Talent Efficiency: Contrarian or Not?
The comments come in
It’s been fascinating to see the dialogue on Talent Efficiency over the past week. Last Sunday’s post had 12,000 views (and growing) and a ton of commentary. There are so many different threads to examine, I’ll have to publish my thoughts on them over the course of several weeks. If you’d like to keep abreast of these, you can subscribe (for free) here:
Here’s the first question that the responses raised:
Are Talent Efficiency and Work-Life Balance the Same Thing?
There were many “thank you’s” in response to my post. It became clear that at least some of these respondents were feeling burnt out and encouraged to see someone talking about the negative aspects of long-hours cultures. Although those expressions of gratitude certainly made me happy, I’m struggling to feel deserving of them, because my article was not about the value of work-life balance to individuals. Rather, it was about whether long hours, cumulatively and aggregated across an organization, could be a bad signal about the company’s prospects.
I have felt very burnt out in several moments of my life; I know how these people feel, and it feels awful. That said, as I wrote earlier, I don’t have a perspective on whether long hours are good or bad for individual people as a general rule. I know very happy people who work long hours; I know others who are miserable; and people move between these categories all the time. (As a side note: When thinking about individual well-being, I think more in term of “energies” than “hours.” Is the person feeling energized by their work and by their life outside of work?)
I did point out in the article that high Talent Efficiency may give a company a strong hiring and retention advantage, particularly in this moment in time, given the level of burn-out we’re seeing in our economy. If there are large populations of people who want greater work-life balance, we might be able to recruit them more easily if we could advertise our companies’ high Talent Efficiencies.
In the same way that some folks believing in the need for greater work-life balance wrote to thank me, some people who love working hard were irritated with my post, because again, they believed it to be an advocacy piece for greater work-life balance.
A discussion on HackerNews revealed a great deal of annoyance from folks like this. The primary thread was about how the article was not contrarian at all, despite the title “A Contrarian Take on Long Hours.” Some people claimed that an article about the beauty of individuals working long hours would have been more differentiated and interesting.
I expected the "contrarian" take in this blogpost to be "actually, I think long hours are great!", not "maybe long hours aren't great!"
Me too! I was thinking it was going to be a paean to the joys of working long and hard!
There's a lot of cancel culture at play around working hard.
I'll give you an actual contrarian take on working long hours: I like it, and I'm really tired of people commenting on what hours I keep….I'll even go one step further; I like working with others who share this view on working.
From an individual well-being standpoint, these comments actually have real resonance with me. As I mentioned in my original post, there have been many times in my life where I’ve deeply enjoyed working hard. (Now is one of those moments, as I make some final edits on Sunday morning and delaying our family breakfast.) In those situations, I felt a sense of purpose and usefulness, a fulfillment of my curiosity, a “flow state,” and/or an adrenalin rush — all beautiful feelings.
There have also been many times when I’ve been frustrated to be seemingly one of the only people feeling this way. I remember a moment in high school when a classmate commented scornfully about my doing practice problems for the math test tomorrow. (I was having fun.) In moments like these, when I’ve felt misunderstood and lonely, I’ve often wished that other people would be as interested in working as me.
These feelings of loneliness and frustration were very apparent in the HackerNews thread. It’s not surprising, because of HackerNews’ strong audience among founders and future founders. Founders often derive tremendous energy from their work. They are often psyched to work long hours. And they are often trying hard — and often failing — to inspire their teams to feel as energized as them by their work. For this reason and others, being a founder is a lonely job. As a former founder and COO, I intimately understand the feelings of these folks on HackerNews, probably more than they realize.
The problem is that founders’ passion for their work is precisely the reason why we often end up with cultures of long hours, which can sometimes obscure poor fundamentals or cause poor performance in the future, for all the reasons I mentioned in my original post. Again, my article is not about whether working hard is good for people individually. It’s about whether long hours — cumulative over time and aggregated across the company — are a sign of whether the company is likely to be successful or not. I’ve observed that founders often see the productivity of their own long hours and extrapolate to assume that an entire company working long hours is a good thing. This thinking is flawed.
In general, I like to see companies as organisms with interconnected tissues, rather than as collections of atomized individuals; certainly, I think the best companies resemble healthy ecosystems. The topic of Talent Efficiency is about a community problem, because it’s a company problem (“Is this a good company?”). I’d love to reorient the conversation to be about the strength of the community as opposed to the merits of individual work patterns. (I’ll also note that I have no interest in re-writing The 4-Hour Work Week!)
So why did a meaningful number of people misinterpret my original post? I think there are two reasons: (1) I write long-form articles, and you may miss the point if only skim the first few paragraphs (I’ll say more in the future about why I am committed to writing this way), and (2) the term “long hours,” which I used frequently, is typically used to refer to individual work patterns as opposed to collective ones. I think the term Talent Efficiency, analogous to Capital Efficiency, should help correct misperceptions in the future.
I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation with you all. There is still much to unpack! As noted, subscribe here (for free) if you want to keep up:
Talk to you soon.
As always, I’ll share a few new roles I’m excited about:
VP People, VP Marketing, Head of Product Design @ On Deck. Careers page here.
Head of Marketing @ PaletteHQ. Contact founder Jean-Edern Lorillon at email@example.com
Growth marketer @ Forte - contact Hunter McGranahan at firstname.lastname@example.org