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Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams

108 replies on 8 pages. Most recent reply: Apr 10, 2010 12:52 PM by Aye Thu

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Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 18, 2010 10:49 AM
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also, for all the folks we've fired, not a single one has tried to bring legal action against us -- i try to go out of my way to be generous and helpful to such people

i've been fired before in an earlier career -- it sucks; sometimes it is simply due to a chemistry mismatch (as mentioned in an earlier post here) vs incompetence, but i agree (even when i was fired) that chemistry is an acceptable reason for termination

i've also spent lots of time helping fired employees find their next gig

and lastly, about half of the engineers here have been with me for 12-15 years or more, at 3+ prior companies - so i think that's a good sign that there is some loyalty to our culture

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 18, 2010 10:51 AM
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by the way, by saying a team of superstars is a team of people who can't work together is false

it is true that there are some "superstars" who are arrogant bastards who their team mates don't like (i won't mention any Yankees players:) but at good companies (and hopefully KAYAK is one), the definition of "superstar" means two equal things:

1) world-class work; speed, judgement, quality, customer-focus

2) world-class teammanship

Mika Salmensuu

Posts: 6
Nickname: mikas
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 19, 2010 3:48 PM
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Rapid hiring and firing sounds like employees are disposables. Probably on short run this approach works really well but I really doubt that it works on long term.

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/5289.html

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 19, 2010 5:50 PM
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mika, have you read all the posts here on this topic?

kayak is six years old; we've only had one person resign that was a real loss to us, and that was someone who was recruited away to take on a significant ceo role at another company, after he had been at kayak for almost five years

how well is your company doing?

John Zabroski

Posts: 272
Nickname: zbo
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 19, 2010 7:32 PM
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Paul sounds a lot like my CEO and CTO, so it would be weird for me to criticize him. They like to say that there are personality alignments and talent alignments, and that in order to work at this company (a) the people you work with have to like you (b) they have to be able to make use of whatever skills you advertised to join that group

I am not sure I understand the back-and-forth on this blog entry.

I pretty much don't like working with people who spend all day watching Youtube instead of solving problems elegantly.

I don't like working with people who have meetings just to have meetings. I don't like the people in the meetings who prolong the meetings by asking questions. I don't like people who don't realize the person asking questions is clueless and has given up caring 10 years ago, and has mostly just mastered the art of bullshitting that they are involved.

Today, I was on the phone with a salesperson, and was just up front about what my needs were and that I didn't know all the fancy terminology on the products in a catalog I was looking at. I just cut to the chase. I didn't want to waste her time or mine. Yet some people in corporate America realize this is how they can spend time.

I'm also not sure humble, confidence, and kindness is such a big deal. Most people I run into have these charactertistics. Where most people lack character and/or intelligence is the inability to tell their boss "your specification doesn't make any sense because X, Y, and Z result in such and such logic problem".

Then there are customers who call me up in a panic because their boss wants such and such done do this all the time. They're "on the clock" and feel pressure, so they simply STOP thinking and all they can do is repeat over and over what they see on the screen: "The numbers don't add up! It's a bug!" And I just have to re-affirm: "It's not suppose to add up. Your boss is asking you for a report that you do not have data to provide." When you realize that this is how they behave not just with you (a third party) but also at work all day long, you start to realize you're fortunate to be working where you are.

Some people, even when they realize problems, don't want to report them, because they interpret reporting problems as causing grief for themselves: it is one more thing to keep track of.

The above characterizes the foot draggers.

Then there are the empire builders.

Empire builders think you are there to make them money, and that they provide the "real" service to the customer. Their real objective is simply to lock in as many customers as possible on their product, and ascend the corporate ladder on that single success. If they can cash out with stock options, they will then tour the country telling university students and aspiring entrepreneurs everything-there-is-to-know about startups, because, you know, they got lucky once and now know everything there is to know!

Mika Salmensuu

Posts: 6
Nickname: mikas
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 22, 2010 4:21 AM
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Hi Paul,

> mika, have you read all the posts here on this topic?

Yes.

> kayak is six years old;

Let's see in 20 or more years.

> we've only had one person resign
> that was a real loss to us, and that was someone who was
> recruited away to take on a significant ceo role at
> another company, after he had been at kayak for almost
> five years.

Ok. I take you work. Maybe the other persons have been fired before they have the chance to leave.

>how well is your company doing?

It is doing very well during the last 18 years.

I really do not see any similarities between watching (sports on) TV and rapid hiring and firing. The goals in professional sports are for short term and also the financial rewards are really high (several times above average). Also the professional sport teams buy and sell players.

Probably the Rapid hiring and firing to build the best teams works best for short term, like for example building a team of mercenaries for a very specific job.

Kondwani Mkandawire

Posts: 530
Nickname: spike
Registered: Aug, 2004

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 23, 2010 5:39 AM
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The firing process here seems to contrast the "Zed Shaw approach" here: http://www.zedshaw.com/essays/control_and_responsibility.html : "My second warning is I don’t advocate firing people unless they are incredibly incompetent and can’t be trained." ... It goes on further: "In fact, I haven’t fired people but instead moved them to a different team where they’ll fit in." I concur with this as I believe in any medium sized company any able minded person can find somewhere to fit in...

Andrew McVeigh

Posts: 29
Nickname: 55548
Registered: May, 2008

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 24, 2010 5:32 AM
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> mika, have you read all the posts here on this topic?

i have, with a level of alternating interest and bemusement.

> kayak is six years old; we've only had one person resign
> that was a real loss to us, and that was someone who was
> recruited away to take on a significant ceo role at
> another company, after he had been at kayak for almost
> five years
>
> how well is your company doing?

i've read this thread for a while, and while i don't doubt that you (a) are very successful, (b) are certain your methods work in building an efficient customer-oriented team and (c) have an impressively high level of enthusiasm and energy, there are several themes going on which are interesting.

1. when confronted or questioned about the logic of the approach, you tend to immediately go on the defensive. things like "how well is your company doing?" (clearly not as well as yours, no?) of "i'd never hire someone like you" just confirms this.

2. you may not be aware of how threatening and/or ad-hoc your statements occasionally come across from a developer standpoint. from one of the articles "Or do they divert their glance? If they divert their glance, we fire that person". Niiice. I hope your team look the right way at all times.

3. you seem more focussed on the bottom line than any other metric. "My favorite metric is revenue per employee". That's fine as a strategy, just don't expect that this will generate sympathy from a ground-up developer standpoint. What I do find strange, is that you seem genuinely surprised by the lack of empathy/understanding for this strategy from some posters here. There's a level of ambivalence here.

Anyway, i'm reflecting this back to you. You can do 2 things with this information. You can rag on me like you have dealt with others, or you can reflect on this as a data point about how you comes across publicly to a developer. You strike me as a plain-spoken person, here's plain speaking back from the other side. And yes, I get it, you'd never hire someone like me...

Andrew
p.s. your approach and firing rate line up fairly well with what i observe in my industry -- front office investment banking. you probably have the closest match to the head of IT of a sales division of a large inv bank. They have to take a ruthless approach to building teams also, as large sums of money tend to be on the line. The most effective heads however, also have subordinates that exercise the pastoral care for the teams, that is sometimes missing in the effective leader. I've seen this as essential as teams have grown too large (i.e. >100 ppl). And these environments also tend to build intense loyalty also amongs the "survivors".

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 24, 2010 2:19 PM
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Andrew, I really appreciate your comments.

You're right -- I became defensive when our particular approach was being criticized.

I don't pretend that the KAYAK culture is "the best" or one that will work everywhere -- I'm sure it would not. It does work very well for us, and I am actually interested in learning about other work cultures too.

Thanks for taking the time to post here.

--Paul

Andrew McVeigh

Posts: 29
Nickname: 55548
Registered: May, 2008

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 24, 2010 2:49 PM
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> Andrew, I really appreciate your comments.

(you've wrong-footed me ;-)

one other comment about the article -- you seem to have very high energy levels. is this something natural to you, or is it possible to build this up via habit? do you ever go through cycles of up/down? I speak as someone who does.

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 24, 2010 3:35 PM
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> you seem to have very high energy levels.

An interesting observation, not necessarily positive, and here's why. Back when IDE's began to proliferate, experienced commentators said, "even if the IDE did 100% of the drudge work of typing and spell checking and type checking and parameter checking etc. it wouldn't make a material difference to productivity, since you spend 80% of your time thinking". I've found that the younger generation of coders, attributable to java bloat in my opinion, spend 80% of their time typing and 20% thinking. The "high energy" paradigm fits that Glengarry Glen Ross mindset I mentioned many posts above. High energy frenzy doesn't often produce insight, but does spin the wheels faster.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 24, 2010 3:39 PM
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> The "high energy" paradigm fits that Glengarry Glen Ross
> s mindset I mentioned many posts above. High energy
> frenzy doesn't often produce insight, but does spin the
> wheels faster.

I relate this to the super-multitaskers that believe that they are really effective people because they are constantly doing things. Research (with such) individuals shows that they are pretty terrible at everything (at once.)

Andrew McVeigh

Posts: 29
Nickname: 55548
Registered: May, 2008

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 24, 2010 5:00 PM
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> > The "high energy" paradigm fits that Glengarry Glen
> Ross
> > s mindset I mentioned many posts above. High energy
> > frenzy doesn't often produce insight, but does spin the
> > wheels faster.
>
> I relate this to the super-multitaskers that believe that
> they are really effective people because they are
> constantly doing things. Research (with such) individuals
> shows that they are pretty terrible at everything (at
> once.)

point noted. I would also note however, from observable evidence that paul english looks to be pretty damn successful and effective, earlier caveats notwithstanding. his energy levels are admirable -- it's what i took away from the piece.

so anyway, as a person (i.e. me) who struggles to keep a routine and keep a constant level of motivation, i'm asking Paul about whether he's able to manage high levels of routine and energy via natural inclination or via learned behaviour/habits.

John Wellbelove

Posts: 72
Nickname: garibaldi
Registered: Mar, 2008

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 25, 2010 4:20 AM
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>> "My favorite metric is revenue per employee"

I'm curious as to how this metric is actually measured?

My tasks involve many areas of coding include architectural design, prototyping (hardware/software), library development, as well as coding the customers application.
I would think that many of these would be somewhat hard to equate directly to a monetary value, unless the metric is over simplistic, as I think a lot of target/goal metrics are. Metrics that equate to an employee's worth only tend to encourage tasks which enhance the 'score' of that employee. Other tasks, which may also be important, but not go towards the 'score' will be pushed to one side.

>High energy
>frenzy doesn't often produce insight, but does spin the
>wheels faster.

They are often extroverts and are highly distracting (and very annoying) to introverts like me. I like to think that I am highly productive, it's just that I don't leave a disruptive wake behind me.

Andrew McVeigh

Posts: 29
Nickname: 55548
Registered: May, 2008

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 25, 2010 6:57 AM
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> >> "My favorite metric is revenue per employee"
>
> I'm curious as to how this metric is actually measured?

you can't of course, unless you specifically have measurements. otherwise it becomes ad-hoc. even front office trading teams in an inv bank don't judge development teams by a cost/profit metric. traders do get judged this way, however, and it's sometimes brutal to watch.

> My tasks involve many areas of coding include
> architectural design, prototyping (hardware/software),
> library development, as well as coding the customers
> application.
> I would think that many of these would be somewhat hard to
> equate directly to a monetary value, unless the metric is

a trading view is that development/IT is a cost centre which supports profit centres. you need it, but at the end of the day, IT is not a means in and of itself. it's a tool/service to support a primary aim.

> over simplistic, as I think a lot of target/goal metrics
> are. Metrics that equate to an employee's worth only tend
> to encourage tasks which enhance the 'score' of that
> employee. Other tasks, which may also be important, but
> not go towards the 'score' will be pushed to one side.

yes, as in "why expect A when you reward B".

> >High energy
> >frenzy doesn't often produce insight, but does spin the
> >wheels faster.
>
> They are often extroverts and are highly distracting (and
> very annoying) to introverts like me. I like to think that
> I am highly productive, it's just that I don't leave a
> disruptive wake behind me.

i suspect a subtext in this whole discussion is the introvert/extrovert theme. i definitely fall into the former and I suspect it's a common theme for developers. I'd wager than most (successful ;-) entrepreneurs, however, fall into the latter.

as such, we are talking cross-purposes.

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