One of our colleagues on the Basecamp customer support team, Jayne Ogilvie, wanted to find out how other tech companies with remote staffs handle issues like communication, career development, and hiring. Jayne sent out a survey and got back a wealth of information and ideas about how other teams work together. In this episode of Rework, we hear more from two participating companies: Sarah Park of MeetEdgar talks about how their staff gathers internal feedback on important decisions, and Patrick Filler and Anitra St. Hilaire of Harvest talk about taking on the challenge of making their company more diverse and inclusive.
Next week, we’ll release a bonus conversation with Sarah Park about MeetEdgar’s culture of transparency and open meetings. Make sure you’re subscribed via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, RadioPublic, or the app of your choice so you don’t miss it!
One of the first books I can remember reading was A Wizard of Earthsea. I was seven or eight, and it scared me to my core. That dark ocean was real and menacing in ways I couldn’t fully appreciate until later.
Beyond fear, one of the things that stuck with me from that book was the idea of true names. David Mitchell’s love letter to Earthsea paints the picture:
Knowledge of a thing’s true name brings mastery over the object, and as this applies to people as well, to tell someone your true name in Earthsea is an act of intimate trust.
We need to burn the hard/soft skills dichotomy to the ground. It's a garbage metaphor and reinforces gendered stereotypes.
Yes, they’re interpersonal skills. Leadership skills. The skills of charisma and diligence and contribution. But these modifiers, while accurate, somehow edge them away from the vocational skills, the skills that we actually hire for, the skills we measure a graduate degree on.
So let’s uncomfortably call them real skills instead.
Before we anoint a replacement, let’s take a moment. Why are we making that distinction? How does this benefit us? How does it help us to achieve our aims?
Almost everyone I’ve spoken with, and every post I’ve read, agrees that hard skills are easier to measure. That soft skills are more difficult to pin down, but equally important (I’d argue even more so). I can buy that. So what?
Dividing skills into types is an attempt to be more precise that costs us clarity instead of adding it. Our every instinct tells us that precision is valuable. Language is an evolving, imperfect attempt to describe the universe. When we reach for precision, we’re hoping to get closer to the true name of things.
There’s a trap here. When we spend time and wit seeking a more perfect description of the different types of skills, we’re working at the wrong level of abstraction. Precision only helps us if it changes how we act.
There doesn’t need to be a distinction. Skills are skills. We can teach them. You can learn them. There’s no meaningful difference in the steps you take to develop a ‘vocational’ skill or a ‘real’ skill, a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ skill. An authoritative taxonomy of skill types doesn’t change how you approach things.
What do we need to pick up a new skill? Well, some combination of the following:
Access to knowledge
Making changes in response to what you observe
Measuring success is the same whether you are learning HTML or practicing sincerity. You observe outcomes. You need to understand what you are trying to do before you do it, a core part of mastering any skill.
Making this change is pretty straightforward. When you are working on a job post, you already don’t mention hard or soft skills. You talk about the skills and experience you’d like an applicant to have. If you are working on a training plan for yourself or a team member, you can list the skills you want to focus on. Save yourself the mental overhead of working out if a skill is vocational or real. You won’t need it.
We can discard the distinction without guilt. Chipping away at gendered stereotypes is reason enough. Part of the evolution of language is recognising when words are no longer true, or shouldn’t be. We should seek a more comfortable level of abstraction, a truer name.
The names we choose matter.
With endless thanks to Ursula K. Le Guin, who influenced me more than I ever realized. A huge thank you to Erika Hall for prompting this in the first place. Thanks also to Mathew Cropper, Chase Clemons, Brad Stott, Elliott Hilare and Yechiel K for talking with me about this and helping me to see beyond my limits. 💚 to Chase Clemons, James Glazebrook & Wailin Wong for editing.
Ten years ago, I was unemployed. For fifteen months I tried and failed to find a job. I scoured the internet, the newspapers, asked friends, acquaintances, strangers for introductions or hints at where to find somewhere.
After a while, it was hard not to take the rejections personally, to value myself less with each “sorry, we’ve decided to go with someone else” or “we’re looking for someone with more experience”. To burn through savings, face the mounting debt and poverty and think that I deserved it.
Well-meaning friends, advisors at the local Job Center and internet sites would give the same advice.
Focus on your resume.
Take the time to tweak your employment history here, edit your interests there, adjust your presentation to suit the company you are applying to. Tell a compelling story which makes it easy for the company to hire you for that job. It all makes sense that this is the way to go if you are going to be successful at landing an interview.
There’s an unchallenged assumption at the heart of this well-meant advice. That the resume is the best tool to market your skills, and no application is complete without one. For many people, that assumption is actively harmful.
A resume is an effective delivery method for bias.
Take this study by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, which discovered that white-sounding names received 50% more callbacks. Or perhaps this study by Devah Pager, Bruce Western and Bart Bonikowski:
black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison.
Terence Tse, Mark Esposito and Olaf Groth discovered that racial bias isn’t the only form of bias in play when assessing resumes.
CVs have led recruiters to focus too much on grades, university reputations, and prior work experience. The problem with these hiring criteria is that they’re biased toward applicants from more wealthy backgrounds. These families usually have better connections and networks, can provide better education opportunities, and can afford to pay reputable universities’ tuition fees. In addition, children who have grown up in the upper echelons of society are also much more used to the social norms that guide successful “acceptable” behavior
This bias works even if you know about it.
A resume is optimized to make it easy for hiring managers and recruiters to eliminate candidates. There’s a whole market of applicant tracking software designed to automate the process of easily discarding candidates which don’t fit certain criteria, based solely on their resume.
A resume is ineffective at finding the best employees.
Bertram smiled. He grabbed a pile of resumés from his desk, then started dealing the resumes out, first one back onto his desk, second into the recycle bin, third onto his desk, fourth into the recycle bin. When he was finished, he had thrown half of the resumes away. “It’s simple.” Bertram told Ernestine. “Just don’t hire anybody who’s unlucky.”
I’d hope that businesses take the search for talent more seriously than that. And yet, we look at a resume as proof that past success leads inevitably to future success. If you want to find the best people, you have to dig deeper than that. What someone has done is not as interesting as what they are capable of doing. Hire for the person they’ll become:
A lot of future perfect people are stuck in current mediocre positions. They just haven’t had the chance to do their best work.
So what do we do instead?
I’m not suggesting that if you are looking for a job, you should abandon your resume. Work the system, send it in. Get paid. The onus for this change lies with employers. If we’re serious about finding the best candidates, whoever they are, then it’s time to reject resumes. Not just the unlucky half, but all of them.
What would happen if the next time you are hiring, you ask for no resumes?
Provide some simple instructions as part of your job post. Ask for a cover letter, not a resume. Describe what you are looking for in the cover letter, and what you don’t want to see. This almost certainly means that you’ll need to do more interviews. Expect that. Spend that time having good conversations about the skills and qualities you are looking for, and give your applicants the chance to shine. Consider structured interviews and create a rubric for scoring them, to further reduce the impact of bias on your hiring.
Give it a try. Maybe you’ll find a way to a more diverse, talented workplace.
Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world Sheryl Sandberg
190 heads of state / 9 are women
Of C-level jobs only 15% are women. Numbers haven’t changed since 2002 and it’s decreasing
It’s clear there’s a problem.
So two years ago, three very dear friends of mine formed a social enterprise company called Girls to the Moon, in hopes of hosting events and workshops to help young girls be their best selves, impact their communities, and create a more inclusive culture.
And it was packed. It was sold out and had a long waiting list. We can’t be more proud of the girls who attended and participated.
Just a tiny snag… planning was a huge burden given the demand. One of those “good problems to have” 🙂
With one of the co-founders running for office this year, I was asked to step in and help out as we planned the 2nd annual campference event. Last year, planning was done using different variations of Google Docs, but things were getting lost in the shuffle. And with four people now involved, context on communication with sponsors, speakers, and volunteers was paramount.
Girls to the Moon all happens in our spare time. We all have full time jobs, so the amount of time we are able to spend on the campference and other events needs to be as focused, yet as asynchronous as possible.
When managing an event there are a lot of moving parts. 56 different people were involved in planning the campference.
What Highrise tools did we use to stay on top of that?
The four of us were all responsible for different things. Courtney handled speakers and social marketing. Knight took care of our sponsors and other marketing tasks. Courtenay helped connect the dots with her context and connections, plus dealt with logistical things she had institutional knowledge on. I handled volunteers and venue logistics.
As you can see, a lot of moving parts.
An entire marketing and logistical plan was written out, then broken down into Highrise tasks. Every Sunday, we would get together to go through the previous week’s tasks, and assign new ones for the week to come. All tasks were marked “let everyone see this task” so we all had continual context, and could even follow up with each other.
What’s the best email address to use to reach Dr. Rager, who’s teaching our puberty session? What is our volunteer coordinator Lizzie’s Twitter handle? What session is Renee Burwell hosting?
Names, email addresses, physical addresses, social media information, and any custom data we needed to keep is stored in our contacts. We can also leave notes about people, keep files (like presentations!), and create fields for information specific to us, such as the name of the session someone was leading.
And contacts don’t even need to pertain to this year either. If someone expressed interest in speaking or volunteering but wasn’t able to join us for this particular event, they were added anyway and we used tags to identify them.
We have different volunteer tags in our Highrise account, one for volunteer, and one for 2016volunteer. Those marked volunteer we can go back to for future events and ask about their availability, we didn’t have to completely disregard them in a spreadsheet or other document because they weren’t available this time.
There is nothing worse than more than one person working with someone and not having context on the relationship. For example, Courtney was our main point of contact for speakers. She would then hand them off to me to talk logistics on the day, such as whether or not they had a slide deck to project during their session.
By forwarding all important email responses to Highrise via our own dropbox addresses, everyone could see the conversation history with each speaker, sponsor, and volunteer.
Sponsorships make events happen, and Deals were the perfect tool to keep track of them all. With Deals, each sponsorship opportunity could be marked as accepted (won), declined (lost), or pending, plus a value amount added to them.
Anything we needed to keep regarding that sponsorship could be kept there, like the contract we would send if they signed on for the event.
In Highrise, we had three segments of people we needed to communicate with: speakers, sponsors, and volunteers. They were tagged with their respective segments, and we could communicate with each group in bulk, instead of spending our time emailing each person individually.
This was especially helpful when seeking out volunteers. We had already started keeping contacts in Highrise who had expressed an interest in volunteering at the event, so when the time came to formally ask, we just had to send one easy email to all.
Any random files and notes we needed to keep about the event that weren’t associated with a specific person were kept in a Case. This meant that we actually had several places where information could live.
I specifically liked having all of our sponsor logos directly in the case, instead of digging through Google Drive to find them, they were right there. We also used the campference case to collect things like links and color specifics about the t-shirts we ordered.
Did We Need Other Tools?
The only outside tools we used were Slack to chat with each other, and the occasional Google Docs spreadsheet for things such as finances and time slot organization. Those spreadsheets could actually be linked directly to the Case we had set up for the campference, so all of our information was technically in the same place.
We also used Trello to “whiteboard” the sessions for the day. But 90% of the event was completely run in Highrise.
Having full context on all of those people who helped us make the event so special, plus specific spaces to accomplish major tasks meant we could all work in our own time yet still stay totally on top of the entire event. ‘
This year’s event sold out and got rave reviews:
Great day! Thanks for allowing DaysForGirls to be part of it. The girls put together 85 personal hygiene kits for distribution all over the world! — Cas Wucher
Looks like another success!! Look at all those inspired young women! …can’t wait till my girl is old enough to attend! Bravo to the GTTM Team for spreading such awesome waves of empowerment & leadership to the next generations — Meagan Norman Fowler
Looking forward to doing it all again with Highrise next year.