Previous “Thoughts on hiring” articles
One great way to attract talent for lower dollars is to enable people to have ownership of creative work taken under their own control, and their own initiative. This is contrast to just increasing the reward (pay).
Noam Chomsky has a great breakdown of this idea:
Well, there are fundamentally two different ways of looking at work.
One is capitalist ideology. That basically takes for granted that the natural state of a person is to vegetate. You have to be driven to work. If you arenâ€™t driven to work youâ€™ll lie around watching television or take your money from the welfare office and you wonâ€™t do anything. So therefore there have to be punishments for not working and rewards for working.
Thereâ€™s a different conception, which goes right back to the Enlightenment. And thatâ€™s one that regards work as one of the highest goals in life. But theyâ€™re referring to a special kind of work: creative work taken under your own control and under your own initiative.
Thatâ€™s a very different conception of work, one thatâ€™s pretty familiar to all of us. If you just walk down the halls around here [at MIT], youâ€™ll see people working, maybe 80 hours a week, working hard. Because they like what theyâ€™re doing! Theyâ€™re fundamentally controlling their own workâ€“â€“challenging issues, etc.
We’ve seen this in the tech industry with Google’s 20% time and similar initiatives.
And we see it locally too.
I can promise you there are some amazingly talented grad students over at McMaster that are working for peanuts in terms of pay. But they own the work, they’re doing it largely under their own control and initiative, and they are doing creative and interesting/challenging work.
We’ve also had some amazingly talented startup founders build products in town while making little or no money, for the same reasons. Indie video game studios can get away with below industry pay for similar reasons. Same with academia / teaching positions.
So it can and does happen locally.
One way to attract and retain talented employees is to enable them to do these sorts of creative, challenging things that they control and do of their own initiative. How to go about that could mean a lot of different things.
- 20% time – a day a week to work on personal/entrepreneurial projects
- Time off for volunteer activities (like Hamilton Code Club!)
- Open source internal frameworks/libraries for the broader community
- Increase R&D type work internally
- Give employees time to write white papers, technical reports, etc.
It’s possible there’s some idealism going on here of course… Chomsky references MIT grad students when he makes this point. Looking at something that works in that population may not be generalizable… we’re talking about people that are pretty motivated go-getters already.
It’s also hard to factor this into a work schedule when deadlines need to be met to keep the lights on. Google’s 20% time came to be known as 120% time internally.
But still, I think if you want to attract great talent, then looking at making the work, or at least aspects of the work, creative and interesting and under the control and initiative of the employees is something to consider.
I think one of the impediments to implementing these ideas is a lack of structure, leadership and mentorship. Mentorship is key to identifying potential initial directions for creative efforts, and nudging creative work in productive directions by asking the right questions and warning of potential pitfalls.
So just a word of caution – if you’re trying to implement this sort of idea, it’ll likely take more structure than setting aside hours.