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Share the Interesting Work

By Andy Warren,

Imagine that your workload has grown since you were hired and you’re at the point where you’re keeping up with things but finding it difficult to spend time on the projects that would really deliver value. The day to day tasks that keep the business going can’t be ignored while you work on the next big thing. So what do you do? If you’re lucky you hire someone new to add capacity.

What work do you give them? I’d bet the first answer is something along the lines of “the daily repetitive work”. It’s not a bad answer. It frees up someone (you) to work on more business specific problems while giving the new hire the work that is easiest to transfer (monitoring jobs, performance, code reviews, etc, etc). They start delivering value quickly while you see if they will work out for the long term and it’s a reasonable way to learn more about the business.

That’s good for you and probably good for the company. Is it good for the new hire?

New hire doesn’t necessarily mean beginner. Too often we fall into the trap of thinking of new hires as apprentices. Even the routine work often requires someone with a few years experience to do it well. Does that person want to take on a job that consists of all the work you’d rather not do? Does their career path consist of waiting on you to move up or out so they can get the more interesting work that you do? Or of hoping that their workload will grow to the point that someone else can be hired and they can hand off the most tedious and least interesting work?

Turn it around a little. You’re taking the work you’re doing and splitting it up into two jobs, let’s call them Job A (the fun work) and Job B (the routine work). How would you feel if you were going to keep doing Job B and the new hire was going to get Job A? If you were looking for a new job would you interview for Job B? What would it take to make Job B interesting to you?

I know it’s not quite that simple, but it’s the start of thinking about the team you’re building.

Clearly we’re not all equal - experience matters after all, as do trust and relationships built. But what if you made a commitment to share the interesting work once someone makes it past the ‘are they going to work out’ phase? Maybe that’s rotating assignments periodically, or making sure everyone gets to be the lead on a project during the year that will help them grow. It has a degree of risk, they may not always be ready for the challenge (though surely they will grow from it) and it requires a bit of selflessness from those higher up, being willing to hand off interesting work and perhaps take on some of that old repetitive work. Think about how that might change the job posting and the type of candidates that apply.

Are you sharing the interesting work? Do you think new hires have to pay their dues and wait their turn? Or do you think new hires only apply for positions that appear to have interesting work? I look forward to your comments and hope this has challenged you to revisit what you think about hiring to support growth.

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