IndeedEng Culture: Encourage Autonomy, Measure Impact

In the previous post, I wrote about innovation and consolidation and the importance of balancing the two. In this post, I write about how Indeed fosters initiative through autonomy.

Most compensation systems reward for business impact

Engineers get better bonuses when their impact on the business is greater. Fair, right? No, it is not. Engineers are not salespeople. There are probably not two of them in your company who are executing the same tasks (and when it happens, they try to write a library or something, because they just can’t help it…).

Rewarding by impact cannot be a fair system, can it?

Rewarding by impact cannot be a fair system if, in reality, individuals are assigned tasks. If you still reward for business impact, you will create and fuel a system where the well-intended will do their work and hope for the best, while the less-so-well-intended can train their skills into political back-stabbing games, trying to grab the juiciest projects, as they already have figured out that is how you have defined they will move up the ladder. Guess who you’ll find at the top in a few years, and what it does to your enterprise culture.

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The other option, which Indeed fosters, is to let individuals pick their own tasks. They can’t complain about their project, the product or their boss, because they chose what they wanted to work on. You would think that this does not make sense at all. A company is not a democracy or an entertainment park. If we let people decide their tasks, they’ll pick the easiest or safest, not the most important or most urgent, and most importantly it’s going to be completely disorganized and the product won’t make sense.

Employees in a company, as it turns out, are people with common sense. They can understand that there are times for high-business impact work, and times for washing dishes. They need complex tasks and great challenges, but they also need to rest from them and execute less challenging, yet still productive work. I observed that giving more autonomy does not change much what eventually gets done; but it greatly changes the energy and passion put to the task.

At Indeed, we strive to measure business impact and recognize initiative as key components of the quarterly performance review process. By doing so, we give our engineers the right incentives to balance their work in ways that are best for Indeed’s mission: to help people get jobs.

What’s next?

In the next post in the series, I’ll describe why I think stack ranking is a bad idea.


Cross-posted on Medium.

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