Training Badass Employees

In the past, we’ve written about how the Netflix culture deck helped us understand company values and transition to values-based hiring instead of the traditional approach of hiring for skills. While we believe in that, we know that’s not all there is to it. If you’re going to hire people with skill gaps, you need a method to train them and close those gaps. So what do we do?

Target: Badass

Since we’re focusing on product design and development, we naturally gravitated towards concepts we already knew from that domain. One book stuck out, since it’s exclusively focused on creating success within people.

If you’re building products, stop reading this article and go read that book. I won’t mind.

Kathy Sierra’s Badass: Making Users Awesome steps you through a method to make your users successful with your product. (It’s an amazing book that I won’t attempt to summarize here; read it and thank me later.) One particularly relevant passage illustrates how experts build skills.

It’s not as simple as “can you do it or not”

A concert violinist, for example, starts out not being able to play the violin at all. They may quickly master certain basics, but trickier maneuvers will take effort before they’re built into muscle memory. The expert may also get rusty relative to certain techniques, which “slide back” before ultimately moving forward again.

This progression from Can’t do to Can do with effort and eventually Mastered gave us a simple framework to apply to our training effort.

So Here’s What We Did

Our newest employee is a talented designer who will learn the skills required for front-end web development on the Salesforce platform. We broke down each skill we could think of and added them to a Trello board.

Every week or so, we check in on this board and see what’s moved forward. So far, it’s working out pretty well. We have a more accurate way to gauge this person’s progress, and we realized we can use this to assess someone else coming into the organization who claims to already have these skills. This has the potential to be extremely valuable, since the incentives push people to inflate their level of expertise.


Do you take the time to train promising people? Ping me on Twitter and tell me how you’re doing it.