Esther Derby posted a tweet recently about imagining a company “where every employee was trusted to use her best judgment to act in the interest of the customer and the company.” I’m guessing that I rolled my eyes and sighed when I first read it because I can’t imagine this world.
How many of you go to work, look around, and think that every person belongs there? If you do, congratulations. Don’t ever leave that job! I’m generalizing, but a lot of us go to work, look around and think, “How did that person ever get that job?” I certainly wouldn’t trust some of my coworkers to act in the best interests of the customer or the company.
Then the Twitter conversation turned to the Retrospective Prime Directive.
Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
Shouldn’t I think the best of people? Shouldn’t I assume that everyone is trying really hard to do all that they can? I think the answers are yes and yes. The Prime Directive can be a meaningful reminder to focus on the positive instead of placing blame. But I also believe that it can do more harm than good.
Namely, it can provide an excuse for not dealing with staffing issues. Don’t worry about Bob; he tried his best this iteration. He’s just having a hard time understanding how our <insert technical jargon> works. We overlook the fact that Bob’s been on the team for a year and if he doesn’t understand it yet, he probably never will. We don’t want to admit that maybe we hired the wrong guy.
It’s abused even more around personality conflicts. Be patient with Jill; she didn’t mean to be rude. She’s just having a rough time adjusting to pairing. We neglect the fact that the team has been pairing for 6 months and Jill has been ornery since the start. She does not want to be there.
Have we created situations where Bob and Jill can succeed? Are we helping them or their teams by leaving them in their current situations? I think the answers are no and no. Bob and Jill are likely fully aware of the mismatches in technical competency and personal preferences. And the team definitely feels the discrepancies.
So what about the team? Can they succeed with members that don’t fit? The answer here is maybe. If the rest of the team is knowledgeable and passionate about delivering value, they can compensate for the misfits. They can still produce software, but it will take its toll on team morale over time.
It is challenging to address situations where our hiring decisions resulted in a poor job fit for an individual. But is avoiding a difficult conversation worth the cost? Are we creating the best situations for all of our employees? I guess that’s not my decision to make.