6 Things We've Learned while #LevelingUp Now IT Matters

A few days ago, someone commented on the “great team” that Now IT Matters has assembled. We do have a great team - and I’m glad that’s apparent to onlookers!

What may not be as apparent is how much work has gone into getting buy-in from our team, then moving in the right direction. We don’t claim to have a prescription for every business, but here are six things that have worked for us in an effort to develop the right team and help them #LevelUp:

We hire people, not positions. We focus on bringing in the right people, then positioning them as we discover what they are passionate about. When I brought Angela onboard, we were looking for a senior developer. After talking with her we changed direction, as we thought she should be a long term hire. Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t have full-time positions or roles, we certainly do, but we first want to find the right people.

We find brilliant staff. It might sound cheesy or arrogant, but with a small team every player counts and every member has to hold their own.

I think of our company as a team of varsity players; a team made up of the people who did all the work in group projects. “Brilliant” doesn’t necessarily mean high IQ; it means strong performance in specific areas.

Our hiring philosophy doesn’t only apply to our consulting staff; it includes all staff. For instance, our finance staff started with no experience in bookkeeping, but now are experts.

We also don’t need our staff to be “brilliant” at everything. It became apparent in the early days of our company that I shouldn’t be a project manager (or a manager at all!). As a result, we gave that responsibility to Angela who is “brilliant” at running our circus. Other team members are equally “brilliant”; Justin is amazing at focusing on sustainable business processes. Warren is extraordinary at solving almost any problem. Todd takes the time needed to do things the right way each and every time. Michelle plows through new challenges, then accepts the next one with a smile. Jenny has the mind of a forensic tax accountant. And, Renee breathes energy into our daily routine - even on Mondays.

We have a two-week trial period when bringing on new staff to determine if we want to invite them to join our team. Why? Because we have a strong culture and we know it is not a good fit for everyone. If a potential staff person's brilliance doesn't align with what NiM needs—we do what we can to help them find another organization with a better fit for their skillset.

We challenge everyone, set goals, and check in regularly. The kind of staff who succeeds at Now IT Matters craves challenge. We expect Now IT Matters will be the most challenging environment our staff have ever encountered. The best professional development combines challenge and support, so people shouldn’t be miserable and overwhelmed. Instead, coaching and learning requires pushing people past their own comfort levels; a delicate balance between having a bootcamp and a resort.

Our staff has professional goals which are tracked in work.com, then reviewed quarterly.

As a small company one of our challenges has been to carve out the time for quarterly check-ins, but the team has worked together to keep us on track.

We developed the expectation that we are all trying to improve, so we submit feedback to one another in various ways to improve and we provide recognition when we see someone doing something well.

We value aptitude over experience. Most of our staff didn’t know how to use Salesforce when they started working at NiM, so we looked for signs of aptitude rather than experience. One of the ways we observe aptitude is to intentionally assign tasks without instructions, training or direction. On the one hand, this might seem unfair, but it’s realistic as the issues our clients present don’t come with documentation. We want the staff who ask for help AFTER they search Google, make a list of potential solutions, and make a solid effort. An answer earned after putting forth an effort is inspiring to staff; they retain it and find accomplishment in answering their own questions.

We see failure as an option and expect mistakes. Justin had been with us a few months when we assigned him to a project that was very challenging. We told him that it was his job to make sure it was successful and if he was running into trouble, then it was his job to reach out to me. I knew he had the aptitude to handle the project, but he didn’t know that. By the end of the project he was more confident, more competent, and respected our judgment on what he could do.

We are upfront with our clients when we want to use a project to develop staff. We often provide discounts to clients who agree to “test drive” professional development projects. During this project, it was important that Justin knew the client’s satisfaction and project success depended on his team effort. Success without an option of failure is imaginary and tastes bland.

This type of professional development only works in a culture where mistakes can be recognized, owned, and learned from. Recently Michelle Regal wrote about The Fine Art of Failing, after making a mistake for one of our clients. Her reaction to that mistake is why she is such a good fit at Now IT Matters. (Her post for NTEN, Failing Forward, is also worth checking out).

We develop our staff even if it means they will outgrow our company. This is the hard one: the big myth that keeps some cultures from investing in their own staff.

What happens if they leave? I get it. Attrition is expensive.

Leveling up staff feels like you are simply increasing their marketability. However, developing staff is one of the best defenses of attrition as staff are less likely to leave a company that is intentionally investing in them. That aside, there are other benefits as well: for one, it improves what we can deliver (as Zig Ziglar once said that “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.”). Leveling up staff is part of our mission, it’s good for our staff, and it builds our reputation.

The last reason is very personal for me. It carries as much weight as any of the others: my best days at Now IT Matters are the ones where people grow. Whether it’s a client who wrote their first formula or a staff person who handled his/her first requirements gathering session, I’ve discovered that almost nothing brings me as much satisfaction as seeing people succeed in doing new things.

How about you? Has someone helped you #LevelUp?