Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Passion of An Owner vs The Passion of An Employee

(Image: My temporary office. I keep the windows open and I really get a feel for the hustle and bustle of the city - yes even in Albany. When I go home, it seems really quite... and then the train goes by...)

For all of my working career I've watched a clock. Sometimes it's very explicit, like when I punched a time clock while working at Arby's. Other times, like with HP, there's an expectation for the amount of time you put in each week even if you get paid the same amount no matter what. Some weeks are longer than 40 hours, but there's an understanding on over time it'll even out with other weeks that require less time.

Everyone who's had a traditional job knows exactly what I'm talking about.

However, when you own your own business, it changes. I mean, I'm still watching the clock, but it's constantly wishing I had more time to get more work done instead of seeing how much longer I have to work. That's because the reward is no longer tied to time, it's tied to the final product (fixing a rental in my case, selling a product/service for others). This is a true shift in thinking.

One observation I've made is that I'm MUCH more willing to spend an extra hour working on something to get it just right than for my normal job. I'm also willing to work really late because I know that each day the unit isn't rented I'm losing money. Note: it's my money, not my employers. :) Also, it's beyond the feeling of "I love it so much I just lose track of time." It's not that. Trust me, there are parts of a rehab I hate (pulling staples from the floor where an old carpet was for example), but I still work extra long and spend the extra time to make sure it's done right.

When it was just Jessi and I working, this shift in thinking wasn't as obvious. We just did it because that's what you do.

However, when you hire someone, they don't have the same mindset. In hindsight it's obvious, but it really hit me yesterday while we were working on a specific task (removing fixtures and random nails from a room, and filling in holes). They just wanted to finish because it was getting near 5pm and they wanted to call that task done and go home.

I found myself in awe that they didn't care about spending the extra 20 minutes to finish it off right. I was totally willing to pay them, but they had other things to do. Clearly they didn't take ownership of this project like I have.

Again, obvious in hindsight, and understandable. But it still surprised me in the moment.

I find myself asking how I can get them to not care about the clock as much and instead care about how the project finishes. How can I do that when I even fall victim to watching the clock in my day job? I don't think just paying them more will work long-term. Somehow I need to get them to buy into the dream; to get passionate about the project.

For someone who follows the tech start-up space pretty closely, I'm surprised that I don't have the answer to this. How do other owners do it? Do they just settle for the fact that not everyone will have the same level of passion? Is it really settling? Clearly the work is still getting done and as long as someone who does care (me, in this case) is around to keep people on track, it's probably OK.

Perhaps that's one of the secrets to being a manager in larger organizations like HP. Perhaps you have to take a form of ownership and responsibility. Being on the manage side of my business, makes that pretty clear. Being highly skilled is nice, but being willing to put in the extra effort and genuinely feel the burden of responsibility for the project/organization is another thing. I will admit that I'm not at the same level for HP.

How could HP get me more passionate about my work? Again, higher pay would be nice, but I don't think that's a long term solution. Year end bonuses tied to performance are nice, but that's once a year and the amount is 1) a small percentage of my overall compensation and 2) not highly variable, so it's not really linked to my performance.

From an employer/owner perspective, one answer is to only work on projects that are exciting to employees. In my case, I should hire people who get excited about taking something old and broken and making it new. If couldn't find those people, perhaps I should re-think the project.

No real conclusions yet. Just observations and questions.

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