That’s the third article for “The Making Of An Online Business” series, and it will deal with a sensitive topic: human resources. For those of you who came directly here, the posts in this series outlines my 10 years experience in running my own online business. The first two articles can be found here
and the summary for the whole series can be found here.
It’s About Relationships
The first and most important thing I learned during this fantastic experience was the fact that teams are not at all about results, but about relationships. Too often people are judged for their contribution to the assets of the company, but their real value lies in what they can provide at the relationship level. Maybe they can have skills, but if they are not able to relate in way that would make those skills openly and honestly available, their contribution is lost.
A good relationship means that communication goes well even if the skills are not. You have to be able to communicate your ideas and goals to all members of your team. Even if they don’t have the skills at the moment, they must understand what they have to do. The resources to do what has to be done will come, one way or another.
My team was around 25 people at its peak, with an average of 10-15 people most of the time. Maybe this approach is biased by the fact that my teams were pretty small, but if the relationship factor was so important in such a small universe, imagine how important it will be for a business with 100 or 500 employees.
There are just two main types of relationships you can have in business: the relationships between you, the manager / owner / entrepreneur with your employees, and the relationships they can have with one each other. The first model is radiant, you will be the epicenter and you will basically control what goes out, but the second is more like a graph, a web. Trying to control this web of relationships between your employees is impossible. You can’t really control that.
What you can do, however, is to be sure they all have the same set of attitudes that will make their relationships sustainable over time. All those people must share some core values about the way they relate. And when they face problems, if they have the same attitude toward problems they will eventually overcome the obstacle. But if they have only skills and no common attitude, their skills will be just useless.
The truth is that you cannot really create something on a damaged foundation. No matter how much money you put in, how much technical skills are you pouring in, no matter how much luck you may have at some point. A business is a web of relationships and if this web is broken, you won’t be able to catch your prey. If there are significant holes in this web, you will lose opportunities and spend your time repairing those holes.
That is against the normal, established human resources techniques and I’m quite aware about that. Every human resources approach focus on skills, and every CV you read emphasize that. I gave up reading CV’s long ago. A CV can only tell you about skills, but not about attitude. And attitude was the main factor for my human resources policy.
The hiring principle I used for years was: hire for attitude, train for skills. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but I don’t know if you had to apply this. I took a chance and it worked. What means in fact, hire for attitude and train for skills?
I was interested in the person attitude and had almost zero interest in what they knew to do. Online is a highly specialized field, and you do need very good skills to break in. You need to know programming, online marketing, social networking and so on. But all I wanted to know was:
- the person really need a job?
- the person has a high degree of loyalty?
- the person is willing to learn?
If the answer to all those questions was “Yes”, we had a deal. If one of the answers was “No” we had to search more. And those three questions were very important.
Does that person need a job? I often found people, highly skilled people in fact, with a congenital laziness. It seemed that the higher the skills, the lower the motivation to work. Most of the people think if they have a degree or acquired a specific skill, their presence is enough to justifyÂ paycheck. Wrong.
Does that person was a loyal one? In the online field the change is continuous. Technology changes, companies are merging and markets are melting. If you have a long term plan you need reliable team mates. If a guy is willing to go to the next “50 bucks over” job offer, better know that before he’s actually leaving, and save your future plans.
Is that person willing to learn? It’s incredible how people without even a college degree can learn tremendously under the right conditions. In fact, half of my employees didn’t have a college degree, but they manage to learn programming, management, operations and do that for years. It’s not a diploma you’re hiring, it’s about a real person and his potential.
Everybody Can Make Mistakes
But nobody is allowed to repeat them. That was the second human resources principle I applied. Once I was sure about the learned skills level for the newcomers, I actually let the initiative to them. Most of the time I had a very loose management attitude. If everybody knows what they have to do, then let them do their job.
There were situations in which they tend to be “creative” and start proposing new ventures and approaches. This is the part were I was a little rigid. I had to reject most of the proposals because I had a long term goal. They have a field in which they had to play, and I agree I was very keen on playing only on that field. Must seem restrictive, but in the long run it was good.
And even if a guy made a mistake, I was happy to repair the damages, knowing that there was something to learn out of this. And I always had to reinforce that that specific mistake is not to be repeated again. People know when they’re screwing things up. And if the manager doesn’t go over them, and even tries to repair together the damage, the lesson is assured.
Going open about this one was also very effective. I actually encouraged them to make mistakes, as long as those mistakes weren’t “below the line” – as in the business being a ship, and “below the line” being something that could sink the ship.
Of course, there is a lot more to say about managing a team, but this article doesn’t want to cover all the aspects of incentives, evaluations, conflict management, team-buildings and so on. I just focused on 2-3 factors that I considered to be a little out of mainstream, but nevertheless successful. Not always human resources mainstream is effective. In fact, going against mainstream in human resources was extremely rewarding for me.
If you still think having an online business is something that you would like to do, then stay focused for the next article in the series. As usual, I’m quite curious about your comments for this one.