on August 16, 2009 by eldar in Corporate Parasites, Comments (0)

Corporations that hire the best

Many companies pride themselves in the fact (or, at least, the claim) that they “hire the best.” Actually, that makes perfect sense. Why hire anybody, but the best, if you can afford that? No, really?

Say, if you want to herd sheep, it make sense to buy the best breed of sheep that give the best, most expensive wool, right? Same with any business… The problem is that in the knowledge economy, for example, in the software development, managing the best is a little more complicated than herding the sheep. In fact, it’s often compared more to herding the cats. And if you don’t manage “the best” properly, you may easily end up with a serious trouble and get significantly poorer results than by hiring average and managing them properly. Of course, to manage the best properly, your managers should be the best. Ironic, isn’t it?

So, here is the trouble with hiring the best. Philip Su, who works as a development manager at Microsoft, suggests the following recipe to create great software. Get a lot of great developers; give them a lot of computers; provide them with good salaries, stock options, awards and bonuses, so that they don’t have to think about it; then don’t forget to feed them as needed. That’s it. Once they don’t have to worry about money, they’ll do what they love and know — creating great software. Simple, isn’t it?

The only problem is that such creative heaven is very hard to maintain, even if you have money. Shareholders and Wall Street shout at you that you are wasting money. Yeah, like they did not prove lately again that they don’t have a clue how to manage money, their own or otherwise… Analysts look down at you and write articles about you not following the latest fad and not managing your people properly. No, they don’t create software, they find their reward on Earth by teaching others how to do that. Still, the market listens and your company, including your employees, who have tons of company’s stock, suffer.

Then you give up and introduce performance reviews, bell curve, or even layoffs when other companies lose money and have tough times. Well, Adam tasted the prohibited fruit, started to use metrics, heaven is gone and replaced now by an evolutionary environment. That is, the place where the fittest survive, and the rest, well… perish.

Notice, the “fittest”. Fittest is not the smartest. It’s not the strongest. It’s not even the best professional. It’s just that, the fittest. “The boy who lived,” no matter how the survival was achieved.

But maybe it’s not that bad, is it? After all, all nearest relatives of humans – chimps, pigs, rats – they all live in an evolutionary environment and succeed, right?

Speaking of rats, let me tell you an interesting piece of trivia, I’ve heard long ago. On medieval ships rats were a huge problem. One of the ways to get rid of them was called “A Rat King.” Sailors were catching as many rats as they could, put them into an empty barrel, and did not feed them. The weakest rats were eaten fast by others, of course, so very soon you only had “the best” rats in the barrel.


However, and here comes the catch, in the evolutionary environment there is no such thing as strong and weak. There are only those who are stronger, and those who are weaker. Once all the weakest are eaten, one of the strongest become the weakest. And then another one. And the next one. And so on, until there is only one Big Rat in the barrel called a Rat King. The fittest.


After that the sailors release the Rat King, and by this time it already knows that fellow rats taste much better than scraps and moldy grain. So, it does the job much better than any cat could, leaving the ship mostly ratless, “best rats” or otherwise.

Oh, well,… so what did we talk about? Sorry, I’ve got carried away with an irrelevant story… Oh, yeah, corporations that hire the best and then force an evolutionary environment! So, what I am trying to say, is that hiring the best is a fine idea, as long as you know how to manage them. Unfortunately, too many don’t. If you hire the best, you have to put them into a creative environment. If instead you put them into an evolutionary environment, you may get, well, “the fittest” instead. And you’ll have nobody to blame for that but yourself.

Seriously. Evolution is a harsh mistress. Wherever there are resources and competition for them, there are parasites. Turn on evolution in your corporation, and parasites will fill your management ranks. Ever wondered why Wall Street guys were so insistent in their advice to you? They wanted these jobs for their kin!

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