Rock Stars (not) Wanted

This post is a little premature in that we are not yet hiring at my company, but that doesn’t stop me from operating in recruiting mode much of the time when I’m at industry or entrepreneurial events.  There are a lot of conversations going on at these events, and online around recruiting & hiring, and one of the clearest trends is one that for me, and our company is totally lame is the recurring obsession with hiring “rock stars.”

There’s a lot of blowback against the term in many ways, not the least of which is because it runs the risk of alienating other mission-critical team members in your organizational structure who aren’t the popular “rock star” types, but whom are valuable enough at what they do that they don’t deserve to be marginalized within the social society of our business.

But let’s step a bit further back for a moment and think about this “rock star” thing.  Rock stars as a social construct are *not* about being the best performers; they never have been.  They have been about being the most popular; and mainly about getting attention, and even worse, “passes” for bad behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable under any other circumstances but for some modicum of talent.  But perhaps the most egregious trait that “rock star” implies, is that it removes focus from the team, and places it on an individual.

For a company that has its sights set on being a high-performing company, a culture that places a few key individuals as the stars of the company both belittles the organization as a whole and can have profound negative influence on the relationships between team members.

My wife actually really brought this home to be about a week ago, when she asked a very simple question of me; when I was talking about how I’d met this amazing person I really wanted to to work with.  If I can paraphrase, her comment was along the lines of “how is that all these people you meet are ‘amazing this, or amazing that’ and then you come home and talk about all that, it kind of makes me and Sophia (my daughter) feel a little left out.  Can we be ‘amazing’ too sometimes?”

Oof.  She was COMPLETELY right.  By focusing so much attention on individual high-performers, I was neglecting our team as a whole (and yes, that includes my family – because if they’re not with me on building the company, everything is going to be 100x harder, and 10x less satisfying – after all, much of the work we’re doing building Yottio is to provide for them…).

As I thought more about it, I was reminded of the way Pete Carroll has been coaching the Seattle Seahawks and his focus on keeping the team humble headed into the biggest media event in professional football.  “Stay humble.”  The first level of his “Win Forever” Pyramid is about setting a belief system, and three rules:

  1. Always protect the team;
  2. No whining, no complaining, no excuses;
  3. Be early.

Style: Great effort, great enthusiasm, great toughness, play smart

Beliefs: It’s all about the ball. … Everything counts. … Respect everyone.

Philosophy: Do things better than they have ever been done before.

There are very, very few feats in human history of any significance that were the work of one man or one woman alone.  So if you’re setting out to do things better than they have ever been done before, you’re going to need a team/be a part of team – and that team counts.  Everyone counts.  Not just the Marshawn Lynch’s; not just the Russell Wilson’s of the team.  So does smart play, protecting the *whole* team, and banishing complaints and excuses. You want it better? You help make it better.

Of course we want to find, hire, and retain uniquely talented individuals; but we want them to be a part of our team not because they’re expected to carry it to victory, but because together we create the kind of environment (coaching) that allows each one of us on the team to perform to our highest capacity.  More than that, “highest capacity” has to be measured along more axis that hours spent at work, or LOC shipped.  In the end, it’ll be measured in how good our products are, and how well they connect with our users and customers. Along the way to that goal, and for each individual in the team, there are different ways to measure impact on the key performance indicators we choose as most important.  I hope that we’re able to build a team that recognizes the diversity of thought, personality, and talent, and helps Yottio become a great place to work, and a truly high-performance organization. Hire greatness within, not greatness without.

It’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that resting your “team” on the shoulders of a few “rock stars” is a dangerous and ultimately counter-productive strategy in growing a company to greatness – only time will tell if that’s a valid conclusion or not.   I’d love to hear thoughts from others in the comments on this.