Selecting Decent People

I have proposed a seminar for Agile 2008, being held here in Toronto in August. I want to explore how the Agile Principles expose truths and helpful techniques in hiring. My limited experience has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that quality of hiring has more to do with an organization's health and success than any other factor.

The proposal has generated some interesting discussion and it seems to be an issue people find compelling. One commenter on my proposed seminar told me to go read some Dee Hock.

Holy good idea. Here's Mr. Hock talking about how he gets people to describe the responsibilities of a manager, and what he thinks the right answer is. I know it's kind of long, but seriously, it's worth reading. (from Future Positive)

I ask each person to describe the single most important responsibility of any manager. The incredibly diverse responses always have one thing in common. All are downward looking. Management inevitably has to do with exercise of authority — with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, controlling them. That perception is mistaken.

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self, one's own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. It is a complex, never-ending, incredibly difficult, oft-shunned task. Management of self is something at which we spend little time and rarely excel precisely because it is so much more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others. Without management of self, no one is fit for authority, no matter how much they acquire. The more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should have half of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do, the ethical, moral, and spiritual elements of managing self are inescapable.

Asked to identify the second responsibility of any manager, again people produce a bewildering variety of opinions, again downward-looking. Another mistake. The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators, ad infinitum. In an organized world, there are always people with authority over us. Without their consent and support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability, achieve constructive results, or create conditions by which others can do the same? Managing superiors is essential. Devoting a quarter of our time and ability to that effort is not too much.

Asked for the third responsibility, people become a bit uneasy and uncertain. Yet, their thoughts remain on subordinates. Mistaken again. The third responsibility is to manage one's peers — those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us — associates, competitors, suppliers, customers — the entire environment, if you will. Without their support, respect, and confidence, little or nothing can be accomplished. Peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life. Is it not wise to devote at least a fifth of our time, energy, and ingenuity to managing peers?

Asked for the fourth responsibility, people have difficulty coming up with an answer, for they are now troubled by thinking downward. However, if one has attended to self, superiors, and peers, there is little else left. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority.

The common response is that all one's time will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded, and stay out of their way? It is not making better people of others that management is about. It's about making a better person of self. Income, power, and titles have nothing to do with that.

Mr Hock has summed up better than I ever could the truths I've learned in my years managing people. And uncovered even more truths. I used to get angry at the fact that I had to keep managing my bosses. I shrank from managing my peers.

It was wrong of me. But at least I got the idea that hiring well is what it's all about.

Just to review, this sums up my proposed seminar right here: "One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process."

Yep. It sounds so simple, when he puts it that way.

I'm very excited about this conference and this seminar, should it go forward. Already the folks discussing the issue are full of great ideas and worthwhile conversation. If any of my half-dozen readers are thinking of attending, I hope they'll join in the seminar selection process and help bring this idea to life.