Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hire great workers, even if you can't keep them

Silicon Valley — like the Big Four accounting firms and big law firms — has a well-deserved reputation for hiring bright young people and working them hard until they move on. While the impermanence of SV employment (6-12 months is not uncommon) may be unique, the idea of hiring good people is not.

In his new book Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, Dartmouth leadership professor Sydney Finkelstein argues that a key trait of the best bosses is that “you’re better off having the best people for a short time than average people forever.”

That philosophy fits well with my own experience as a manager during my 15 years as an “executive” (of 5-15 employees) at my startup company. At my entrepreneurship blog, I summarize the comparison of his comments (from his recent WSJ article) with my own experience.

I have great respect for Finkelstein. In an earlier book, he provided the clearest explanation of why once-great Motorola destroyed itself because (as I saw in my cell phone research) of its inability to come to grips with the disruptive shift from analog to digital mobile phones and base stations.

However, there is one line in the article that would give a chuckle to any veteran Silicon Valley watcher — where he lists Larry Ellison as one of “the world’s greatest bosses”). Yes Ellison is a self-made billionaire worth $40+ billion and one of the world’s 10 richest people. And surprisingly, Oracle has had a great run of growth for the last decade, even if the stock price is below where it was in the summer of 2000.

This is the same Ellison whose ego is (or was) so large that his biographer titled the book The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: God Doesn’t Think He's Larry Ellison. So while Ellison was successful and had some smart people working for him, I don’t know that I would hold him up as a role model (even in Silicon Valley) of how to best lead people.