Hire When It Hurts

You may have noticed that Basecamp is in the midst of what qualifies around here as a mini hiring boom: five open positions across customer support, programming, and ops, as well as a newly created marketing role. The company has received more than 4,000 applications and every single one is read by a human being. In the latest episode of the Rework podcast, hear about why Basecamp briefly lifted its hiring freeze, how job ads are written, and what the process is for evaluating candidates.

Am I micromanaging my team?

Here are the 5 most telling signs of micromanagement – and what you can do instead.

I won’t tell anyone:  You think you might be a micromanager. Argh. If there were scarlet letters for a bad manager to wear, “m-i-c-r-o-m-a-n-a-g-e-r” would be among them.

But, how do you know if you’re a micromanager, for sure? 

Yes, you can directly ask your team members if they think you’re micromanaging them. If you have a direct report who has a penchant for shooting you straight, I highly recommend this. (In fact, when we asked through Know Your Team to 606 employees across 61 companies, “Do you feel micromanaged?” 12% said “Yes.”)

But it’s also probable that your direct report might not concede the truth. You are their boss, after all. And telling a boss they’re a micromanager is the equivalent of, well, slapping them in the face. 🙂

Keep reading “Am I micromanaging my team?”

Six Hours of Phone Calls

When Jason put out a call on Twitter for SEO consultants, he received dozens of responses. In order to choose someone to work with, Jason and Basecamp designer Adam Stoddard interviewed all of the candidates in one six-hour block of back-to-back phone calls. They sit down with Shaun in the latest episode of the Rework podcast to discuss why they’re looking for SEO expertise, how they conducted the interviews, and what it’s like to shop for something you know nothing about.

Leverage? No thank you.

Since we began including salaries in our job postings, a few people have asked if it affects the leverage we have over candidates.

The suggestion is that if we tell people exactly what we pay for a specific position, and they would have accepted less, but we’re now on the hook to pay them more than we “needed” to, then they have a leg up on us rather than us on them.

I find this line of thinking abhorrent.

I have zero interest in having leverage over anyone in a hiring situation. Of course we get to choose who we hire – so, yes, there’s power inherent in the act of hiring – but other than that necessity, leverage is the last thing I’m looking for.

Remember, I’m looking to to hire someone to work with, not work against. Starting things out with “look what we got away with!” seems like a terrible start to what hopefully develops into a wonderful, long-term working relationship. Leverage need not apply.

Announcing “Shape Up”, a deep dive into how we work

Back in 2006, we self-published Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web app. It was our first foray into broadly sharing how we work at book-scale. It struck a nerve, turned heads, and changed minds. It offered product people, designers, and developers a way out – an escape hatch. They could finally ditch their way of working that wasn’t working for a new way that would.

Since then we’ve released a number of books, all focused on the business end of things. You could learn how to run a company from REWORK, REMOTE, and our latest mass-market release, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.

Today we return to our roots. Nearly 13 years after Getting Real was published, we offer the spiritual follow-up. Today we introduce Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters. This web-based book explains how we work in replicable detail. It’s comprehensive, yet approachable. A recommended read for anyone involved in software development. And it’s 100% free to read online – we don’t even ask for your email address.

Why now?

Over the last few years, there’s been a renewed, heightened curiosity about how we work at Basecamp. People often ask us how we get so much done so quickly at such a high level of quality with such a small team. And how we keep our teams together for years and years. We’ve written some blog posts about it, but the topic really demanded a book-length effort.

For one, we’re not into waterfall or agile or scrum. For two, we don’t line walls with Post-it notes. For three, we don’t do daily stand ups, design sprints, development sprints, or anything remotely tied to a metaphor that includes being tired and worn out at the end. No backlogs, no Kanban, no velocity tracking, none of that.

We have an entirely different approach. One developed in isolation over nearly 15 years of constant trial and error, taking note, iterating, honing in, and polishing up. We’ve shaped our own way. This book is for explorers, pioneers, those who don’t care what everyone else is doing. Those who want to work better than the rest.

But ultimately, don’t think of this as a book. Think of it as a flashlight. You and your team have fumbled around in the dark long enough. Now you’ve got something bright and powerful to help you find a new way.

We hope you find it interesting, enlightening, and, most of all, helpful.

Let’s read.

The hardest leadership advice to follow

We all know we’re supposed to “work on the business and not in the business” as a leader… but what holds us back? And, how do you exactly put “stepping away” into practice?

“Work on the business, not in the business. Pause. Step back. Take stock. Reflect. “

This is some of the most ubiquitous advice I’ve received from leaders on our podcast, The Heartbeat, over the past few years. Yet, as often as it’s repeated, I wonder how often it’s followed.

I’m writing about myself here, namely. Yes, conventional wisdom says to “sleep on it”, to step away from the work to get a fresh perspective on it. And yes, I’ve vigorously nodded my head in agreement whenever someone espouses something along those lines. But, if I’m being honest with myself, how often do I personally act on that recommendation?

For the longest time, my answer has disappointingly been, “Not often”. Prior to last year, I didn’t regularly set aside blocks of meaningful time for myself to reflect on the business. When faced with a critical decision to make or a tough situation to resolve, I plunged myself deeper into the work.

“More, harder, faster” was my default setting. Is it yours, too?

Keep reading “The hardest leadership advice to follow”

It’s high time to rewrite the hiring script

The disconnect between how many companies claim that they only hire the best and how they try to actually do that is perverse. A depressing number of job postings are barely more than a list of technology or process requirements paired with an arbitrary desire for years of irrelevance. That’s then fluffed up by a bunch of trite rah-rah bullshit about the supposed glory of hiring company. Ugh.

It really doesn’t have to be like this, but it’ll continue to be like that until companies drastically change their hiring script.

Let’s start with how the process is driven. Far too often, hiring is made someone else’s job. Not the responsibility of the team leader nor subject to input from future coworkers. Instead, the job posting is written by someone in HR or the executive who’s too far removed from the domain or the specifics to do a good job.

Second, the matter is rushed because “we need someone yesterday” and “how hard can it be”. No wonder most job ads look like they’ve been cut from the same template because they probably have! Writing a good job posting is hard because it requires you to actually think about what the position entails and how to realistically portray the organization it’s within. This takes time.

At Basecamp, we have no illusions that we’re going to hire “the best”. In fact, even thinking about candidates in such absolute terms is nonsense. The world is full of people who are stuck doing mediocre work in a shitty environment or blessed to do stellar work by virtue of an elevating one. Most people are well capable of doing both! The only thing that makes sense is to hire the best – defined as most complementary to the organization – person out of the candidates who apply.

Which is why taking the time to describe the role, the work, and the organization with clarity and honesty matters so much. The vast majority of potential candidates in this world are not going to apply to your position in any case. The aim of a great job posting is to expand the pool in awareness of that fact. To entice those complementary candidates to apply who might otherwise wouldn’t have. Dropping this “the best” nonsense is a start.

So that’s what we’ve tried to do with renewed vigor over the past few months here. We’ve been in an uncommon hiring spree with five open positions recently. Every single one of those involved a prolonged, careful process of crafting the best job posting we knew how. Yes, some of the framing is similar between the posts, but each one was written for that particular position. Then subjected to critique, review, and editing by a broad cross-section of future coworkers. I think it shows.

It’s a banal statement that hiring is some of the most important work that an organization does. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Although perhaps the endless repetition of that thought has dulled most people to its wisdom, and they’ve failed to act as though they believe it.

Next time your company is hiring, try to get involved. If you like the way we write job postings at Basecamp, feel free to be inspired, but do the authentic work to make them yours. Your next hire will thank you!

Not too proud to ask

I hear from people all the time who’ve been following this blog, read our books, been loving Rails, become impressed by a job post, or been inspired by a conference talk we’ve given. It’s intensely gratifying to hear how something you put into this world has had a chance to affect someone. Especially when the impact was large enough to open up a novel perspective or prompt real change. It warms.

But it also disappoints when I ask whether the person has tried Basecamp and the answer is “oh, I haven’t, we use [some assortment of big tech / valley combination] – hadn’t even thought about it”. Though the disappointment is not so much in the person as in ourselves. We’ve failed to do the work; failed to draw the connection.

Part of it is the lazy assumption that since you’ve been around for a long time, then of course people who like your philosophy or perspective would know what you make, and would have given it a try. We’ve been making Basecamp for over 15 years, so that erroneous assumption has had a long time to fester.

But that’s not how it works. If you want people to give your product a chance, you gotta ask them. Most companies do this via marketing budgets. They ask a bunch of strangers to try their product that they’ve targeted through the mechanisms of surveillance capitalism. We’ve historically been pretty hands off on ad spend, and remain staunchly opposed to invasive ad targeting.

What we’ve done instead is rely on the goodwill and word of mouth that making, sharing, and teaching affords. And it’s worked well, but it isn’t automatic. You have to activate that goodwill, if you want it to translate into sales that sustain all that making, sharing, and teaching. I don’t think we’ve done a great job at that lately. We’ve taken it for granted.

But how do you ask people who might not be your friends, but don’t feel like strangers either, if they’d try your product? Not just once five years ago, but regularly, without coming off as an annoying, self-promoting shill? I think that’s still largely an open question, but I’m really interested in trying to find the answers.

While we search, though, I thought I’d just remind myself to keep it simple and to keep it direct. So I’m not too proud to ask: Have you given Basecamp a try recently? If you like how we think about work, culture, and people, I think you’re going to like how we make software too. We’ve poured all of us into Basecamp. It would mean a lot if you’d give it a try ❤️

Scrutiny is the prize of success

There’s an unfortunate pattern amongst the Silicon Valley set whenever a startup heralding from their midst is subjected to even mild scrutiny. It’s perhaps best illustrated in its archetype by this tweet from Paul Graham:

(Screenshot provided for legion of Twitter users blocked by @paulg 😄)

In 2008, Facebook had a mere 100 million users. In 2018, they had over 2 BILLION users. The scope of a startup’s impact and influence is correlated to the amount of scrutiny it receives. This is a feature, not a bug!

And while Facebook is almost too easy of an example of this pattern, it’s far from the only one. Just yesterday, Mike Davidson wrote about the appalling and abusive read receipts feature in a new email client called Superhuman. The general response from Valley boosters was predictably disappointing (peruse @mikeindustries for countless examples), but I want to pull out one subtweet that struck me as another example in Graham’s spirit:

Do you see a thread here? It’s like the thinking goes that success does not attract scrutiny because of the broader impact it affords, but simply because conspiracy theorists are trying to hold down the makers! Yeah, the current Valley darling for email that’s received tens of millions in venture funding and is valued at a quarter of a billion already is the scruffy underdog. And just received a glowing puff piece in the NYT that didn’t address the privacy angle much. Ehhh…

I get it. Tribalism is in our DNA, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with rooting for the (spiritual or geographical) home team. But when that affection becomes a set of blinders or an apologist shield, you can’t be surprised when the broader community raises an eyebrow and is encouraged to dig deeper.

The reason this matters is that what may seem like small decisions early on become the basis for many more decisions down the road. These decisions affect your ethical trajectory as a company.

Mike Davidson

Davidson’s point about the ethical trajectory of a company is spot on. But it goes even further than the single company. There’s an ethical trajectory of a whole ecosystem, and the one in Silicon Valley is in need of some serious recalibration. Springing to the defense of appalling privacy abuses with excuses like “well, everyone else does it” only reveals just how dire the need is for that recalibration. A process that has to start with one company at a time.

But even if Silicon Valley was a beacon of ethical behavior, you’d still want successful startups on a strong trajectory to have their business model and practices subjected to scrutiny in proportion to their success. The more people are using something, the greater the potential for harm (and good). This isn’t rocket science.

Successful startups (and their boosters) should celebrate the scrutiny when it arrives by listening and making changes in actions and culture. The earlier you catch yourself drifting off course, the easier it is to get back on track. Not just of your goals for SUCCESS, but for being an ethical, responsive, and responsible company that even people outside the Valley can cheer for.