I read this article yesterday and something (important?) clicked for me with regards to the the 20x employee concept.
Today I read the bulk of the comment chain before starting my own comment and it is interesting to see the various perspectives on the article.
The one aspect that seems to be either totally implicit, or perhaps completely overlooked, is that the author of that article is sitting in the vantage point of a startup.
I cut my teeth in the world of work with what would be considered a startup except that it was family owned and never took public nor goverment money (as a matter of pride/principle). I say that to indicate I have some persepctive on what massive year after year double/triple-digit growth does to the top players/performers in a company and how much of a commitement it really is just to hang on for the ride.
So I want to shine some light, and perhaps contrast and perspective, on the concept of the 1x employee.
Gerber (E-Myth) introduced me to the “80% of all business fail in the first 5 years” statistic along with the “of the 20% remaining, 80% of those fail in the next 5 years”.
I’ve also heard it said that a startup is like jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the fall down.
Well I’d like to introduce another metaphor that became clear, at least to me, over the past 24 hours or so.
Finding yourself in a high-growth startup situation is a little like doing a quantum leap and landing in/on a cruise ship that is fighting extremely heavy seas, taking on water and not capable of even the most basic acts of properly taking care of it’s crew.
The ocean represents the seas of customers simply showing up becuase someone “got it right” and now everyone wants to get on board.
Imagine how a crew has to “be” in this situation.
Everyone thinks they would love to be in a startup during a masive growth phase. No one would want to be on the above example cruise ship however.
Yet the two are almost identical.
Most 1x employees have great spirit. They show up in droves and self-proclaim: “I’m ready, willing and able to work — tell me what to do and I’ll do it”.
FYI: the moment I hear those words I know instantly that I’m talking to a 1x’er.
If you hired 1x employess to man the muster stations on our distressed cruise ship (or your shiny new startup caught in the high seas of an unexpected flood of customers) then we both know this is going to end up with a visit to Davy Jones locker.
Tell me what to do asks, no practically demands, that someone else, someone more qualified, someone more in the know, someone more capable, perhaps someone even more self-aware, stop what they are doing, precisely when they can least afford to do so, and document what needs to be done then train someone to do it, simply so the 1x’er can proceed to “start”.
Just as in the scenario of a startup, it’s already way too late at this point.
The 20x’ers are blessedly easy to spot on the high seas when things go wrong or when the ship gets overwhelmed.
They’re in the bowels of the ship doing whatever it takes to get and keep the ship shipshape, afloat, back on track and heading towards calmer waters or a safe port.
They know the stakes involved (yet the show up and do it anyways).
They know what happens if they don’t succeed.
Now if you or I were starting a cruise ship line, from the ground (shore?) up and had the time, energy and investment to fully document (and test) each and every procedure and fully train the staff, then yes 1x’ers are the only economical, fiscally feasible, way to go.
When a ship is sailing smoothly the business of running a cruise line can’t afford to be paying for 20x’ers to man every station (while trying not to get bored out their minds).
You want as few 20x’ers on board as possible (or safe, or legal) actually. 20x’ers would likely have jumped ship long before that point anyway. They like the excitement and being on the edge far too much to settle for safe passage.
You test the waters, you sail the seas you know, you chart your courses, pay attention to the storms, stock the ship accordingly and, much like flying, pray for a completely boring journey each and every time.
So just as every culture is different so too is the phase of a business and it’s growth trajectory. Not all business are created equal nor should they be run as equals. Neither are all employees. It’s easy to chant the “one size fits all” mantra when it comes to hirings — on both sides of the equation at times. It’s simply never going to be true in all cases.
So celebrate the 1x’ers and the 20x’ers for precisely what each of them are, what each brings to the table and perhaps most importantly know exacly which table to seat each of them at :)