Ideas on Working Together and Hiring From Google, Facebook and... Jazz

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"You have to get people who don't think like you in the group. What's the point of having three yous? You want different viewpoints. We work well because we don't think about things the same way."

That quote came from pianist Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center's artistic director for jazz, whom I had the pleasure of listening to last week in a lunchtime talk/concert across the street here at NYU's Washington, D.C. "campus." (It's really a building.) He was asked about the success of his long-time trio (18 years), Jason Moran and the Bandwagon.

Interestingly, Moran's bandmates are older than him. "It's about choosing personalities that can help balance one another," he said. Sometimes they're all even "confused about what's happening, but that's good. [That can signal] changes [and] you learn how to deal with them."

We've heard before from successful executives about this. But for a jazz musician to support the concept—someone who relies completely on working in unison with his colleagues—that has impact.  

Asked what the biggest mistake managers make when conducting interviews, Laszlo Bock, senior advisor at Google and author of Work Rules!, told The Washington Post: "Relying on their own opinion. We all think we're amazing at assessing character and candidates, but the research shows that what we really do is make an assessment in 10 seconds, based on a first impression. The rest of the time is spent trying to confirm that, even though we don't know that's what our brains are doing."

Then he added, "You should only hire people who are better than you in some way. Unless you walk away thinking, 'That person is better than me at organizing things, or running a process, or solving a problem, or selling to customers,' you shouldn't hire that person."

In an article titled, 5 Habits I had to Abandon as CEO as My Startup Scaled, on the Fast Company site, Momchil Kyurkchiev, co-founder/CEO of Leanplum, said, "I used to host weekly one-on-ones with each member of our executive staff. This meant keeping track of everyone's needs and understanding how I could connect with each person. If the head of customer success mentioned they needed someone to write a case study, I would track down marketing to make that happen. But acting as the sole source of knowledge got more and more time-consuming, and as we grew, I had less and less time to spare.

"...I was hoarding institutional knowledge. Now, we have a biweekly roundtable where the entire executive staff meets to share highs and lows, and to brainstorm together. In lieu of top-down mentoring, we created team mentoring. This way I'm no longer the center of all the company's happenings, but I rest easy with more confidence in my team's abilities."

Kyurkchiev applies that philosophy to hiring as well. "Every job candidate goes through a cultural interview before we make an offer here. We vet potential employees for their values, self-awareness, and transparency. It's not just about the right skill set, it's about finding the kind of people who put teamwork before their own talent."

Lori Goler, Facebook's head of HR, talked to the Post late last year about getting the best out of people. "One of the things that I like to focus on is finding people's strengths. I think people work best in their areas of strength. It's actually one of the philosophies we've tried to implement at Facebook, which is aspiring to build roles around people rather than people around roles—letting them play in the areas of their strength, and looking for the areas where they lose track of time and get into the flow of things.

"We find that that's where you get outlier performance. That's where you get the strongest engagement. That's where you get the spikiness that occurs in a good way in a company and in a performance."

Interesting that she uses the word performance. I think Moran would approve. 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…