2019-02-25 concepts

Training & motivation, team performance, non-financial compensation

Hey all -

This newsletter is about leading teams and improving team performance. Both of which I have no direct experience in. So, take these notes with a grain of salt - hopefully you can still find some of it useful regardless.

+ mental models

* Training & motivation

“So… you can’t? Or you won’t?”

We’ve probably all heard this before. Sometimes we don’t do things because it’s too hard (or infeasible given the time frame) - and other times because we just don’t want to.

Not getting things done therefore comes down to either (1) a lack of ability or (2) a lack of motivation.

If you’re a manager, you’re ultimately responsible for making sure your team gets things done. And if they’re unable to - which is reasonable to expect from time to time - you have to fix either a problem of ability or a problem of motivation.

If it’s a problem of ability, you have to train your team. Maybe it’s technical skills or communication skills or organizational skills. But imparting more knowledge can overcome the challenge of how to solve a particular problem. (Note that training need not come from the manager, but rather anyone with relevant experience.)

On the other hand, there are many times that we don’t do things that we’re perfectly capable of doing. After all, a job is a job and we’re not totally invested in the outcome. Makes sense.

Here, it’s the job of the manager to motivate the team. If a lack of motivation is a big reason that work does not get done in the workplace - and I believe it is - then motivating team members is a huge responsibility of the manager. This can range from being fair, to acknowledging good work, to just being kind and compassionate.

The point of all this is that a manager isn’t simply a switchboard operator of tasks around an organization. A manager must fundamentally interface with people - and that includes ensuring that they are capable and motivated to do the job. If a manager is not doing those things, one must wonder how important the other stuff really is.


* Team performance (rating: 7, found via: HN)

While a manger can boost (or equally, hinder) the performance of a team, we should also wonder what makes a good team to begin with. I think we often have an intuitive sense of what this is, but this short essay provides one of the most concise and comprehensive distillations I’ve read in a while.

Paul Payne identifies the ingredients of a successful team as:


* Non-financial compensation

Probably my favorite idea on the topic of management is that of non-financial compensation. If you work at a job, you are certainly compensated financially in the form of a wage or salary. That is par for the course.

But if you compare two job offers which both pay the same amount, ultimately, you will make a decision on one of them. This means that one offers greater non-financial value to you than the other.

Why is that? What exactly are they compensating you with that is not direct cash?

Maybe the prospective team members are nicer. Maybe the office is swankier. Maybe the career path is better. Maybe one firm looks better on the resume.

All this is to say that, if you’re a company, you are actually able to compensate people in a way that is not direct cash. You can compensate in mission or being a good boss or offering impactful work.

And this stuff is not fake! It is absolutely real value - the evidence of course is that people make job decisions because of it all the time. We spend a lot of time at our jobs, and most of us care about more things than only money.

The amazing thing about non-financial compensation is that some of it is so cheap from a financial perspective. How hard is it to be compassionate toward your team? Or to show interest in their work? Or to offer them opportunities to grow?

The cash expense here is often very small, but the value is real. If you empower your team to speak at conferences or lead major product demos, that has real value. And it costs you nothing! Why would you not do that?

I’m always surprised at how often businesses think exclusively in terms of financial compensation. Yes, it matters, and yes, this is not an excuse to underpay people relative to market rates. But it strikes me as such an incredibly easy way to offer much more value than competitors simply by offering the same financial amount but much more non-financial compensation. If there exists a free lunch in human resources departments at all, then this is it.


+ here’s something I wrote

* What makes a great conversation?

Normally I don’t strongly recommend what I write - and I don’t even think this essay is particularly well-written - but the idea has absolutely changed the way I think of conversations.

If you’ve ever fumbled through conversations, wondering why some were so energizing while others were so enervating, I hope this essay helps clarify that vague intuition. It certainly did for me.

Thanks again to Dave Perell for teaching me this.

Thanks for reading,

Alex