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Ben Horowitz: A Good Place to Work (bhorowitz.com)
152 points by louhong on Aug 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 156 comments

As a result, if Tim doesn’t meet with each one of his employees in the next 24 hours, I will have no choice but to fire him and to fire you. Are we clear?

You get exactly one chance to threaten me. That was it. I quit.

(Honestly, all this management style does is ensure that the only people you'll be able to keep are the ones who will put up with your shit. Not a very good recipe for building a great company, huh?)

Yes, agreed -- this is unbelievably awful executive management. Ben should be asking some questions here instead of threatening to fire Steve because Tim hasn't been filling in his TPS reports. What's especially unconscionable here is that Ben is threatening to terminate both Tim _and_ Steve. Can you imagine Steve's ensuing conversation with Tim? Or worse, the resulting 1:1 marathon held by Tim with his team at the tip of Steve's bayonet? This is just wrong in every conceivable direction -- Ben has in a stroke created an organization ruled by fiat, bureaucracy and fear. If Tim is a problem -- if his team loathes him because he refuses to communicate -- they should solve that problem, instead of creating yet more problems by not only threatening Steve but encouraging him to use fear to lead his own organization. I think Ben's blog entry would be much more aptly titled "an awesome place to leave"...

This isn't just filling in your TPS reports. This is a manager completely failing at his job, making him fail his employees, and showing the failing of his manager.

I agree with the rest of what you're saying, but I think you're greatly understating the problem.

When one (of many) underlings falls far short on one (of many) company edicts and you don't know about it, that's not "completely failing" as a manager.

What is a manager doing without awareness of what is happening as it pertains to company priorities? Seriously, what is such a manager even doing?

To clarify, the person failing far short was Tim (the manager) not Steve (the manager's manager).

He's completely failing at his job if and only if his entire job is to ensure that the 1:1s occur, which would be just as bad as being "Steve" in the meeting described in the article.

He is completely failing because he did not meet one on one within 6 month? I must have worked with completely failing managers for my whole career over the last 16 years.

Well, there are a lot of completely failing managers out there, so that's plausible.

When I started managing people I read and thought a lot about what management was about, and who my good and bad managers were. I came to the same conclusion as Ben Horowitz did here: my main job was to make sure that my people were happy and had what they needed to get their jobs done. And that it was impossible to do that that without directly talking with them, one on one, on a regular basis.

Of course, that had absolutely no relation to the skills that got me to the point of managing people, so it's no surprise to me that many managers never figure that out.

No, he's completely failing because the CEO identified regular one-on-one's with team members as a high priority, and he wasn't doing it.

Please contrast with the executive management where you work because it would be nice to have some insight into what led up to recent decisions at Joyent.

It's even worse than that, the people that work for you will make their number one priority not getting fired.

I've worked at a company like that before. Management worked hard on whatever problem the CEO noticed last, while doing their best to hide any other problems from him.

As a manager you do much better at aligning everyone's interests so that your staff does what they want to do, which just happens to work towards the outcome you want. It's more about gentle course corrections ahead of time than grabbing the wheel from them.

This isn't a reactive problem resolution as you describe, it is a proactive endeavor. The tactic used could have been improved significantly, but the priority is very high for the CEO. There is a big difference in response from ignoring a lazy CEO/manager that jumps from fire to fire shouting, "This is the priority! This is the priority!" and one that wants to ensure his management team is focusing on employee contentment.

That's a false dilemma, and the CEO is the person who let it get to the point where the only option was to threaten to fire someone by surprise. I'm not sure how we can say that this was a high priority before Ben noticed it. Aren't the management team employees too?

A CEO can only act on information they have. Primarily directives are carried out by being followed down the chain. By not following something the CEO felt was important, the employee (manager is this case) is creating a problem. First they are ignoring desired direction. As a person in a management role, this basically means that they are not doing their job. Second, they are demonstrating that following direction doesn't matter. This was a serious issue for the CEO and it had to be dealt with.

The executive should have been made aware that this was an issue or fired, not threatened. That was a stupid move. If you have to threaten your employees, you have already failed as a leader.

Interesting response. I didn't see it as a threat but clearly it was a negative consequence. People who work for you should know what is expected (their 'job' as it were) and they should know if they are or aren't meeting the expectations of that job. Clearly in Ben's case he required that his managers meet with their people, and said as much, and one of his managers wasn't. Now this was complicated by the fact that it was a couple levels down from him, but he did communicate how he wanted his managers to manage, and then described the consequences of not managing that way.

That is why I didn't see it as a threat, I read it as Ben saying "Managers who work for me have 1:1s with their reports, if you have a manager who doesn't want to manage that way that is fine, they should work somewhere else."

So if you worked for Ben and thought 1:1s were "bullshit" then you ideally would already have had a discussion about that and either understood what he wanted or have already quit.

The bottom line is that Ben needed to be clear when his direction was 'optional' and when it was not. Clearly this was a time when it was not.

Relative to the title of the piece, do you think "Steve" left the meeting thinking that Opsware is "a good place to work?" How about during the meeting? I think there's a failure somewhere within the technique Ben employed to impart the values that he thinks are important, not to mention blindness to the possibility that he himself might be an obstacle in creating "a good place to work."

Its an excellent question. I know if I were "Steve" in this scenario I'd feel bad that I had so misread something that was very important to my boss. As with most things I would also be evaluating how I felt about it.

At Sun I worked briefly for a guy who was an incredible micro-manager. He would ask me to report on what my folks were doing, and then tell me what they should be doing so that I could meet the goals he had set out for me. I pushed back on that. My push back was that I felt I had a better handle on how to meet the goals than he did, I also recognized that if that wasn't something he could live with it was well within his rights to remove me (as I recall I even offered to proactively move at that point).

I completely agree with Ben's original assessment that part of making a place fun to work at is that you and your reports have a clear idea of what you're being asked to do, and your management supports your effort to get that done.

The part of this story that seems to trigger the most emotion is the notion that Ben brings this guy in, then drops this requirement on him with the consequence that if he doesn't do it in 24hrs he'll be out of a job. That level of clarity in direction is rare in my experience. It also read a bit like Ben was taking no responsibility for not communicating clearly the importance of this requirement. If I were Steve I would want to understand that better. But we don't know what sort of 1:1s that Ben and Steve had prior to this one. Perhaps it came up often and Steve made vague affirmative noises about how he would get around to it soon or something. And only after repeated nudges did Ben come out and make this clear delineation of behavior and consequence.

> The part of this story that seems to trigger the most emotion is the notion that Ben brings this guy in, then drops this requirement on him with the consequence that if he doesn't do it in 24hrs he'll be out of a job. That level of clarity in direction is rare in my experience. It also read a bit like Ben was taking no responsibility for not communicating clearly the importance of this requirement. If I were Steve I would want to understand that better. But we don't know what sort of 1:1s that Ben and Steve had prior to this one. Perhaps it came up often and Steve made vague affirmative noises about how he would get around to it soon or something. And only after repeated nudges did Ben come out and make this clear delineation of behavior and consequence.

That's technically possible, but that's pretty much opposite to how Ben himself told it. Here's the condensed version of the backstory:

> one day while I happily went about my job, it came to my attention that one of my managers hadn’t had a 1:1 with any of his employees in over six months... I did not expect this.

> I thought that leading by example would be the sure way to get the company to do what I wanted... why didn’t they pick up my good habits?

> Given the large number of things that we were trying to accomplish, managers couldn’t get to everything and came up with their own priorities. Apparently, this manager didn’t think that meeting with his people was all that important and I hadn’t explained to him why it was so important.

There is no hint at all of the situation you envision. That isn't to say you're definitely wrong, but you're certainly on shakier ground than Ed.

The base problem is that if you've resorted to threatening my job, there are two possibilities:

- You've genuinely exhausted all your other ideas and avenues for improving the situation. Obviously this means we aren't going to be seeing eye to eye. That means this job probably isn't worth either of our time anymore, unless one of us can come up with something that will drastically change our relationship for the better.

- This is what you resort to instead of thinking hard about how to fix problems. I don't want to work with you.

It's not about fairness, it's about fear. Fear isn't a good way to run a good company. In my opinion, of course.

"Fear isn't a good way to run a good company. In my opinion, of course."

Very true, and managers who can only manage with fear don't make for a great place to work.

I actually saw this happen once. A system admin (we'll call him Rick) I worked with had failed to get something installed, and it was going to cost the company thousands of dollars. (Not 10s of thousands, though.) The CEO/Owner told Rick that if he didn't get it installed within 24 hours (the actual deadline, not made up) then he was fired.

Rick installed the software (which took most of the 24 hours apparently: remote machine, hard to work with the hosting company, etc) and then quit, effective immediately. He was jobless for a while, but he eventually got a better job.

He really should have had it installed before that, but it wasn't his only job responsibility, and the system was really, really unstable at that point. Emergencies were a daily occurrence.

I stuck it out with the company. I wanted to have a few years experience on my resume before looking for another job, and they hadn't yet done anything like that to me.

The company's HR policies were pretty much exactly what you'd expect, after that occurrence. I managed to avoid most of it, but even simple things like vacation time were really painful.

Really? As a VP, this is your reaction? The CEO, your boss, just told you that it was his number one priority to make sure that the employees felt like it was a great place to work, and that your direct report employee was failing miserably to follow this policy, and you didn't seem to notice, even though it was covered by the basic management training provided by the company?

Meta: I hate that a silly comment like this gets so much attention only because it's the first comment.

(edit: By "first" I meant top of the page.)

Are you managing monkeys or are you managing highly competent human beings? Are your employees actually any good?

The whole exchange stank of condescension and patronization. This is a high-level exec at a company, his basic intelligence doesn't need to be questioned - he did not need the principle of 1:1's to be explained to him as if he were a child.

One of his direct reports is violating a very clear, established policy. "Steve" needs to fix it, pronto, and that's all that needed to be communicated. The whole pointlessly patronizing "lesson" in business and the direct threat to Steve's job was entirely unnecessary. It's unproductive and just plain power-posturing.

It's only necessary if your workforce is consisted entirely of slack-jawed yokels that need to be hand-held through the very job you hired them to do. If that's the case, you should fire yourself for having created an organization full of slack-jawed yokels.

Side note, from the article:

> "it’s personally very important to me that Opsware be a good company. It’s important to me that the people who spend 12 to 16 hours/day here, which is most of their waking life, have a good life"

Protip: if you want to have a good place to work, and your employees to have a good life, don't have 12-16 hour days.

I am willing to assume that the whole aggressive attitude stems not only from this encounter. I am willing to assume that it wasn't first time that Steve failed (for whatever reason) to make Ben happy.

Thus I agree that the whole rant was needless. If Steve was a repeat offender, then he and his underboss should just be fired on the spot and the reason for the termination should be explained to the rest of the company to reinforce the importance of the core values.

If this was one of Steve's within margin of error blunders, he should be explained the rules again and probably made charge of inspecting the status of adherence to this particular rule by the people within company.

This is my take.

How can I upvote this more, please?

> Protip: if you want to have a good place to work, and your employees to have a good life, don't have 12-16 hour days


> his number one priority to make sure that the employees felt like it was a great place to work

So what you are saying is that the CEO was failing to achieve is number 1 priority for 6 months, and the best he can do is expect that his managers resolve the problem in 24 hours or they get fired? This isn't just any old directive, this is his number 1 priority. If he's failed to do the most important thing for 6 months, then he has only himself to blame.

He said: "I thought that leading by example would be the sure way to get the company to do what I wanted."

If it was really that important, it wouldn't have taken 6 months to discover. What's more likely is that the CEO changes his mind, constantly refocusing on new important things.

The CEO of this story is filled with lies, deceit, incompetence, and ignorance. Emulate that? No, I have respect, at the very least, for myself.

It wasn't the first comment.

I've worked in the valley for 16 years for half a dozen companies, (Starting at Netscape in 1996) - I've also worked in Ben's organization (at Loudcloud/Opsware). Ben is the epitome of no bullshit management. He clearly establishes what he expects of his employees, and, if they fail to live up to his expectations because they decide his expectations are not a priority, he terminates them.

Working for Ben then becomes a pretty straight forward process - if Ben's priorities aren't yours, then it's time for another job. In the case of edw519 - if he is unhappy with being terminated because he's unwilling to make Ben's priorities his priorities, then he'll be soon working for a new company. The action/response equations couldn't be more simple.

Ben is also viewed by the vast majority of his employees, particularly the engineers, as one of the best CEOs they've ever worked for.

A good manager would have recognized your reaction against threat and have taken a different approach with you. Truth is, without knowing Steve or Ben and Steve's relationship with each other, it's hard to extract too much out of this line.

The executive ranks are full of people who prefer direct "do this or here's the consequence" talk. I personally prefer that. If it's really that important, then let me know with words that can't be misconstrued.

I like my leadership transparent and decisive. Sometimes that may come across as blunt and rude.

The "Are we clear?" -> "Crystal" exchange gives me an uncomfortable A Few Good Men vibe that reeks of Command and Control Management ( http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/08/08.html ).

The whole dialog between him and the manager gave me that vibe. He has the manager giving two- or three-word responses and non-responses like "Umm, well...." and then the CEO launches into a monologue. I don't see anywhere in the dialogue that he gave the manager a chance to explain his point of view. The dialogue is very unidirectional. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I'd say the CEO could probably try listening to his managers more and giving them orders less.

Or the conversation was an amalgamation of other situations designed to illustrate the point in the blog.

An actual conversation would probably have been more instructive but less clear.

I had thought about that possibility, or the possibility that the conversation that he wrote isn't exactly as it went. But I think that the conversation that he decided to write in the article is a reflection of his own mental processes. That is actually more telling about how he sees his manager than an actual conversation would be.

If, in the actual conversation, the manager tried to explain his point of view and the author instead made the manager out to be a buffoon in his story, I think it's indicative that he either (1) doesn't listen well (and therefor didn't recall what the manager said) or (2) doesn't respect his managers.

There are two different issues in play here.

One is the issue of micromanagement versus giving people the initiative to achieve the desired result. Ironically, even the military leans heavily on the side of initiative, if only because that's the only way you can effectively lead a large number of people. You only address the details that are important at your level in the chain of command. This takes dialogue and even a degree of pushback. You don't just say "I want to fly this many sorties per day" and punish people for not living up to that if it's unreasonable. They're expected to tell you it's impossible to maintain the aircraft on that kind of schedule.

There's also the separate issue of whether there's such a thing as non-negotiable orders. It seems clear to me that there has to be such a concept for any organization to work. It's even necessary for that to be the case in order for initiative and delegation to work. There will always be decisions made far above your pay grade, and the people who made those decisions can't delegate the details down the chain unless there's some assurance that the people down the chain won't deliberately sabotage the high-level decisions. That way lies politics and other bullshit.

In the OP's situation, both sides failed. The CEO made the high-level decision that 1:1's were mandatory. The VP's mistake was his failure to enforce the decision down the chain, and the manager's mistake was to silently ignore or disobey the decision. (If the manager disagreed and pushed back in the first place, it wouldn't have become a problem). When the CEO became aware that the manager was not holding the 1:1's, he was immediately forced to attend to details below his level. This wouldn't have happened had it been clear from the outset that the decision was not, at the present time, negotiable. By making that point, the CEO resets expectations and from then forward has regained the ability to delegate.

It mystifies me that a fairly unambiguous, direct decision made by the CEO (managers have regular 1:1s with their reports) can be interpreted as somehow optional or negotiable. If you're going to have a diva moment and quit because someone threatened to fire you for not doing your damn job (for the manager, holding the 1:1's--for the VP supervising that manager, holding the manager to the expectation of holding 1:1's), the company can go without you.

Viewed in isolation, your point makes sense. But in most start-ups (at least the ones I've worked for) there are multiple unambiguous decisions from the CEO along with a good number of ambiguous ones that are all deemed to be "top priority". You can't do them all and you don't know the weights that are assigned to each of the "top priorities" so you duck out on things that seem like lower priorities. In a typical chaotic startup company it wouldn't surprise me at all that something like regular 1:1 meetings with your manager could fall by the wayside.

I think that's the OP's point, though. Sometimes you have to clarify which decisions are unambiguous, not presently open to negotiation, and absolutely mandatory. If a decision has been perceived as something less than that, you need to clarify it. "This is your job, this is why it's important, and like everyone else in the world who doesn't have a damn good union, a sinecure, or serious blackmail on their boss, if you don't do your job you get fired."

There are many, many ways to clarify that this is important without threatening the man. If you jump straight to "blah blah blah in 24 hours or you're fired", that's just awful management. It is possible that Ben did not jump straight there, but that's certainly the way he tells it.

The 24 hours bit is a little harsh, but let's be honest here--saying "do this or be fired" is brutally honest, nothing worse. Any other way of putting it would just be a euphemism for "do this or be fired", and euphemisms are bullshit.

Just because a way of expressing is not the absolute rudest thing you could think of doesn't make it a euphemism. If anything, under normal circumstances, "Do this or be fired" is a dysphemism for just telling somebody to do something.

I mean, we're talking about a situation where clearly people hadn't been doing something they'd already been told to do, and somehow expected not to be fired over it.

It's actually not clear that they'd been told to do it (at least, not clearly) based on Ben's description of the situation. Nowhere does he say anything like "I'd talked to this guy about this before" — instead, he talks about how he leads by example and throws out lots of suggestions that he doesn't really expect to be followed.

All my top priorities are mandatory. All 18 of them. Especially if they are contradictory.

That's usually how it goes. No sense feeling angst about it.

So the job of a manager is just ensure that CEO's orders, no matter how stupid they may be are executed without any shadow of doubt, and no questions asked? By highly intelligent employees? That's some lame management and some lame company to be in.

It's also every employee's job to honestly and openly argue with anything that he finds stupid or unnecessary. If he doesn't speak up, or if he loses that argument, then yes, he is supposed to commit to the decision that's been made and execute it to the best of his ability.

Conversely, it's every senior employee's job to listen to these arguments in good faith and countermand his own bad decisions once they've been pointed out as such.

What isn't anyone's job, ever, is to receive instructions from above and silently ignore them. Especially in this particular example, a manager who hasn't had a 1:1 with any of his reports in half a year probably isn't some brave conscientious objector trying to hide from the oppression of the CEO, he's more likely a shitty manager and the people working for him would probably be glad to see him summarily fired in the first place.

No. The job of a manager is to take care of their people. If you aren't talking with your people, you can't possibly be taking care of them.

Yeah, I would have quit on the spot, too. Even though I agree with his overall message, and e "or you will be fired" is implicit. All he needed to do was say "making this a great place to work is my one goal" and any reasonable person would have jumped on it.

I wonder if their corporate culture at the time was so dysfunctional that threats were necessary for any response, in which case quitting is a great move anyway. Or maybe he is just trying to appear more badass for dramatic effect in a story.

(It's kind of like every time I had a rifle on a sling in a war zone, I never had to threaten anyone. You only threaten people when you have no power.)

This reminds me of the pointy haired boss, from Dilbert's cartoon.

How would you have handled it differently? We can all get handwavey and say, "I wouldn't let it happen on my watch!"

But, let's say it did happen. Something that you feel is fundamentally important to the companies core and culture hasn't occurred in six months, how do you handle it?

In general you talk about it. So if over the course of 6 months you have been raising the 'temperature' of the requirement with your report and not getting the results you want, then at some point you have to 'call the vote' as it were. You say "OK, we've talked about this for 6 months, you and I disagree clearly. Rather than waste any more time on this you have a choice to make, you either implement the policy as I've asked you to do or you go work somewhere else, which do you want to do?"

It would be a challenge if out of the blue you had to take this position, and generally as a report to the CEO you won't, although I could imagine that to Steve's manager its going to come as a huge surprise when Steve gives him the requirement that he meet with his employees or be fired, because clearly Steve hasn't been passing along this requirement. For that guy, the unnamed manager for Steve, its going to feel very arbitrary and I feel bad for him.

> How would you have handled it differently?

The way Ben had intended to - by explaining things. He ended up pulling authority and threatening to fire everybody involved, for some reason.

"Some reason" being that they were failing to do the job he had hired and trained them to do. Don't be a prima donna--many working people would get fired just for showing up 30 minutes late, what makes you think you're any more special than they are?

There is a massive difference between knowledge workers and hourly workers at Walmart. I have never met anyone in my life in the tech industry who would 'be fired for showing up 30 minutes late'. This isn't a minimum wage job where you can simply be replaced by the next idiot that walks in the door, so the norms are slightly different. If people want to manage highly skilled workers as if they were replaceable cogs they certainly can, I just suspect it will lead to them having a staff full of replaceable cogs and not much success.

No, there is no difference. Behind every occupation lies a human with dignity, just like you.

I wasn't speaking of a difference in basic humanity, I was speaking of a difference in skill level and options. I also wasn't trying to justify treating anyone poorly, but when your job takes a minimum of skills and you are easily replaceable then, realistically, you have less bargaining power than someone with a much higher skill level or cost of replacement. It would be nice if everyone treated everyone with basic respect and dignity, but on lower wage jobs (trust me, I have held a number of those prior to my going to college, which I did later in life than most peers) you are more easily replaceable because the skills necessary for the job are easily acquirable by most anyone. That translates into less understanding/leeway from a management perspective. This shouldn't be license for management to be a dick, but it does mean that things like getting written-up/disciplined for being 20 minutes late is the norm, whereas in my experience in the tech field being 'late' doesn't even make sense since there aren't really set hours (the presumption is you will get your work done by some deadline, regardless of what hours you choose to work in order to accomplish that). The idea that someone who expects to be treated like a competent adult is being a 'prima donna' is just a strawman insult used by management, likely due to insecurity which drives the need to try and pull power trips to 'show who's in charge'.

Thanks for elaborating.

> There is a massive difference between knowledge workers and hourly workers at Walmart. I have never met anyone in my life in the tech industry who would 'be fired for showing up 30 minutes late'.

There's a massive difference in that specific example, sure. Though not necessarily--lots of knowledge workers are on-call and expected to respond quickly to pages, and repeatedly missing the expected response time would be a firing offense.

But in any business, there are certain non-negotiable requirements that an employee has to meet to keep his job. Showing up on time may or may not be one of them, but the requirements exist. And while it's shitty for any manager to treat his workers as replaceable cogs (even at Wal-Mart--they don't exactly have the best retail employees), it's equally shitty for an individual worker to act like he's irreplaceable and that the rules don't apply to him. As I said, don't be a prima donna.

That sounds more like one gets exactly no chances to threaten you, but never mind your imprecise language.

These are managers we're talking about here, not workers. Middle managers have indirect, damped control over the quality of a company's output, but direct and leveraged influence over a company's culture. A bad middle manager can wreak havoc on morale, can pollute the talent well by hiring Bs and Cs and can drive the As away. Ben has stated clearly that his top priority is that culture; that kind of thing isn't said just once. These managers are both failing at implementing the CEO's wishes and he is right to hold them accountable.

Ben approached this well. He confronted Tim's boss - presumably higher paid, with all the extra trust and responsibility that implies - with a short, sharp shock and a restatement of his expectations. He phrased it in a way that makes his vision absolutely clear, then showed the consequences of failure. That boss should, if he's half decent, then have a very different meeting with Tim in which he asks why he couldn't have his one-on-ones, re-states the importance of them and provides either extra training or some resolution into the root cause of Tim's inability to hold the meetings. Tim's boss shouldn't be just passing Ben's threat of termination on like a hot potato; he should be resolving the situation.

I largely agree with your underlying message that a culture of fear is a bad thing for a company, but in this case Ben is right to wield a dirty great stick in front of his senior manager. He's doing it to protect the workers and the culture he's worked hard to build by holding his most privileged, trusted and influential staff accountable for their failure.

If the situation was that way fore 6mos before he noticed it, I think it's reasonable to speculate that "the culture he's worked hard to build" is at least partially imaginary in Ben's head.

This is an Executive at a big company not a regular employee.

He stated that he trains everyone to do these meetings and the Exec did not do so.

Yes. Lots of people here are engineers, and I wouldn't threaten an engineer like that, or as an engineer tolerate such a threat.

But this is management. You have different responsibilities. If being told to shape up or get fired makes you upset, don't go into management.

Agreed. They made a mistake and they should fix it, but firing people just for doing a single mistake isn't the right the way to go. Ben has treaten Steve and Tim bad with this response. Ben should have talked first to Steve and told him that he should have a 1:1 talk with Tim about the problemm, so they could figure out why Tim hadn't done any 1:1 talks with the team. Maybe he has a good reason and you could figure out a good solution to avoid this in the future.

I think that is an oversimplification. Winning overcomes a lot of things. Why did people put up with Steve jobs? Why do a lt of winning sports tems have angry shouting head coaches?

You are managing other people and you think it is reasonable never to meet with them? Why? On what basis do you even review their performance?

Threats will continue until we have A Good Place to Work.

He's just running his company with his gangsta glare and the gangsta rap.

I'd happily let you go. Who do you think you are?

A person with self respect, I'd imagine. There is no need for this kind of condescending, threatening behavior amongst professionals.

Although the CEO definitely did not need to act and word the encounter the way he did, I don't see this as a self respect issue. The employee failed to do something that the CEO trained him and required him to do for his job. The employee did not hold up his end of the deal, which means he was in the wrong, and at risk of getting fired. As you say, amongst professionals, one should do the things their boss asks.

Right, this behavior is to be reserved for the lower-level employees. Executives should all be chummy together against the employees.

Not a Marine at bootcamp, for one.

That's astonishingly childish.

"When Steve came into my office I asked him a question: “Steve, do you know why I came to work today?”

“Why did I bother waking up? Why did I bother coming in? If it was about the money, couldn’t I sell the company tomorrow and have more money than I ever wanted? I don’t want to be famous, in fact just the opposite. ”

Well, then why did I come to work.”

And on and on... Please...

My impression would've been, "why is this guy treating me like a 5 year old".

My approach (IMHO) would've been something like:

Me: "Steve, one of your managers isn't following company policy concerning 1 on 1 meets".

Steve: "Oh?".

I give Steve the managers name, "You'll take care of it?"

Steve: "Of course."

Me: "Thank you."

I give Steve the benefit of the doubt that he'll deal with it. No need for me, the CEO, to micromanage. Now if Steve doesn't deal with it, that's another matter.

Yeah, I don't understand either the story or the threat. It's as if the author was never _really_ a manager before.

I found that, unless I worded things very carefully, my directs tended to take honest questions as statements of decisions made. I had to go to great lengths for them not to take anything I said as both 1) an extremely urgent policy decision and 2) associated with a threat of termination/failure to advance their career.

The only thing that I can imagine is that this person's directs didn't respect him, forcing him to take this action. That's the only scenario I've seen managers need to "lay down the law."

Yeah. I am a huge fan of Ben. He has done brilliant insightful post after brilliant insightful such post. And there is undoubtedly an important point being made. But the way the story is told is incredibly patronizing. I hope this was simply rhetorical artifice rather than a blow by blow account of the meeting. I'm still a fan. Too much good stuff. But a little disappointed by the style tho not the substance.

There's also "Steve, you need to spend some time and diagnose how this happened. How did you not notice? Why wasn't it Tim's number one priority? How do we fix this situation, check that it isn't happening in the rest of the organization, and make sure it doesn't happen again?"

It is really weird. For six months the CEO didn't notice anything bad in the work place, no bad things happening that would make him think that is something is going very wrong.

Than, by chance, he notices that one of his employes isn't doing something he asked, for six months. Then he thinks "wow, this guy is ruining my work" and threatens to fire two workers if they don't fix it in 24 hours.

From any perspective, the OP came off looking really bad, and I doubt that people will feel better in such a work place... especially when word spreads that if you make mistakes you can be fired in 24 hours.

> For six months the CEO didn't notice anything bad in the work place...

Both he didn't put in place any controls and the required task was mostly useless. In such a situation I'd fire the CEO, because he mandates employees to waste company time. Each one hour 1:1 useless meeting wastes two hours!

Am I the only one who thinks wanting your employees to work at your company "12-16 hours a day" is surely not a mark of a good company. If I worked 16 hours a day, I know I'd not be having enough sleep to do useful work. I think I'd rather work with well balanced human beings, rather than obsessive, robotic workaholics...

I noticed that too. If employees feel the need to work a minimum of twelve hours a day, it's an indication of management problems that are much worse than someone skipping their one-on-one meetings. And if the CEO can say with a straight face "It’s important to me that the people who spend 12 to 16 hours/day here, which is most of their waking life, have a good life", that says a lot about what it was really like to work for his company. (Opsware no longer exists as such; it was bought by HP in 2007. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opsware])

Nope that was the first thing that struck me as odd about the post.

Same here. Overall the piece left me with impression that Ben is a horrible boss and manager and his company is not a good place to work.

He never said it (working 12~16 hours) was expected of his employees, but it is most probable that this is part of the startup culture "thing". I work for a big tech company, but being the second in command, I've worked with my boss to establish a culture that even though it has a lot of the startup usual hardcore-ness, is also full of benefits. Here I am, working on a Saturday at 6:30 pm... I've done pretty much a 66 hour work week this week. I've done so because I care enough about the company and our products to want (this here being the keyword) to finish a series of tasks (some of which are improvements I've myself tasked my person with, not bug tickets or feature requests) I deem needed for the continuous improvement of the software. I've also had weeks where I spent around 20 hours (2 days) helping out IT to solve some tricky architecture + linux challenges the company was having (my role as a application UX and frontend wizard, doesn't mean I'm not also the "I love to create algorithms for our backend" and "local linux mastermind" roles) - and then left on a trip to camp until the next week.

This time I took off was not discounted from my pay, frowned upon, or taken out of official vacation time. It was just the company telling me that they appreciate all the effort I put in and that they respect my decision making regarding how I spend my time on the company clock, be it working unpaid overtime, or taking a few days to decompress. For me that is the real good company startup culture. The company gives me the freedom to stay late and to leave early, gives me the tools I need to be productive and doesn't force me into preset managerial roles that don't really do anything to increase productivity or facilitate increased code throughput, and gives me the trust that I'm going to achieve what my responsibilities require however I see fit.

Am I a workaholic? Not a chance. I once worked almost 50 hours straight, not because I "want to work", but because I had a challenge I wanted to solve. I solved it and I went home to sleep and took a personal day (once again not unpaid or taken out of any "special time") after that. I'm not the usual geek slash programmer. I enjoy going to the gym and having one too many beers with my friends. I enjoy bar hopping and pickup up girls at clubs. I also enjoy coding, and if I weren't spending 4 to 6 extra hours at work writing code, I'd be doing it at home.

We have two rules in Zoho Corp:

1. To evaluate a team member's contribution fairly, every manager has to really know the person well. In other words, no "fly-by-night" form-filling performance reviews!

2. No negatives surprises during a performance review.

These two together mandate that every manager spend a great deal of time with the people who work for them and bring up any negatives on a timely basis so the team member has an opportunity to correct them rather than being inflicted a negative surprise.

So I agree on the importance of regular 1-on-1's. Having said that, I am not sure I really like the tone of Ben's conversation with his manager. First of all, I find this yes/no style insulting to an intelligent person on the other side, and second, if the managers in question were valuable to the organization (which should be the presumption here), it is odd to think the CEO would threaten to fire them so readily. I would not expect an intelligent and self-respecting person to work under those terms - I know I would not.

I (and my partner) have one rule: respect.

Everyone is treated with respect. I personally would've never "talk down" to an employee like this Ben guy did. And frankly, we expect our employees to act them same (and most do - the ones who don't don't last long here).

And the second rule is to fix typos before posting. :) Sorry all.

So if your managers are totally failing the employees they are managing... you cannot seriously correct them?

But presumably you expect the employees to take serious correction. So this really reduces to an unspoken code that management shouldn't be treated this way.

You can correct somebody respectfully. I think Ben could have had exactly the same outcome without coming across as a jerk.

I'm not judging Ben either way here; sometimes a situation requires being a jerk. But the more managing I do, the more I believe that if a manager has to be a jerk it's because they've messed something up elsewhere.

I'm no management type, and maybe that's the difference here, but I would not have lectured this guy like that. As a perpetual underling, being subjected to a litany of leading and loaded questions to which one is expected only to "yes/no," in an gladhanding way, I read this post and thought "look, just get to the point." That's not managing, it's haranguing, and it's not good for people. Well it is managing, but in that 50s-60s style. Is this what Opsware is going for?

"Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way."

Clearly, my authority alone was not enough to get them to do what I wanted.

If you want to learn how to manage people, accept that authority is an illusion. If you realize people do what you'd like not because of your position but because of who you and are and how you act, you'll discover much more effective means of leading.

Clearly we respond to authority for authority's sake. Benevolent dictator and all that. But if your leadership style depends on your subordinate's perception of your power, it says more about you than it does about your subordinate.

I wouldn't say that "authority" is an illusion, but it's absolutely true that (except for a small amount) it doesn't come from your position in the hierarchy. It comes from how you act and what you do.

I've written a bit about this here, calling it "credibility capital": http://jasonlefkowitz.net/2003/03/where_leaders_f_1/

For the record, I wouldn't say as a single declarative that "authority is an illusion"...I suggested that one accepts that it is. There is a preponderance of evidence demonstrating that we are quite capable of accepting things that aren't true. I'm merely proposing that doing so gives you another perspective on the source of your authority.

Fear vs love right, ala The Prince. I think the lesson is that people respect fear and that love will only get you so far, but that a bit of both is needed.

Machiavelli was writing to someone with a kind of absolute power that business folks simply do not have and thus a large swath of his advice is simply not applicable.

The entire Fear vs. Love discussion, iirc, makes the argument that fear is preferable as you control if people fear you, whereas individuals decide whom they love. As such Machiavelli proposes fear is superior for means of maintaing control as it is something you can directly create/control. This clearly doesn't apply to modern business as you can't impart massive, fear-inducing bouts of violence on people (which, btw, was what Machiavelli generally prescribed for a prince to keep the underlings in check) and anyone that has any talent at all isn't really in fear of you firing them. Contrast this with the situation during the time Machiavelli lived/wrote where most people were very directly affected by every whim of the ruling powers and there were no good alternatives (i.e. 'just move somewhere else' wasn't really a feasible option for most, and 'find another prince' certainly wasn't either).

It further ignores the fact that while people do choose whom they love/like they don't just change those allegiances arbitrarily, it is generally preceded by actions, such as being a massive douchebag / trying to pull rank or play silly power games to show 'who's in charge'.

Edit: grammar

As I get older I start thinking that Machiavelli and Sun Tzu are too popular in the business world for their own good, bordering on poison.

I think the underlying problem is people are hardwired to try and exert dominance. Evolutionarily it makes sense that there is desire for exerting dominance, and even in modern society the 'higher up' the ladder you are, generally, the better your life is.

Unfortunately in modern society most traditional methods of ‘exerting dominance’ are generally frowned upon/not conducive to civilized co-existence. So people have redirected this basic drive into dominance in business, and then they use writings by ancient strategists to justify what is basically anti-social behavior. I think applying either Machiavelli or Sun-Tzu’s writings today in totality would make you a pretty horrific person by the standards of modern civilization.

Machiavelli/Sun Tzu wrote reasonable treatises on monarchial rule and actual war (business != war, as much as some macho 'business warriors' want to pretend), but the overbroad application/translation into business practices is questionable at best.

The problem is that the people most likely to try and justify actions based on their teachings are the ones that are also least likely to understand the context in which they wrote and the non-applicability of their lessons to business in this day and age.

people are hardwired to try and exert dominance

I don't agree, and I think this is a canard promulgated by those who benefit from it: those who are taught or inclined to believe that domination is a good way to get around in life.

Wouldn't Ben have known that the manager wasn't conducting the mandatory "1:1" meetings with employees if Ben had regular "1:1" meetings with the next lower tier of management? The double standard irks me. Lead by example, not by intimidation.

Not necessarily. Sounds like Ben was doing 1:1s with Steve and Steve wasn't aware of the problem. If Ben never thought to ask Steve it wouldn't have come up. As CEO (with 100s of things to think about) its entirely understandable that Ben forgot to ask Steve whether his managers were having 1:1s for 6 months.

I believe by 'next lower tier' he was talking about Steve's reports. Realistically the CEO can't meet with everyone in the entire company constantly, but it is a very good idea to have occasional 'skip-level' meetings with your direct report's direct reports (and in a reasonably hierarchical company the number of direct reports to a VP is likely small enough that Ben could do this once and awhile). If not you risk forming a view of the world that is fed entirely by your direct reports, who are more than likely telling you what they think you want to hear, which may or may not correspond with reality as seen at the lower levels of the orginization. It seems nowhere in Ben's 1:1's with Steve did he ever inquire about Steve's 1:1's with his reports, or if he did Steve never bothered to do the same with his reports, otherwise this oversight would have likely surfaced far before 6 months of no 1:1's had passed.

Steve doesn't have 100s of things to think about?

That's the troubling part. Even when Ben came to know that Tim was not conducting 1:1s, his first instinct should be to know why 1:1s were not happening. He could've asked Steve or even Tim. Maybe Tim had a different way of knowing and talking to his employees, maybe he figured out a better mechanism to connect with his employees. Wouldn't Ben want to know about it?

Great observation.

This was the most striking part of it for me.

He seems like a massive douche.

It seems that most people on the thread skipped most of the post and focused entirely on the firing part, so I'll clarify what I wrote.

First, the post isn't about 1:1s. 1:1s were just our way of doing things at Opsware. Other companies have other ways of doing things. It was about whether or not people who worked at the company received any guidance, context, or feedback.

Second, the point of the conversation was to focus the executive on what the environment was like for employees (as opposed to managers and executives). In general, I believe that is important to optimize for the feelings of the people doing the work rather than the people doing the management. If you optimize for managers, then you get what you get.

Finally, 1:1s were a huge point of emphasis in the company from the initial training through everything that we discussed as a team. Not ever meeting with your people in this context basically meant that you cared nothing about your employees. If you read the entire post, you should get that.

Having said that, for whatever reason I didn't make things clear to every manager in the company (my fault). The point of the conversation was clarity. The firing comment was to emphasize the importance of the employees vs. the executives.

It's fine with me if you hate it, but you should probably try to understand it first. Finally, fwiw, I still talk to Steve every week and he's done extremely well in his career. This did turn out to be clarifying for him and we'd worked together for 7 years at the time of the conversation, so there was quite a bit of context.

Finally, there were 600 people in the company at the time and only one manager that wasn't having regular 1:1s. It's interesting to me that most people on this thread think that it's not a serious matter to let people come to work with zero guidance or feedback. In fact, it's just fine. What's really bad is making clear what's acceptable and unacceptable management. Hmmm.

If you ever have to motivate people without venture capital to buy their allegiance you're going to find that your management style is self-defeating.

Insisting that people who already work 12-16 hours daily pile on yet more meetings (and in the name of a healthy work environment!) is not reasonable. Nor is threatening to fire a subordinate on short notice for the behavior of his subordinate unless you are prepared to resign yourself if the problem is not fixed in the same timeline.

For everyone here, the real lesson is that as long as you pay well, you can tread more liberally on other people's pride. The ups-and-downs of startup life make everyone act poorly from time to time, so this is useful to remember. But as a conscious management style? This sort of behavior is venomous in smaller groups motivated by other factors. It will destroy your team.

I don't think it's that people skipped the rest of it but that they totally agreed with the importance of 1:1s, positive work environment for engineers, value of engineers vs. management, etc. I still wouldn't communicate the importance of individual contributors vs. management to a manager by threatening to fire him over what was partially my fault for not having adequate reporting from my direct reports, when there are so many other ways to communicate that importance. But maybe with a specific person you've worked with for 7 years, it could be the best way to communicate. I would not want to be in a relationship like that.

(also, wow, welcome to hn! love your essays on Rap Genius!)

I totally got what you were saying, communicating the why, the purpose of the company is essential in order to be great.

Unfortunately, your post triggered a HN immune response because the tactics you cited don't work with everyone. Just one of the current limitations of public writing, you can't choose your audience or personalize the context.

When stories like this involve lower-level employees such as programmers, I think HN's response has invariably been to favor the superior, with whom an entrepreneur who 'doesn't code any more' can identify more readily.

But in this story, a manager of managers was getting disciplined and the response is very angry.

From which I would infer that a lot of HN is at a similar level to the guy who was disciplined.

BTW, from the story, the guy who was disciplined handled it extremely professionally and I would not be surprised to hear he was good to work with from both sides.

I almost agree with you, but as you yourself point out:

[F]or whatever reason I didn't make things clear to every manager in the company (my fault)

I think that if you had acknowledged your responsibility for this aspect of the situation at the same time you were making your priorities clear to Steve, the conversation would have had a somewhat different tone without loss of impact.

Purely from a writing perspective, I think you set yourself up for this reaction.

This post is about respect for employees, and you spend a bunch of it questioning your behavior. You wonder if you're modeling the right behaviors. You ask explicitly, "Had I yelled at them one time too many?"

Then in the dialog you write yourself up as a condescending jerk who is out to scare somebody. The contrast is sharp, and you don't really justify the narrative shift.

Now as both a worker and a manager, I know that an occasional touch of fear can be a good thing. But I also know that it has to be very occasional, and as a manager I work how to figure out how I let a situation slide to the point where fear was necessary. So I know a scene like this can be justified.

However, you don't really justify it here, especially given that much of your actual audience will identify with the employee characters, not your character.

Thanks for writing this. I was part of an startup that got acquired, put into a satellite office, and then went through several management changes - and with it a lack of 1:1's.

As an employee formerly in this situation for almost a year, it really sucks. It makes you really less productive, and made me start making my own agenda instead of bothering to collaborate.

While I agree with Ben's thoughts on good companies in general, I don't think he's really grasped how to make companies good himself (or if he has, it certainly doesn't come through in this story).

1:1 meetings are good, but they're just the tip of the iceberg. A far more beneficial way to make a good company is to make sure that when people fail, they are made to understand that failure and its significance in a manner that is both helpful and non-threatening. Long speeches filled with loaded questions and firing threats are the exact opposite of that.

Even the mention of firing someone should be treated like brandishing a gun. Don't bring it out unless you're about to use it.

I think people put way too much emphasis on 1:1's- Way too much time and focus is spent on 'what did you do last week' and what to do the next week. This sort of observation & discussion should happen daily and feedback should be immediate.

As a manager 90% of my 1:1's would be 10 minutes of idle chat- because we were constantly aware of what was expected and how we were delivering. Of course I always forced the meetings, just in case employee had something to get off their chest.

> "Of course I always forced the meetings, just in case employee had something to get off their chest."

This is the only benefit of 1:1's. Status updates and general progress tracking should be baked into your every day processes.

And here's the important part: 1:1's must absolutely be off the record. It is a safe place for an employee to voice his/her grievances and concerns without repercussion. Your workplace should already be open and respectful enough that people can voice almost all problems publicly with the rest of the team - which means by default any problem that will be touched on in a 1:1 is sensitive and needs to be treated as such.

I've seen so many places where this has failed dramatically. If you keep 1:1's on-record and the contents open, you will get blindsided by the things your employees are uncomfortable bringing up in the open.

I think Rands wrote about this. 1:1's are not supposed to be about status updates: http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2010/09/22/the_update_...

This sort of observation & discussion should happen daily and feedback should be immediate

Of course! But, that doesn't always happen. The 1:1 is an attempt to ensure that, to some degree, the subordinate and superior get at least a little of said discussion regularly.

> in case employee had something to get off their chest

1:1's offer a consistent opportunity for dialog if there is ever a mishap, broken process or impending event to talk about.

Opportunity is the key word - it doesn't necessarily mean it's crucial information being exchanged every time.

>“In a poor organization, on the other hand, people spend much of their time fighting organizational boundaries, infighting and broken processes. They are not even clear on what their jobs are, so there is no way to know if they are getting the job done or not. In the miracle case that they work ridiculous hours and get the job done, they have no idea what it means for the company or their careers. To make it all much worse and rub salt in the wound, when they finally work up the courage to tell management how fucked up their situation is, management denies there is a problem, then defends the status quo, then ignores the problem.”

This is a fantastic description of an awful workplace.

This is a description of every workplace. If the organization isn't as described here, the job probably doesn't pay very much.

I don't understand why high pay has to come with a toxic workplace.

Supply and demand. If a workplace has high pay and is good (the minority of workplaces), people will flood there from high pay and toxic workplace. As a result the majority of available high pay workplaces will be toxic.

Someday through historical echo transcription (YC14 perhaps), the real transcript will emerge...

Me: Hi Steve, remember how I asked all the managers to me with their direct reports 1-on-1 at least once every six months.

Steve: No, when was that?

Me: Never mind. I heard that Tim didn't do that.

Steve: Do what?

Me: Meet with his direct reports. 1-on-1.

Steve: Oh yeah. Reminds me, great Celtics game last night, huh?

Me: I tivo'd it and caught the last 5 minutes live. Saves a shitload of time wasted on commercials. Cable is gonna die a painful death. What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Please tell Tim to follow up or I will be pissed.

Steve: Sure you don't want to tell him yourself? He never listens to me.

Me: OK, maybe tomorrow. Remind me in 24 hours.

I'm nowhere near Ben's experience and don't fully understand the challenges of layers of management yet, but positive energy (clear objectives and highlighting success to the group) has always worked better for me than negative energy (threatening to fire). Maybe it's specific to the workplace, but I think it'd prefer the former as a leader or employee.

Agree the "why" is key to buy-in and success. But leaders need to coach not command. 1:1s and firing can be necessary, but only after the CEO has done a great job of setting clear objectives that everyone buys into. It's also ideal when people hold themselves accountable versus a leader having to (e.g. report at group meetings).

As a data point, Jeff Bezos, who Ben references, apparently doesn't like 1:1s. He prefers group meetings so everyone gets on the same page and to avoid "the telephone game." [source - Bing Gordon's 2011 talk at the Endeavor Summit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdTaywChuYM]

His interaction with Steve lost my attention that he had anything valid to say. Probably the reason his employees aren't doing what he feels they need to. He also spent zero time finding out how that manager was working with his team. It's pretty dis-empowering to have someone tell you how you need to work with, and run your team, and expect a great work environment.

The goal behind the 1:1s is apparently building "a good place to work." In the conclusion Ben mentions Bill Campbell and GO. Yet, there is no discussion of how Bill made GO such a great place. 1:1s aren't mentioned. Is the 1:1 process what made GO such a great place to work?

Having an arbitrary rule like that doesn't engender a great work environment. Different people have different ways of working. Different managers have different managerial styles. It may be that Tim preferred to have honest conversations over a coffee or a beer, and that he met informally with his reports all the time in the hallways and by the whiteboard.

Yes, Horowitz sounds like a total asshole. But I have a feeling it didn't go down quite like this, but rather the conversation and overall tone have been fictionalized to better illustrate the underlying message of this post: proper management and organization are crucial for a good work environment. I couldn't agree more. Management is one of those things that seems easily in theory, but is really tough to nail in practice.

Or Horowitz sees himself as a Swashbuckling Captain of Industry, so it's been fictionalized to better illustrate his internal conception of what a Swashbuckling Captain of Industry should sound like.

Right, but the criticism I'm reading here is entirely to do with what he thinks "proper management" is. The only saving grace in this whole thing is the possibility that he did paraphrase the meeting and that it did go much more nicely. Why someone would take an event like that and portray it like was done here belies Hanlon.

Blacklist another VC here. And he is supposed to be one of the better ones...

You are blacklisting someone because he reports being harsh with a subordinate who was not doing his job?

Luckily, VCs don't really get to tell you how to run a company.

I'm quite certain someone who holds a very large equity share in your company and who has enormous influence over your future prospects at funding, can really tell you how to run a company.

A VC is really unlikely to get involved with the details of how your corporate culture works, provided the business works. The board-level decision they could ultimately force is replacement of founders/CEO, corporate events (financing, M&A, etc.), and really high level strategy.

Wait, is this guy the A16z Horowitz? Not a time to flout obnoxiousness and ruthless disregard for staff, in the middle of the OnLive situation.

Yes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Horowitz -- "Known for: Co-Founder of Opsware [the company being written about in the article] and Andreessen Horowitz".

I've stayed away from management my entire life because I assess my own management-talent as so low, and even I can know this isn't how you do it. Managing by fear does not make for a pleasant job experience!

I'm very curious: what metric do you use to assess your management-talent as low?

As a programmer, I used to believe I wouldn't be a good manager, but I'm currently making a run at it and it turns out I'm better than I thought I'd be.

Personally, I would have asked WHY he didn't know this, because the events that led up to the current situation are almost certainly bigger than the fact itself.

And then: fire or not fire the guy - at a small startup you have no time to rehabilitate people. It's just too expensive.

(Personally, I am not a big fan of threats. This isn't something that has come up at work much, though.)

That was a horrible style of management. I would never listen to this guy, either.

I would never buy from Opsware until Horowitz is gone.

I don't think you have much to worry about. He happily sold it in 2007.


I think people are not getting the point of the parable inherent in this article if the only things that come out of reading the blog post are "Ohh 12 to 16 hours of work" or "I would quit because I got threatened".

The focus should not be in the way the situation was handled, but in the priorities displayed by the author. Could he have handled the situation better than to voice a harsh requirement which if not met would result in termination? The answer is obviously a huge "YES". Now take into account that the administrative team have been told that one if their main objectives is not to be "classical" bossy managers, but to be the main conduit of incentives and communication between the company and it's employees to ensure the productiveness and happiness of the cogs that move the company forward.

This is not about reprimanding a manager because he did not turn a report on time - which by the way should be handled by asking the reason and though process of the manager's decision to use time for something else he deems more important. This is about a manager not being able to fulfill one of the KEY objectives stablished by the company's head honcho. If you're always trying to nicely get people to do what you say and it doesn't work, sometimes you have to resort to drastic measures.

In this story, both Tim and Steve failed to accomplish a goal that had long been stablished to have a high priority. It's akin to a sales person not selling, or to a programmer not doing his programming quota. There is something wrong with the machine, and one cog not working correctly can bring said machine down to the ground. I think that he should have asked why things aren't getting done first before resorting to drastic monologues, but at the end of the day drastic monologues are sometimes the only way to push, incentive, or realign a rogue "cog". At the very list I'd prefer to hear "You're not doing your job correctly because of A, B, and C. Either you fix it or your out!" than "You're just not working out for the company, and no I wont tell you why... Oh and I'm replacing you so pack your things..."

Interesting to note the comments here, compared to comments about Steve Jobs, who by most accounts had a similar communication style.

what surprises me are not the comments here but the comments about steve jobs. sure, the guy did a lot, but from all accounts he is someone i would never work for, and i'm pretty sure most of the hn crowd would hate working for in actual practice.

what an asshole

Overall a great article and a great point. I've always argued that most of us learn more from our failures than out successes. I've had both, but I've always felt like I walked away learning much more after a failure.

Being good to your employees involves so many things but listening to them should at the very top of the list. You could easily make the argument the most important aspect of any business is its workforce.

While customers are often regarded as such it's rare that you actually achieve customer acquisition success unless you have a happy workforce willing to help and wanting your company to succeed.

I consider this the "happy wife, happy life" of business

Steve, do you know why I came to work today? ...

Gawd. Fuck the walk in the park and get to the point. And no, straightforward management should not preclude respect.

Maybe I am ignorant to the meaning of 1-1 meetings. Doesn't that mean that only two people meet in a room with no one else to listen in? Usually as a performance review? This does not cover regular team meetings with more that one member?

I used to distinctly not look forward to most formal 1:1's with my management. Upon reflection, this may in good part have been because in that setting, I could not simply ignore and tune out the bullshit that was being shoveled at me.

Real meetings -- fine. Mandated 1:1's. Propaganda. All the sadder when both parties know this but -- for legal reasons if no other -- have to talk around it.

I'm sure it's different in other workplaces. Some workplaces.

P.S. In my last corporate gig, 1:1's were very much about establishing a formal record for HR purposes. After you'd been through a few, and watched any substantive comments and feedback you made go nowhere, you figured it out.

P.P.S. Reading through it now, the OP post seems very self-contradictory. E.g.

Me: “Well, let me explain. I came to work, because it’s personally very important to me that Opsware be a good company. It’s important to me that the people who spend 12 to 16 hours/day here, which is most of their waking life, have a good life. It’s why I come to work.”


“In a poor organization, on the other hand, people spend much of their time fighting organizational boundaries, infighting and broken processes. They are not even clear on what their jobs are, so there is no way to know if they are getting the job done or not. In the miracle case that they work ridiculous hours and get the job done, they have no idea what it means for the company or their careers. To make it all much worse and rub salt in the wound, when they finally work up the courage to tell management how fucked up their situation is, management denies there is a problem, then defends the status quo, then ignores the problem.”

Explain to me the value of cramming one more meeting into the day of an employee who's already working "12 - 16 hours"?

And, after six months, if "Tim's" department hasn't 'blown up', maybe your first question (to self, to Tim) should be "Why?". Maybe Tim knows something you don't.

When was your last 1:1 with Tim?

What did you discuss in your last 1:1 with Tim's manager.

Per the OP post, Ben has been very successful. ("If it was about the money, couldn’t I sell the company tomorrow and have more money than I ever wanted?")

Well, there are a lot of successful assholes out there.

Well, let me explain. I came to work, because it’s personally very important to me that Opsware be a good company.

Why? And how do you define that, when you are working people 12 - 16 hours per day?

I don't know Ben, and circumstances could differ from the following, but one way to read this post is as being stuffed full of ego.

Good. You keep using that word. I do not think that it means what you think it means.

Sadly, this whole discussion missed the point of the post, which is probably a pretty good argument for writing it in a different way. Having said that, many people got the point and didn't get balled up in this detail. The point of the post was that either being a good company is a priority or it is not. If it's not a priority, there's very little chance that it will happen. Further, if people don't understand both why it's a priority and how high the priority is, it won't happen. The controversial line about firing Steve and Tim was intended to be a colorful way to bring sharp clarity to what had evidently been a fuzzy priority. I tend to value clarity over sensitivity, but that's obviously not universal.

In terms of whether or not it was right to "clarify" things to Steve that way, I really did not provide enough context in the post to answer that question. However, implicit in the communication was me prioritizing the employees of the company over the managers and executives. Specifically, if you don't hold managers strongly accountable for management, then the employees will suffer which in my opinion is worse than executives getting their feelings hurt.

For whatever it's worth, I never wrote and I never asked anybody to work 12 or 16 hours a day. I never asked anybody to work any specific number of hours. However, many people did and it was important to me that we respect the effort.

The firing line was intended to come across as the very last straw. After training, after many conversations, after performance reviews, if I still couldn't get them to take management seriously then this was to be the last conversation before making a change. If I didn't hold managers accountable to that, then I should be fired as well-- no question about that.

Firing as a motivational tool to foster open communication. That is priceless. Key learning for me is to avoid working with people who think this is a good idea.

Hmm, I doubt you had to threaten to fire them... Asking would have probably gotten the job done. If it kept happening, then I suppose you could promise disciplinary action and firing as a last resort.

Now your managers are looking for another job (they will quit) because they don't want a jerk for a boss (who wins here).

Another key is people should be held accountable. A lot of people structure their teams with loose accountability, it becomes detrimental to everyone.

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