Hiring practices – The Dilbert Life

What’s going on?

For the last 2 years I’ve been in a number of situations where management was pushing to hire extra FTE’s. The numbers on the personnel lists had to be met whether it made sense or not I guess. Sometimes they wanted to give someone a raise or do them a favor with a better contract.

Furthermore in their effort to reach the numbers there was pressure to drop our standards, to lower the bar so to speak. Well, not on my watch. My standards are in place for a reason. To make sure that the people on the job can actually handle that job under all circumstances. Look, when the shit hits the fan and things get tough you’ll need every bit of team spirit and camaraderie that you can get to make sure the team can withstand the stress and get the job done. If you put people in the teams that don’t cut it you’ll already have dysfunctional unit in “normal” times, what do you think will happen when things get tough? They’ll just cut the rope and let the dead weight fall.

People, those standards, the difficulty & complexity in selection, the so called “bar” are there for a reason. If you cannot meet those demands it is not those standards that are the problem. The only real issue is that you’re not capable to meet those standards. So stop complaining about them. Instead start working on yourself so you can meet them. If you can’t do that you’ll need to find job satisfaction somewhere else.

But why this pressure to hire people even if they don’t seize up? Why this obsession with more and more personnel?

Filling the numbers

On paper all is well, you’ve got plenty of warm bodies to fill the cubicles and to meet productivity demands. You can’t produce a baby in one month with 9 women, it doesn’t work that way. Perhaps methodologies are putting so much pressure on having all forms and numbers right that achieving just that is priority one. You might have the best functional team in the business but if those numbers don’t match up to the methodology documents that doesn’t matter. You get no bonus but lots of hassle. So what’s a poor weak manager who wants to climb the ladder to do? Sell out the team to comply. Go ahead. Kiss your team’s respect goodbye. You might as well have flushed their motivation down the toilet.

Other times people simply can’t manage. So when they have underperforming team members the easy way out is getting extra FTE’s. That’s way easier than dealing with the problem. So bloat your FTE needs to the needed numbers + the number of miss hires already in place. And then there is the danger of hiring good people, they are a treat to the peaceful little world management is in. Remember, “A people” hire “A people”, “B people” hire “B people” … and it goes downhill from there.

Sometimes you might need to have x amount of people to legitimize your management position so … bring on the FTE’s :-)

There are lots of reasons why this happens. Managers, especially middle management often suck at management. It is really a very hard, demanding and crucial job. Management at least gets the perks. Middle management is caught between a rock and a hard place. But the dangling carrot and their ambition keeps them from walking out and the keep choosing the easy way to deal with. Perhaps they don’t even have a choice. That’s the best they can do.

Giving a raise / doing a favor

This is bad, very bad. You are inflicting real damage here. This is the equivalent of making me an NCO in the airborne rangers because I love to shoot guns and like to brag in the bar with a ranger patch on my sleeve. It’s pure madness. I’m overweight, I’m as myopic as a mole and I have several medical issues that would put me (and as a consequence my mates) in danger, even on an exercise. What do you think will happen? Everybody will lose and will be unhappy in this situation. Me, because I know I’m fooling myself, I know I’m a burden to my colleagues and endangers myself and them. I will never be accepted let alone be respected. Nope they’ll come to despise me. They have their job to do, plus now they need to do mine, correct my failures, drag me along and rescue me. So basically they’ll resent the hell out of me. They’ll be pissed off at the officers who passed me because they have devalued their skills and show no professional recognition of what they are capable of. The officers won’t be happy because they’ll have to command and work with a dysfunctional unit. It is madness. Is cannot work, it will not work.

If this metaphor doesn’t get the message across than perhaps this one will: imagine your brain surgeon was given the position because nagged long enough to hospital management for a raise


Managers, don’t lower the bar to fill the numbers, to give people a raise or do them a favor. You’ll just create frustration and dysfunctional teams. They won’t function as well as they could and when they need to stand tall to face serious issues you don’t have the number you fool yourself to have on paper. At best you have your good people who’ll  need to work around the bad ones. In the worst case the team is so dysfunctional they won’t get the job done as well and fast as they should or they’ll fail all together. But in reality management is the real failure. They didn’t do their job. Unit operational efficiency might not be on your radar screen but it really should be.

The World Could Be Like Star Trek the Google Way

If Google gets it way the world might become a bit more like Star Trek. For the past 9 years  .NET made a truck load of languages understand each other in the developer world.  Now this bliss could become available for the entire world population. According to this article http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/personal_tech/article7017831.ece

we’ll be able to talk to Chinese, Indian, Russian, etc … colleagues and acquaintances over the phone in our native language and they’ll hear it in their own. If this works well (can’t be easy, far form) it will rock! I can already imagine myself at a conference talking face to face over a phone with a Brazilian IT Pro!

Excuse me now cause I’m of to the Holodeck with a couple of super models to teach them about Hyper-V and how to set up Live Migration. When their looks start to go, they’ll be able to earn a living in IT. These ladies are some smart cookies investing wisely in their future ;-).

The do’s and don’ts when engaging consultants Part II

In part II we take a look at the common mistakes when using consultants. This is all common sense and well documented in literature and on line. So why does it go wrong so often? Politics and just not caring (I just work here dude) often in combination with “fake it until you make it”. Follow this link for Part I

Common Mistakes

Buying advice to settle a score

Now please all acts as grownups! Don’t settle your disagreements this way. One side will feel defeated, the other victorious with a vengeance. Great start for a project that depends on collaboration<SARCASM>. What if the result of such advice is very mixed with lots of pros and cons on both sides? Then what? You’re doomed. No agreement, no common goals, no purpose or will to cooperate. You are now riding a dead horse. Guess what? You are not going to get anywhere :-) What your team really needs people, is a coach!

Bait & Switch

So the guru walks in, explains with great passion and knowledge the solution and how to achieve it. You make the deal. You are very happy to have such a highly skilled operator to take care of your interests. But soon after the project starts the guru is nowhere to be found. Some pimple faced youths and a washed up senior are handling your case. What the hell happened? Will things work out? Sure the guru will present the finished project which has taken too long, isn’t as trouble free as it should be and was rather hard going the entire time. Well, nothing that can’t be fixed on a follow up consulting engagement, right? This is the oldest trick in the book. They trained their young potentials at your expense and now know which ones can’t hack it. You’ve become the free university for the consulting firm. Avoid this at all cost. Agree on who will do the work. Fix those numbers and names so you get the people you signed up for.

Giving away your business

Well those IT people are a tough crowd. They are opinionated and don’t communicate to well. Hell those guys & gals prefer to work with machines! They are not up to speed with what is politically correct or fashionable, hate faking, can’t stand save asses and don’t tolerate kiss asses. Good IT people live by the sword and die by the sword. It’s all very direct. Either their solution works or it doesn’t. You can’t hide behind reports, gold plated words or lies when you work in IT. The evidence is there every single second of every single day, staring you right in the face. So basically it’s no wonder that weak management and incompetent employees can’t get along with them very well, they are a bit to direct. So why not get rid of that problem? Get some consultants to do all that IT stuff. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how courteous they are, well willing and facilitating. Sure it cost a bundle but hey, life seems good. Then your best IT people leave (physically or mentally) and your worst just hang around for the paycheck. No worries, no one is indispensible and firm X has more consultants for you! And so, slowly but surely, you become completely dependent on very expensive external staff and what you thought was consulting for your company has turned into a money generating market for a body shop that generates revenue by sending you their juniors to be trained at your expense. Congratulations, you fucked up big time. Your organization is now nothing more than a cash cow. When you no longer produce the gold, you get slaughtered. Game over.

Instead of outsourcing you should have invested in the IT team. Train them, communicate with them, be honest about projects and listen to them when they tell you it won’t work. They don’t do that to piss you off but because they think you’re making a mistake. Get rid of the idiots and assholes (they shouldn’t be there in the first place) and take care of your key IT personnel. They are hard to come by. Get external help from consultants where and when needed, but don’t hand over your business to them. If you do, you lose everything.

Buying the wrong stuff from the wrong people

This one seems so easy to avoid … Don’t buy the advice on what to buy from the company that sells the products. Don’t buy CRM services from a hardware company. Don’t let the marketing guys write software. What kind of switch will Cisco advise you to buy? Think about your interests and those of the vendors. Make sure they align. Buy where you get the best deal for your needs. Get the right expertise from the right experts.

Not knowing what you buy

You’ve seen the possible consulting engagements already.

· Advice

· Implementation

· Coaching

· Skills Acquisition

Now decide what you need and communicate this very clearly. Make sure everyone understands what is expected. Put it in writing. That way there will be no surprises such as getting an advice about e-mail infrastructures instead of a functioning Exchange 2007 system like you taught you’d get .

Buying efforts instead of results

Efforts are commendable, nothing more. They are not the desired outcome. It really doesn’t matter how much time, work, people, and resources you throw against a problem. The only things that matters are the achieved results. Buying efforts is a great way to make a consulting firm very wealthy. It’s usually the result of ill defined scopes, not getting clearly defined deliverables in writing and bad project management. The worst type of this mistake is “consultants” who start churning. Those bastards give true consultants a bad name. In essence this is fraud. They steal time and as such money by doing unnecessary work, prolonging issues or problems to augment the billable time, etc. Never forget that our economy a society is fueled by bull shit. Half of the consultants are selling just that. Hire the other half. Don’t feel bad if you’re a consultant, what do you think permanent staff sells half of the time? Right!

Falling in love with the misuse of “methodologies”

Sometimes both clients and consultant firms fall in love with methodologies or make mistake manuals for methodologies. They focus so much on the methodology everything else becomes secondary to it. This often has a couple reasons. One of them is that a lot of businesses lie when they say their personnel are their biggest capital or most important asset. They hate the fact that they are dependent on specific people and skill sets. It’s way too risky and expensive. They want to modularize people like parts of a car. If it’s broken, replace it with an identical one. The other reason is that talent doesn’t scale very well. This is quite normal, people just don’t scale. Talent needs to be cultivated and that takes time and effort. Performing complex tasks to produce high quality results takes talent. This makes things expensive as availability to talent is limited and thus growth is stalled.

So we’re in trouble here. We can’t attract enough talent and the bean counters insist on reproducible identical drones (“Human Resources”), which is impossible to achieve. So the solution consultancy firms come up with is the misuse of methodologies as a religion. They create guide lines, methodologies, scripts etc. You see, one way people try to scale talent is by creating a cookbook the “less talented” to follow. But books don’t make an excellent cook! This is because talent cannot be methodized completely. This is a farce. In the end it leads to mediocre firms, run by mediocre people producing mediocre products. Talented and motivated people will use methodologies correctly when and where appropriate. But they have also learned to be creative and the use of experience combined with knowledge and guts allows them to produce excellent results. Joel Spolsky did a great write up about this in Big Macs vs. The Naked Chef on his web site (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000024.html).

Now methodologies are useful when used correctly! But focusing on them where talent and creativity are needed will only drive the talent away or in hiding. Is this what you hired consultants to do? Is your organization in such a bad shape? Do you really have that many people on the payroll that are not capable of performing their jobs? Next thing you’ll be buying innovation and creativity as process from those same consultants.


Good consultants can and will help you to realize well defined, complex and important goals. However, before engaging consultants, you need to be aware of the pitfalls. Know what consultancy can and cannot do for you given the circumstances of your organization and your needs. Using consultants for mere staff augmentation is not a good idea. Good consultants know this and act upon it. You need to be smart, proactive and involved in selecting and working with consultancy firms. You just can’t expect to hire some consultants, lay back in your easy chair and hope all will be well from that moment on. Far from it, that attitude will only lead to more and very expensive problems.

The do’s and don’ts when engaging consultants Part I

Follow this link to Part II


I see so many organizations fail to engage consultants in a rewarding manner that I taught I would share my view on the matter with you. Sometimes management wants to know why working with consultants often fails to deliver the desired result. That question and its answer remind me of the movie “A few good men” where Jack Nicolson’s outburst is legendary “I want the truth! YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXoNE14U_zM&feature=related.

Good consulting can produce very valuable and rewarding results. But next to these merits there are some drawbacks that you need to be aware of. This will ensure that your consulting experience doesn’t turn into a nightmare. The truth is that the use of consultants constitutes a major risk when not used correctly and deployed wisely. Never forget that IT consulting firms have a very different agenda, skills set, view and approach to your business than you do, the owner or manager. Also, do not assume that they only look out for your best interests. The better consulting firms do, even to the level that they will walk away from clients or engagements where they find that the business maturity level is insufficient to achieve value for both parties involved. Why? Because they are true professionals, who know there is more value in a long term, honest, business relationship than there is in short term profit.

Defining Consulting & Consultants

OK, so there are many definitions. I have my points of view. So do you. That’s fine. Perhaps you’ll disagree but I find it practical to define consulting or consultants by way of the results they are supposed to deliver. What all possible results have in common is that the consultants are responsible for achieving the result in the manner they see fit. The moment you are managing anything other than the consulting engagement they become overpriced employees. They are merely temporary or permanent staff, send form a body shop, to augment your head count where and when needed. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that this is not valuable if and when done right, but it isn’t consulting. This might sound esoteric but you’re the one controlling the engagement. So work and manage it. You can always (and should) disengage when things are not working out, not just keep going and complain about it. An American manager I once met put it very bluntly: “When the horse is dead, dismount.”

Let’s define consulting / consultants by the ways or the combination of ways in which they deliver results. There are a couple of ways in which consultants can provide consulting engagements:

  • Advice: they offer their best possible advice given the circumstances.
  • Implementation: they deliver what is needed.
  • Coaching: they coach your own staff to produce the desired result.
  • Skills Acquisition: they transfer skills and knowledge to your staff.

A lot of the time people mistake body shopping and contracting with consulting. As is the case with all distinctions the lines can be blurry. However, in my view, body shopping is not consulting. Contracting, depending on how it is defined and executed, can be one specialized way of consulting. Read on to find out more about this.

Body shopping (the non-consulting form of contracting) is the purchase of warm bodies that show up on site, from nine to five, under your direction and supervision. You will have to be able to manage this extra staff as if it were employees. Please note that these can be very highly skilled, specialized and thus very well paid people. They are just not consulting for you. No disrespect intended.

Now let’s look bit more in detail at what constitutes consulting by the type of results they produce.


You need advisors when you know the problem well, but need a clear understanding and guidance on what are the best possible solutions in your situation. They need to present their findings and insights to you, with the benefits and drawbacks, to finally come to a result: conclusions & recommendations. To get the best advice you should find real experts in the subject matter. Most likely these engagements are short term or retainer based. In this case hourly or daily rates are the norm.


If you can clearly define and communicate the result you need and want, than you might want your consultants to handle the implementation that leads to that result. It doesn’t get any more tangible than this. You can define & control the scope and deliverables. In this situation you might be able to get a fixed price for a known outcome rather than daily or hourly rates. This might be a better deal for both parties involved. Consider a bonus for on time, on budget delivery. Call it contracting if you want, but the rules are that they design and implement the solution. Never, at any time, are they under your supervision and control like employees are. Yes I know some people who do not consider the actual implementation to be consulting, but I disagree. You cannot design stuff you don’t know and are able to implement. As a consultant you might not always implement the solution yourself but you’d better be able to!


You have a brilliant staff, very knowledgeable with a solid skill set but they need coaching, focus, guidance and direction to achieve their full potential. They lead your people to success. This is an ideal situation to unlock the value within your organization. Get help from consultants with solid references and put together a plan to fix the deliverables and timing. Coaching is often acquired using negotiated daily rates based on amount of time and the duration of the engagement.

Skills Acquisition

Use this when you need to get your in house skill set elevated. Get some help to train them and bring them up to speed fast on the technologies you definitely want to develop and keep in house. Make sure you have good, hardworking, knowledgably and motivated staff. No use pouring expertise into the unwilling to do the unwanted for the uninterested. Again this form of consulting is often acquired using negotiated daily rates based on amount of time and the duration of the engagement.

You should realize that complex situations will require of two or more of the above types of engagement. Be advised that this requires a substantial management effort on the buyer’s part in order to make the consulting effort a success. Skills Acquisition combined with coaching is absolutely not an effortless commitment!

Using Consultants

In the unfortunate situation where your company is completely a drift and you don’t know the problem, what to do, what your people are capable of or don’t think learning skills are useful, you’re basically in a whole lot of trouble and you don’t have a prayer in hell to save yourselves. You need new top and middle managers to start over. Really! No help can get you out of this mess unless you’re willing to change the people and organization that led to this hell hole. But hey, I know some body shops that will gladly take your money and provide the personnel to help sink the ship. But no, these people are not consultants, nor do they provide consulting services.

If and when you engage consultants know what you are buying and why (Advice, Implementation, Coaching, Skills Acquisition or a combination of them) and communicate this very clearly. Buy the correct service from the right provider. It’s better to have mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with fewer but high quality providers who all have their areas of expertise and know their own limits.

Put it in writing. Define what and when. Follow up on your consulting engagement as it was defined in the contract. Sign off on the deliverables like any other project. Don’t allow “scope creep” without altering the contract officially.

In the next part we’ll look al the common mistakes when using consultants. Why do people make these mistakes so often? Because they don’t know any better or don’t want to know. Especially in larger bureaucratic entities life is easier if you shut up and go with the flow.

Follow this link to Part II