Job Jumpers Need Not Apply

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Published on Jan. 26, 2015
Job Jumpers Need Not Apply

I’ve said for many years that ultimately technology is not a long-term sustainable competitive advantage because – as the cost of any new technology continues to plummet (which it eventually does in every case) – it becomes a commodity that is readily affordable and available to anyone in the marketplace. So what is it that sets the best businesses apart – regardless of their size – or any momentary advantages which their latest technologies may provide? It’s their people – dedicated, passionate, committed and hard-working - that ultimately will make the difference between success and so-what. Finding, attracting, hiring, retaining and fairly compensating the best and brightest folks you can locate is the only way to assure your future.

And that’s true in part because it’s almost never the technology itself that makes the critical difference anyway – it’s the smart application by the members of your team of these technologies to solve important and substantial business problems that will set your company apart from the rest. In many cases, the technologies and the problems have been around for a long time; what was missing in the past was the clear and new vision, the inspirational spark, and the guts and initiative to make a change.

And - while there are certainly cases where the invention of new technologies opens doors and possibilities which we never before even contemplated – as often as not – most of the new, game-changing applications aren’t instances of any special rocket science (the technologies are typically already built, stable and even industrial-strength as well as readily scalable); they’re simply cases of having talented people who see things differently (than everyone else has in the past) applying what are often very simple and basic technologies in ways that accelerate, improve and enhance traditional processes and solutions in order to save time or money (or both) and increase their customers’ productivity.

Easy to explain; hard to execute. And it always starts with people. But it’s not simply about super smart people. It’s about having the people with the right mindset and attitude. People who want to stick around and do the heavy lifting that it takes to make a difference and build a real business. Things that don’t happen in a flash or overnight. The truth is that an ounce of loyalty these days is worth a pound of cleverness because, in the tech space these days, we have a highly mobile workforce with fewer geographic ties than ever before, less practical constraints, commitments and obligations (other than student debt), and a much higher propensity to jump from job to job – often for the cash and the perks – but just as often it would seem for the sheer cumulating of diverse work experiences.

So, especially for new, young companies, the singly most crucial component of the entire HR equation is retention. That’s why it’s so great to build a business in Chicago where people better understand and appreciate the meaning and value of a long-term commitment as opposed to the Valley where everything seems to be about quick scores and compensation. Frankly, if your employees are always looking for their next job, a new title, and a bump in their comp; they’re not taking care of your business in the way they should.

But, here again, too many companies make the mistake of thinking that increasing retention is a product of something that you can actively do “to” people. This is the same fallacious reasoning that leads old time college professors to think that the measure of their success is what and how they teach when, in fact, it’s what their students learn that really matters. Today, no one commits to a company any more – they commit to other talented people whom they want to work with; they commit to solving challenging and substantial problems; and – in the best places – they commit to ideas that are bigger and more important than themselves.

These are fundamentally internal and often emotional (not necessarily rational) considerations – not something that’s driven by décor, desserts, drinks or dogma – and not something that the company can manufacture or manipulate. You need to have people in your business who are loyal beyond reason because building a new business is just that tough – everyday tough – in every way. And real results aren’t ever the product of rules and regulations and orders- they’re the product of commitment and – even more importantly – of perseverance. So if your workers have one foot out the door and their eyes on some other prize, you’re not building the foundation that you’ll need for the future.

It’s a funny thing – when you’re first starting your business – when it’s just an idea; it’s all about story and contagious enthusiasm. But as you start building your business; it’s all about the long haul – perseverance, perspiration and execution. To win over time takes character – to bear up when things are going south or sideways – takes grit and heart. And it takes a firm and full commitment – not a drive-by or toe in the water approach – and not just in words or cheap talk – but in an all-in spirit. It’s like a bacon and eggs breakfast. The chicken makes a contribution; the pig makes a commitment.

So ultimately, it comes down to this. You can set the stage; you can create the surroundings; and you can certainly say all the right things, but you can’t make the ultimate commitment for anyone but yourself. And there are very few tools to help you in this process – there are no spreadsheets or budget line items or litmus tests for these kinds of strengths and choices. Although when you’ve been at it for a while, it’s easier than you would think to figure out who’s not a keeper. So what is it that you can do to tip the scales in your favor?

In the end, all you can really do – as Bruce Springsteen would say - is to try to make an honest stand. Tell your people what you’re trying to accomplish and why. Tell them what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish that goal and what you expect of them as well. Tell them the truth and the costs of getting there – whatever those costs may be. And hang on dearly to the ones who step forward and sign up. PS: “You Get What You Work for, Not What You Wish for”

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