There Are No Competitors
It's very easy to do the right thing in business. It's actually so much easier to do it because there is not much competition when it comes to doing the right thing. Surprised? Keep reading.
The New Mindset
One thing we've done at almost every project we have undertaken is to go train the technical team, not only the ones working for the client (their full-time employees), but also the contractors working for the client from other consulting companies (what you would otherwise call the competition). By now you are probably wondering, why do we do that? The reason is simple: We believe there is no competition.
How can that be? Our goal is to make the client successful, make the stakeholders who rely on us successful, and the project we work on successful. How can we do that if other technical people are not trained and brought to an above average level for the sake of the client and the good of the project? Imagine our team comes in to do the heavy lifting and a bunch of other consultants are adding buggy code or not testing it properly. Imagine a lack of automation in the project ending up in prolonged deadlines. How does this help anyone?
Once part of the team, every individual has the power to contribute to the success as well as the failure. The mantra of success is in making everyone better with each passing day. It's not an easy job; however, we have been fortunate in this philosophy. We look at people as people and not as bodies filling a job slot. We look at our competitors as part of our team.
Remove Sales Goals
It's interesting that we don't really see this type of thinking in the industry much. Have you ever wondered why there are so much corporate politics? I think politics is one of the biggest reasons for the failure of projects. The big reason we have politics is because conflicts of interest exist amongst the team. Take an example of a salesperson working for a vendor who is given the goal of working with one client. He/she is told to increase that revenue. Most companies have quarterly as well as yearly goals. Believe it or not, I have personally heard of salespeople complaining about their companies holding them to even monthly goals!
So now, how does that goal work in real life? The client wants a certain project done by three people in three months, but the salesperson is incentivized based on the growth of the number of people on the team and the duration of the project. So in order to meet the numbers, it's very likely the salesperson might want to increase the number of personnel from three to six. What if the project is completed in three months? The salesperson hit the goals for the first quarter, but is now having to start from scratch for the next one. No one likes to do that. So, it's in his interest to not actually finish the project. Are you starting to see the problem?
I could go on with examples such as this, but the bottom line is that their growth is antagonistic to client's success. How will that ever work? How do we, Cazton, Inc., overcome that problem? Well very simply: we don't have salespeople and we actually don't have quarterly, monthly or even annual goals. Our one goal is simple and straightforward: Do the right thing for the client. Are we growing despite not having sales goals? Yes, we grew close to 10x in just the past three years. It's amazing what you can accomplish by aligning your goals with your client and the team and getting the other stuff out of the way.
Don't Get Bogged Down in the Margin
Have you ever had a recruiter call you and try to low ball you on the rate? Have you ever been told they can't do that particular rate? Do you know that most public recruiting companies are supposed to make at least 30-40% profit? In fact, I've had some salespeople complain that they want to do the right thing by the client, but they can't. Why? Because they have to go through many levels of approval to bring the rate down from a 40% profit. So, imagine a situation where the recruit is being offered $60 an hour. Rough mathematics suggests that the person is going to be billed at $100 an hour. What if you now come across an expert who wants $95 an hour. For a company like mine, it's a no brainer since we don't impose these margin restrictions, however, for most companies there is no way they could make these numbers work.
Do you know highly paid recruiters actually make more money out of commissions than their base salary? So, for a recruiter dealing with a technical expert who asks for $65 an hour might be less appealing that an average joe developer charging $55 an hour. Keep in mind he's getting maybe just an additional $1 an hour if he saves the company that $10 an hour. But that equates to an additional $2,000 a year for the recruiter. Not bad money, huh?
Train Your Competition
What about technical people? Have you ever had a situation where technical folks are competing with each other to the point that they become overly negative about each other? Once, I was part of a project and I was introduced to an architect who was considered the best guy on the staff. The town I was working in was not known for tech. In fact, it's so disconnected from the rest of the world that they were using decade old technologies and prided themselves on the digital transformation of the company. No one was even allowed to oppose this architect. We did an in-depth evaluation and found he had close to no contributions to the code for months.
When we offered to train him, he threw a fit saying he doesn't need any training. Who in their life says they don't need to keep learning, that they already know enough? I, myself, am an awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for close to a decade and a Google Developer Expert and I end up spending much of my time every year on training myself so I can keep up. This person made such a big deal about it as if we offended him by offering the trainings to him. Next, we find out that the individuals he thought were not good enough had certain really good strengths in their code. But he was using a UI expert to do backend work, and of course, that individual could not keep up with the work that went with it. There's nothing wrong in that approach if your intent is to grow the team and make them well-rounded developers (presuming you have the budget and the time to allow for that). However, this project was not in a good state and they were already over-budget, so this was not a smart approach.
Next, we started training everyone and realized that there were a lot of unsung heroes as well as diamonds-in-the-rough who had been sidelined previously. While we were doing these trainings, we were also doing the heavy lifting fixing the code. We solidified the architecture and wrote unit tests for the team on the code they had written. We helped the CI/CD team automate the pipeline and helped with all the things they didn't want to do or didn't feel comfortable doing.
During this time, another individual from that vendor ended up breaking the builds. He was the same UI developer who was asked to work on the backend piece. Very quickly the blame was shifted onto him and we were asked to weigh in if we should keep him around or let him go. Looking at his past performance, he had not delivered much in the last few weeks. He also had a family member who had been recently hospitalized. I asked the management to allow me to help him. Keep in mind he didn't work for me, he worked for another consulting company. Technically, he worked for the competitor. I was able to get time from the management, spend hours of my own time over the weekends to help him grow and also allocate UI tasks on the project. The project was behind on UI because he was being allocated incorrectly. Just a simple shift in tasks made him a hero and he was able to deliver. He ended up being the best performer on the sub team in a matter of just a few sprints. Keep in mind that all of this was done for a competitor consultant with no billable hours from my side to the client. But to put this more simply, all this was done for a human being who was going through a hard time.
I'll add that the difficult architect was from the same company as him, so now you should be asking, why would he go after him when he was weak and not support him if they work for the same company? Why wouldn't that architect see that that developer was allocated incorrectly and why did that architect not have the heart to empathize with a person who was struggling with a sick family member?
Fast forward a few months, that architect now loses a family member. By that time, people on the team had already had way bigger contributions on the project than him. They embraced the training, they embraced the transformation and it was now a part of their DNA and everything was running smoothly. This architect was so resistant to the changes that he couldn't see that he stopped growing and was on the verge of being fired. At this time, our client came to our team and asked us what to do with him.
I know what you're thinking. Yes, you would think I have no love for this awful person and I would simply advise the client to let him go. First of all, I don't think he's awful. I just think he's human and we all make mistakes. We realize those mistakes and forgive ourselves instantly, but many of us are slow to do that with others. We decided to do this with him. I asked the management for two months to help him improve. The loss of a family member had changed him as a person. He could now understand the UI developer's pain, suffering and temporary lack of productivity. He worked harder during this time and ended up becoming a better architect than he was.
Why We Do It
I didn't make money out of helping these people. In fact, I lost money by spending my billable hours working with them. However, the project was delivered successfully and was way under budget. We are all friends today and no money could have bought me friends like these. We need to remember that we all will die with more money than we need in the bank. We won't be remembered for the additional zeroes in our bank account, but we will be remembered for our contributions to humanity.
The manager I helped eventually became a VP, the VP I helped became a CTO and the developer I helped became an architect. But most importantly, the people I helped all became better human beings for the compassion they were shown when going through a hard time. This is exactly why we work to make others successful. It's true I barely sleep, but you will see me working 12-hour days when at a client site and then working from the hotel after that. It's because I have a passion to make more and more lifelong friends. So far, it's worked for me and I can honestly say, there's no competition in doing so. I wish some competitors would adopt this same mentality. Instead of competing and measuring success on the revenue growth last quarter or the number of consultants in our employ, let's compete in doing good deeds and measure our success by the impact we leave on the people and lives we touch. Those are the kinds of competitors I'd like to have.