In their new book, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy At Work (Harper Business, 2018), Jason Fried and David Heinemeier discuss the frantic, reactive workplace qualities that are counterproductive for everyone involved. In this edited excerpt, they reflect on two mentalities that only lead to disappointment in employers.  

1. Realize nobody hits the ground running

"We just want someone who can hit the ground running" is the common refrain for companies seeking senior-level job candidates. There's a natural assumption that someone who was already, say, a lead programmer or designer in their previous job will be able to step right into that role anywhere and be effective immediately. That just isn't so. Organizations differ widely. The skills and experience needed to get traction in one place are often totally different somewhere else.

Take managerial direction, for example. At Basecamp, we've designed the organization to be largely manager-free. This means people are generally responsible for setting their own short- to medium-term direction and will only get top-level directives.

That can be an uncomfortable setup when someone is used to having more hands-on, day-to-day direction about what to work on. The more accustomed someone is to that kind of directed form of work, the more they'll have to unlearn. That kind of unlearning can be just as hard as having to pick up entirely new skills--and sometimes even harder.

The same is true if they're the kind of senior person who's used to getting stuff done mainly by directing others to do it. At Basecamp, we all do the work, so influence is most effectively exerted by leading the work, not by calling for it.

All these dangers are multiplied when you have senior people who switch from a role at a big company to a little company or vice versa. It's especially tempting to think that if you work in a small company, you could really benefit from someone with the experience from a big company to help you "grow up." But trying to teach a small company how to act like a big one rarely does anyone any good. You're usually better off finding some- one who's familiar with the challenges at your company's size or thereabouts.

The fact is that unless you hire someone straight out of an identical role at an identical company, they're highly unlikely to be instantly up to speed and able to deliver right away. That doesn't mean that a particular opening might not be the best fit for a senior-level person, but the decision shouldn't be based on the misconception of immediate results. 

2. Ignore the talent war

The quickest way to disappointment is to set unreasonable expectations.

Talent isn't worth fighting over. It's not a fixed, scarce resource that either you have or you don't. It rarely even transplants all that well. Someone who's a superstar at one company often turns out to be completely ineffectual at another. Don't go to war over talent.

In fact, junk the whole metaphor of talent wars altogether. Stop thinking of talent as something to be plundered and start thinking of it as something to be grown and nurtured, the seeds for which are readily available all over the globe for companies willing to do the work.

That work is mostly about the environment, anyway. Even if you had the most precious orchid planted in your garden, it would quickly die without the proper care. And if you do pay attention to having the best environment, you can grow your own beautiful orchids with patience. No need to steal them from your neighbor!

At Basecamp, you're not going to find any high-profile super- stars that we lured away from other companies. But you'll find plenty of talented people, most of whom have been with the company for many years and in some cases for more than a decade.

Pretty much none of the talent came from the traditional war zones in our industry, like San Francisco, the larger Bay Area, or even Seattle or New York. Not because there aren't a lot of great people there, but because there are a lot of great people everywhere.

For example, we found a wonderful designer in Oklahoma working for a newspaper, an awesome programmer in the rural outskirts of Toronto working at a small web design shop, and an outstanding customer service person in Tennessee working in a deli. On top of not considering provenance or location, we don't consider formal education, either. We look at people's actual work, not at their diploma or degree.

We've found that nurturing untapped potential is far more exhilarating than finding someone who's already at their peak. We hired many of our best people not because of who they were but because of who they could become.

It takes patience to grow and nurture your own talent. But the work it takes--tending to the calm-culture soil--is the same work that improves the company for everyone. Get to it.

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Published on: Oct 2, 2018