, globalization and other forces are making your company’s business evolve quickly, the same is happening to the jobs people have to do inside the company. Which creates a trap: the more correctly you fill the job listing with the exact right candidate, the more likely they’ll be bad at the new challenge their jobs evolves into.


Here’s a way to separate gigs and jobs: If you want a specific set of skills, create a gig. If you want a long-term participant in your business and culture, make a hire.


You will be surprised to get some benefits you hadn’t expected. With more outsiders, you’ll get more external ideas and innovation. With more people in more fractional roles, you’ll have the chance to craft a more gender, race, and geographically diverse team. With more flexible hours and location schedules, you’ll be able to include folks with different family care commitments or outside goals like continuing education. Bonus!


Now you’re ready to go out there and hire like you’ve never hired before.