“…being too busy to train is the moral equivalent of being too hungry to eat.” – Ben Horowitz
The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal highlighted a recent NBER study on “The Value of Bosses.” Researchers measured productivity of employees at a large technology firm and uncovered three insights:
1. The quality of the boss greatly affects worker productivity. Replacing a lousy boss (in the bottom 10 percent) with a great boss (in the top 10 percent) enhanced productivity as much as adding another worker to a nine-member team.
2. The boss’s biggest contribution was teaching productive skills.
3. As the WSJ phrased it, “The study found, counterintuitively, that it pays to assign the best workers to the best bosses, because that strategy results in the largest productivity gains.”
While all of these findings are interesting, I am particularly intrigued by #2. We don’t typically think of bosses as teachers. Perhaps we think of them as motivators, as mentors who offer guidance, or as managers who monitor and evaluate our performance. But teaching skills? Not so much.
Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz has an excellent blog post on “Why Startups Should Train Their People.” He quotes from Andy Grove’s book High Output Management.
“Most managers seem to feel that training employees is a job that should be left to others. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that the manager should do it himself.”
Horowitz describes how chapter 16 of Groves’ book, “Why Training is The Boss’s Job,” changed his career.
When Ben first became director of product management at Netscape he saw training as a good idea, but his personal experience with training programs was “underwhelming.” Courses were taught by outsiders who “didn’t really understand our business and were teaching things that weren’t relevant.” But most product managers on Horowitz’ team were adding little value to the company and something needed to be done.
So, based on Groves’ advice, Ben drafted a document spelling out the differences between good product managers and bad project managers and used it to teach his people exactly what they needed to do to meet his expectations. Horowitz describes the dramatic results.
“I was shocked by what happened next. The performance of my team instantly improved. Product managers that I previously thought were hopeless became effective. Pretty soon, I was managing the highest performing team in the company.”