I really admire the folks at 37signals, the Web 2.0 company that you could argue is the original Web 2.0 company and purveyors of some very fine online software, including Basecamp, which I used to coordinate the production of Catholic World Report when I was managing editor and then editor.
One of the reasons I admire them is because of their enlightened, employee-friendly policies. For instance, they’ve instituted a standard four-day workweek because it’s better for everyone and people are more productive. They subsidize not just employee education, but also employee hobbies because they make the employees better people and thus better employees. And, in contrast to many small Internet companies, they see the value in hiring employees with families.
This particular employee points out that Web startups traditionally favor single twentysomethings who will work untold hours with little complaint and the ephemeral promise of venture-capital millions, but that such devotion ends up being a crutch for management to shovel hour after hour of productivity after badly conceived ideas and ill-considered approaches until they uncover that one shining nugget.
That’s why I like working with the family man or woman. They come in as a cold bath of reality. When people have other obligations outside of work that they actually care more about than your probably-not-so-world-changing idea, the crutches are not available as an easy way out, and you’ll have to walk by the power of your good ideas and execution or you’ll fall fast and early. That’s a good thing!
From the experience I’ve had working with family people, I’ve found an amazing ability to get stuff done when the objectives are reasonably clear, the work appears to have meaning, and if it can be done within the scope of what should constitute a work week. When there are real constraints on your time, like you have to pickup the kids or make them dinner or put them to bed, it appears to bring a serenity of focus to the specific hours dedicated to work.
This is what companies need, startups or not. They need constraints and especially constraints on how often you can play the hero card to Get This Very Important Project Done. Most projects are just not that important and most things just shouldn’t be done anyway, despite how good of an idea you feel it is in the heat of the moment.
In most companies what you need is a good mix of mature, older workers with outside responsibilities that ground them, maybe even make them conservative and cautious, combined with young, fire-in-the-belly, go-getters willing to work long hours to make their mark in the world. Each group tempers the weaknesses of the other with their own strengths and become a powerful tool for whatever your company or organization is doing. Something to think about.