We all have our quirks. I know I do.
Typically it takes months and years sometimes to learn all of our bosses quirks. What they like, what annoys them and ( most importantly ) how they uniquely define a rockstar top performer.
We stumble our way towards discovering what our bosses value through trial and error which can be slow and painful.
Around here our motto is “Speed Wins” so with my last batch of 4 hires, I thought I would try something new and avoid the long process of letting the new members of my team figure me out the hard way. Instead, I would put it all out there by being completely transparent, honest and candid with them right from the get go about me.
So, to help me do that, I wrote something I call: "The Blueprint to Luc and his Quirks."
Now, judging by the reaction I get when I tell people about the blueprint, I know this is a little odd.
New employees don’t typically expect to sit down with their bosses on day 1, be handed a blueprint and then walked through what their boss values, dislikes and what their quirks are… but I’ve found it to be a refreshingly open and incredibly efficient way of letting your new recruits get to know you at a level that some employees never get to know their bosses… and smart, rockstar employees thrive on that openness.
So, what is this blueprint?
The blueprint is a brief 2 pager that outlines a few things that are important to me and a few of my quirks.
Here’s some examples of quirks that I want my team to know about me from the blueprint:
Now, I’m not saying that not replying quickly to emails will get someone fired, and I get that we all have lives outside of work and sometimes can’t reply quickly to emails but I value it… and ultimately, don’t we all want to know what our bosses value?
That’s what the blueprint does. It communicates clearly to the team what I value.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a blueprint for all of our bosses ( and colleagues, friends and spouses for that matter! )?!?!
I recently shared this with Harley at Shopify and he suggested that I open source the blueprint, so here it is.
Consider it Open-Sourced.
I’ve packaged up a template with samples you can use for your own blueprint if you’d like to give it a try:
Fill in each of the boxes with quirks you’d like your team to know about you, things you value and things that drive you nuts.
If nothing comes to mind, do what I did and start by asking your employees to tell you what they think your quirks are. If they’ve been with you for a while, they’ll know.
Feel free to add to the blueprint template or to modify it how ever you’d like… and please leave a comment on this post to let me know what you think.
I hope you find it as useful as I do. Everyone appreciates openness and honesty, from what I’ve seen to date, I think your employees will too.
UPDATE: A few people have asked if I just email the blueprint to people.
No I don’t. I sit down with everyone on my team, one on one, and talk through the blueprint.
This is a subtle difference but hugely important. By talking through the blueprint, face-to-face, it gives me the chance to answer questions, add context and refine the message specifically for that individual.
I find it’s the discussion that the blueprint facilitates that’s most valuable.
In fact, simply emailing the blueprint to your team might actually cause more harm than good because it’s possible that the intent is mis-interpreted. As we all know, tone & body language communicate 80% of the message, the written blueprint just makes it easy to have that discussion.
Every once in a while you stumble onto a question that cuts to the core of an issue. A question that is so surgically precise that by answering it, you cut directly through any cloud of doubt and get to the point very quickly.
I found this one question so powerful that I ask myself it on a regular basis.
When you’re evaluating your team, it’s sometimes hard to get perspective on how everyone is performing. We all strive to find that perfect rockstar who walks on water but the reality is that typically there are great things about each person on your team and some things you wish were a little better.
Maybe someone is always late on deadlines… but their speed is god-like.
Or perhaps they launch buggy code now and then… but come up with game-changing, needle moving ideas.
Or maybe they’re a little slow… but they can handle the most hard-core of difficult challenges with impeccable quality.
Looking at each of those individually doesn’t give you the full picture of the person’s performance and can sometimes cloud your opinion.
The one question I ask myself regularly to quickly confirm the overall level of performance that my team is running at is:
"Knowing everything I know now, would I hire them again?"
Not, “Are they performing well?”
or “What’s the quality of their work?”
or any other specific question that doesn’t look at the entire picture of someone’s performance.
Plain and simple: Would you hire them again?
If the answer is yes, and you have high standards, then congratulations - you’ve found a rockstar. Treat them well, give them work that challenges and motivates them and most of all keep them happy.
I’ve found it to be the single most effective ( and more importantly, fast! ) way of making sure I have the very best team on the planet.
As you can imagine, we do some pretty advanced search engine optimization (SEO) at TripAdvisor.
Recently, I was asked to help find a rockstar Senior Director of SEO to run our SEO at TripAdvisor. Apply here if you think you’ve got what it takes.
So, what does it take to lead SEO for what many consider to be one of the best ranked sites in the world?
Sure, you need to know the basics, read all of the blogs and know the ins and outs of how the engines work and how to rank, but if you know me, you’ll already know that I’m not interested in finding an average search engine optimizer …
I’m looking for a Rockstar SEO.
So, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what makes a Rockstar SEO. What makes them stand out from the rest and what are indicators that they’ll be better than an average SEO.
Generally speaking I break SEOs down into 3 categories:
SEO Hacks (70%): These are the ones who’ve updated a few title tags, have read a few blogs and books and know the basics but not much more.
SEO Professionals (29%): These ones know SEO. They’ve been doing it for a long time and have seen some good results, although they might not know exactly why what they did worked. These ones will get the job done but would struggle trying to rank in hyper-competitive industries.
SEO Rockstars (1%): The rockstars know SEO cold. They know that black-hat tactics aren’t a good long term strategy. They could write the book but they don’t because they’d rather not share their tactics with everyone. This tiny sliver at the top is what I’m looking for. I think 1% may actually be generous. I’ve only ever met a few SEOs I would put in that top slice, and most of them already work ( or have worked ) here.
So, what separates them from the rest?
- They innovate. If an SEO can’t tell you at least one thing they did that they think was innovative that no one else has done before ( or few have ), they’re just following the pack.
- They know that Google Analytics just isn’t good enough for true analysis. These SEOs dig deeper by rolling their own reports from logs and data warehouses ( or by using much more advanced tools ) .
- They read the SEO blogs & books but run tests to come up with their own theories and knowledge.
- They test, experiment and (most importantly) verify that SEO changes made a quantifiable impact to traffic & revenue. This is a big signal. Although sometimes you need to follow your gut, from my experience most SEOs use their gut as their only tool to make SEO decisions and rarely test to see if what’s been done had any measurable impact.
- Although they may not be hands on anymore, they are (or were) engineers and hackers.
- They don’t trust what they read in the blogs. This is a big one for me. In my experience 99% of SEOs take what they read on SEOMoz and other SEO blogs as gospel. Although I think those blogs are useful, you’d be surprised how many times you read something that just isn’t true. The real SEOs run their own tests to find out what works and what doesn’t.
- A great question I love to ask is: "Tell me something I don’t know about SEO". Now, I know SEO … but I don’t know everything. That said, I’m pretty sure I could think of a dozen cutting edge things we’ve done that would be new to other SEOs. If you’re trying to hire in the top 1%, they should be able to teach you something pretty novel about SEO.
- They’ve worked in competitive industries, and have had amazing results. When reviewing their experience, keep in mind it’s easy to look like a rockstar when your customers & colleagues are clueless about SEO so don’t put too much weight into previous company SEO experience unless you personally know the level of SEO at those companies.
Top all of the above off with the experience and desire to be a world-class leader and that pretty much sums up what I would define as a rockstar Sr. Director of SEO.
Now comes the cold-hard truth. These people are nearly impossible to find but they’re out there.
… and I don’t give up easy, so let the search begin!
I’m looking for a UI Designer, 2 x Web Engineers (developers) and a Product Manager.
I’ve heard the old saying many times that you can always expect to have a mix of “A” players and “B” players in any team… I get it that in medium and large companies, to grow to scale, you inevitably have to accept this to some degree.
Luckily, we have a small team and I have no plans to hire 50 people in the near future. So, my approach is different: I want a 100% A team.
Now, this is hard to do. I already have an all-star team but I know how hard it is to grow while keeping the quality bar super-high.
It can take 6 to 12 months to find the right person, but as we all know, once you’ve found them and add them to an already solid team, you can do magic... also, it’s just so much more fun for everyone on the team when you’re working on big ambitious projects, with great people every day.
So, that’s what I’m trying to do… but it begs the question: How do you find these gems?
It’s a good question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The average person has probably only ever worked with or even heard of 2 or 3 talented people like this in their career, they’re hard to find.
Here’s my current thinking around how to recognize these rock stars:
- They’ve never, or VERY rarely, been let go… when they resign everyone stumbles all over themselves to try to keep them. It does happen that a rockstar falls victim to politics or cut backs but I still think this is a huge signal.
- They’re the smartest people in the room when you’ve worked with them. I prefer finding someone who’s super smart than someone who knows the exact stuff I need them to know. Smart people can learn fast.
- They always get stuff done much faster than you’d expect and faster than others do.
- When they’re asked to do X, they do X, and Y and suggest clever ways to do Z that you didn’t even think of.
- They’re the first person(s) you’d call to hire if you started a new company like TravelPod tomorrow.
- When they work somewhere they quickly become the “go-to” person by having mastered what they’re responsible for, take on more responsibility and/or move up the ladder ( moving up the ladder is not always a signal though, a lot of smart people just love what they do and want to keep mastering that specific skill-set ).
- They’re likely currently employed, that’s ok though, we offer a very sweet package and work environment here.
I’d love your thoughts, suggestions and critique on my thoughts above. I’m still refining how to sniff out the needles in the haystack.
Or, if you know anyone like I’ve described above, please let me know or send them our Jobs link: www.travelpod.com/jobs … I’ll owe you one.
Please let me know in the comments what you think.
Thanks for the feedback everyone. I want to take the time to answer several email questions and comments I’ve received below.
Please keep them coming!
“Does rock star talent get referred more often?”
Yes, in my experience, rock stars are typically found by referral because the only way to be sure if someone is any good is by working with them. Everyone who’s worked with a rockstar knows how good they are. Referrals from your network of contacts ( inexpensive ) or a talented recruiter ( expensive ) is the best source to find these gems.
“Can you tell if someone has rock star talent from a resume? If so, how?”
It’s tough. There’s no silver bullet but some of the thoughts I included above help. The big ones for me are:
1) Looks for signs of excellence. Have they excelled at anything in their life? Do they just play soccer or did they win the championship? Play piano recreationally or are do they compete ( and win ). Are they working for the pay-cheque or because they love what they do and would do it even if they weren’t paid ( side projects usually are good signs of this ).
2) What’s their work history like? Have they moved up, mastered what they did ( ie: became the go-to person ) or taken on more responsibilities in their past jobs? Have they been laid off or fired more than once? The best predictor of future performance is past performance.
Again - and this is a big caveat - there’s no silver bullet. Basically, unless you know the person or trust the referral their coming from, your stuck trying to sniff out talent from a resume or an interview ( hard to do ). The more signals you can identify, the more you can stack the deck in your favor. There’s nothing worse than a terrible hire.
Sure, looking at these signals might mean that you miss up a rock star but as Steve Kaufer ( TripAdvisor’s CEO ) once told me: “You’re better to pass on a rockstar than to hire a dud”. This has become my hiring philosophy.
"I would imagine people with rock star talent are quite humble, how would a person know they have rock star talent?"
Yes, absolutely. They are humble, and aren’t prima-donnas. The best way to know if they have talent is to look at what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished in their careers and lives and in their side-passions. Whether it’s excelling at school, having the guts and determination to successfully launch a startup & product, or surviving waves of layoff, try to sniff out excellence from their past experiences.
Obviously what you look for will vary based on the type of role you’re looking to fill but talent and passion always trump skills.
In the end there’s just no substitute for having worked with the person or a trusted referral.
“I don’t think that never being let go and being currently employed should be [a signal for talent], given the [job market and economy].”
I agree, it’s not a perfect signal but with a stack of 20 resumes and no referral from your trusted network, it’s definitely a signal that helps focus in on the ones with potential at the risk of missing out on a rock star. When I see that someone’s been laid off or fired, I try to understand very hard why. It does happen that big companies chop out good people. There would need to be other signals showing how great the person was to counter the fact that they’d been let go.
“… the most brilliant people I had a privilege to meet would never admit they were the rock stars. … “
Absolutely, I 100% agree. Big egos do not make for rockstars. I have a blog post in the works that echos this. You’re 100% spot on.
Thanks again for the feedback everyone.
Think I’m wrong? Have a question? Know of a good signal / technique to sniff out talent? Let’s keep the dialog going, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
This blog post has spurred some interesting debates and discussions… which leds naturally to answer the question: “What a rockstar isn’t”
Here are my thoughts on this:
Game theory is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Especially considering an upcoming app we recently launched ( tripwow ).
Here is a great video about the topic and some take aways:
- Good game design keep the users in the “Flow’, hovering between boredom and anxiety.
- The most powerful reenforcement schedule is to reward users without them knowing 100% how they got the reward ( think “slot machine” ).
- 5 foundational elements to game mechanics:
#1 - Collecting ( Collecting badges, points, trading cards, twitter followers, etc )
- “The power of completing a set. Think: “Your profile is 40% complete”
#2 - Points
1) Game points, points you achieve by playing
2) social points, points others give you ( comments, ratings, etc )
3) Redeemable points: Loyalty programs, redeemable within the system, give community a sense that they are accomplishing something.
- Express what’s valued in your system ( # of comments? # of uploads? most active members? )
- Drives behavoir and gives sense of accomplishment
- Stats & data about progress
- Gives sense of progress, is fun,
- Getting “friended”, retweeted
- Think: Turned based games ( Chess )
- Swapping goods ( World of Warcraft )
- Gifting ( reciprocity )
- Customizing: Characters, profiles, templates
- Adds stickiness to the system. More customization = harder to leave.
It’s always been a personal goal of mine to visit Iran.
Why? I get that question a lot. Mostly, it’s because I love a good challenge and getting into Iran is no small feat. I also love history and Iran is a country with one of the richest and deepest historical stories… it also has some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
It’s funny how it goes… in my experience, countries with the least amount of tourists are the friendliest to visitors. Iran was no exception.
Unfortunately, it’s a country with a government which seems hell-bent on making life for its citizens miserable and one that has a desire to alienate itself from the west.
Although Iran is deep in history, culture, and is way off the beaten path, it’s never a good time to visit Iran.
So this year I decided to stop putting the adventure off, “It’ll never be a good time to visit” … with Baby #2 on the way, I decided that it was now or never.
This year, I finally made this trip happen.
This slideshow chronicles my trip throughout Iran in June 2010.