May 3rd, 2023 Hiring for a burn-out free organization By Jeffrey M. Barber

I have been bingeing Suits. It’s a predictably dramatic show that’s just popcorn. However, it does make me yearn for the hard-core life. I miss working 12+ hour days getting shit done.

For me, the problem with work is never the grind, it’s the lack of creative control, duct-tape everywhere, lame compromises, and slowness of corporate life. Start-ups can be fun, but I’m not a fan of binding myself to yet another mission outside of my control. I like to come and go in waves. There is great satisfaction in an 80 hour week where you see the results of your labor. On the flip side, it can be fantastic to wake up at noon, play a dumb game, and end the evening with the wife.

We are not machines.

Freedom and autonomy are worthy goals for an organization. The proposition for employees is that rather than turning themselves into a cog for some machine, they just need to commit to some minimum volume of work. In my prior post, the model is that being an employee requires performing $Y of work for $X in compensation where $Y is mark-up on $X for benefits. Everything beyond $Y is available for the employee to either take home or re-invest. The one rule is that you must use Adama, and the organizational mental model is that of a guild.

The other organizational goal is mastery which requires creating a pipeline of work to help the young go from novice to practitioner. This is where I connect back to Suits which has a structure of associate-$year, partner, senior partner, managing partner. I’m not sure how real this structure is as I haven’t researched it deeply enough, but I like the model well enough to be inspired.

The progression of first-year associate to fifth-year associate mirrors a good journey of understanding in a career. Even after taking college, it generally takes another couple of years to become any good. I’ve helped shepherd many college kids to their first promotion, and it’s a great day. At a certain point, the game changes from doing work towards leadership or exceptional skill depth.

However, I also believe that a college degree is not be required for life success, and I believe in giving chances to everyone. There is a good question on how to open the door to people without the traditional credentials. My aspiration is that my organization can help the eager grind such that they can learn many important life lessons to thrive in this world.

This means I need to start at the ground floor and work with people just after graduating high school. At the same time, I also want to provide opportunities to people that want to re-tool or downshift. With this in mind, I’ve got a initial draft on the core career ladder, and I want progression to be fairly simple without anxiety.

Title Base Compensation Promotion Target
Associate I $40,000 n/a
Associate II $45,000 $75,000
Associate III $50,000 $110,000
Associate IV $60,000 $150,000
Associate V $75,000 $190,000
Partner Minor Equity Stake $200,000 + $100,000 buy-in + senior partner vote
Senior Partner Major Equity Stake $500,000 + $500,000 buy-in + managing partner agree
Managing Partner n/a (you’re not me) n/a

This ladder was designed with the goal of being a place where exceptional talent can enjoy their life while sharing their talents however they want. The core aspect of work life that I miss is mentoring people to blow past their limits.

At the same time, the ladder is aggressive enough such that a high school student without a track record can develop a track record. In life, the important thing isn’t your credentials; instead, what is important is your ability to deliver value for others.

Beyond life flexibility, the gap between the minimum and the next level promotion also creates an innovation zone where people can solve meta problems. Meta problems transition bulk grindy work for meaty intellectual work, and instead of people trying to drive a bargain to invest in some innovative solution to a meta problem. I want people to have the freedom and courage to explore an innovation without permission, and they risk the gap for potential massive reward. If an innovation is good, then it must help more work get done to drive results; results come with benefits.

I’m happy with this as a philosophical construct, but it is time to get concrete. The remaining problem I have, at core, is constructing the front door to find and validate good applicants. This is a hard problem, but it’s what is next in the macro game.