For the company I start, this is the employment contract I want to present to people willing to join me in whatever that endeavor is.
I want you to join me working at X. By accepting this agreement, you promise to
- Do the best work you can possibly do;
- Help change anything that prevents you from accomplishing the first goal.
In exchange, I promise you that
- I, and by extension all of us at X, will give you the resources, guidance, and advice to let you make the best possible decisions you can.
- I, and by extension all of us at X, will trust that your decisions and actions are in the best interest of X.
If both of us can agree to these promises, then we will be able to accomplish amazing feats together.
Welcome to X!
One thing I have learned over the years is that even the most simple and straightforward language can use some explanation. At the very least, some background on the origins of the statements can be incredibly helpful. So indulge me a bit as I dig into my four promises.
Before we get to the first promise, let me explain the very first sentence:
I want you to join me working at X.
When I hire someone, I want them to work with me, not for me. I want them to join me working towards a common goal. It is only one word, but that word makes all the difference in the world.
“Do the best work you can possibly do.”
Most people I interact with try their absolute hardest to do the best work they can possibly do. Most of the time. I would expect that people who I wanted to work with me would already easily pass this first test of intrinsic motivation, but there is no harm in making an expectation explicit. Plus, I believe that if people make a commitment to do their best work, then they will keep that in mind when difficult situations might prevent them from doing so. This is explicitly not an expectation to work hard; this is an expectation to do the best that can be done. That gives a little leeway to account for different scenarios while still pushing to always strive for the best. I do not believe that working hard is the only way to get good work done, and I do not believe it is the best way either. Often times, working hard is required, but working smart is always required.
“Help change anything that prevents you from accomplishing the first goal.”
This promise extends on the first, and can take form in several ways. First of all, I want you to speak up loudly and quickly when you are blocked tactically and can no longer do your best work, or possibly any work at all. Secondly, if you encounter processes, decisions, tools, or anything else that impedes your work, then help define improvements and work with others in the company to make the changes. Finally, I expect that the best work you do now may not be good enough in the future, so continuing to improve your best is important.
“I will give you the resources, guidance, and advice to let you make the best possible decisions you can.”
I am stealing a bit from Netflix’s adage of “highly aligned, loosely coupled.” In order for self-motivated people to do their best work, they need a direction and then autonomy. As a leader of the company, I am responsible for setting that direction. That direction must be communicated very clearly so that everyone understands it and can act on it. Often times, in business, we talk about transparency, but full transparency is rarely accomplished or even desired. This promise is mostly about giving the most information possible to let you decide for yourself. If you make a poor decision because you did not have enough context, then that is my fault, and I need to correct for it.
“I will trust that your decisions and actions are in the best interest of X.”
I’m reminded of a quote from “Sports Night” in which the station boss explains to a relatively new hire that he is expected to speak his mind:
…when you feel that strongly about something you have a responsibility to try and change my mind.1
The way I remember the quote is more like this:
We hired you and put our trust in you. If you disagree with me, it is your responsibility to convince me to change my mind.
The point is that if I am going to hire someone, I want them to feel fully empowered to make good decisions on their own and know that I trust them to do so. In fact, I am relying on them to do so. I cannot make all decisions for the company, and I should not. There will be people who are much better at their jobs than I am. If I have set up the direction for them, then I need to trust they will work as best as they possibly can to move us in that direction.
Of course there would likely need to be some legally binding agreements about intellectual property, competition, etc, and probably some discussion about salary and equity, but I want to see the beginning of the contract start with an explanation and promise of expectations of both the employer and the employee. It is very important to have an entire company all understand the basic premise of operations from the very start. Everyone should able to easily answer the question, “How are we supposed to be working together?” In today’s business world, it is unfortunately not such an easy question to answer.
The full quote, as transcribed by Why Sanity is, “Now, you had an obligation to tell us how you felt. Partly because I don’t like getting a phone call saying I put one of my people in the hospital. But mostly because when you feel that strongly about something you have a responsibility to try and change my mind. Did you think I would fire you simply because you made a convincing argument? It’s taken me a lot of years but I’ve come around to this: If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. And if you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you. I’m an awfully smart man and Mark Sabath is an idiot. He had you and he blew it. You’re gonna do great here, but you gotta trust us. You fit in on your own time. When you come to work for me you show up to play. (pause) I’m going home. (gets his coat) You don’t know us very well. So if it’s hard trusting us at the beginning, maybe it’ll help to know that… we trust you. Good night.!” That is pretty awesome. ↩