After the dot-com bubble burst, there was much self-congratulation among the old guard. "I told you so" echoed through major business magazines and news programming. There was, I seem to remember, a general tearing down of anything that might be associated with the so-called New Economy.
Granted there was a generous helping of naivete and less-than-sound business practices in most of those dot-com startups, but it seemed to me there were positives that came out of that era that also were thrown out with the bathwater as it were â€" especially pertaining to team dynamics and motivation.
Finding New Blood: Startups were doing their hiring in a job seeker's market. Searching for applicants with tech know-how and familiarity with Web development, the focus was largely on youth. Because of these conditions, and a younger, more fluid workforce, hiring was driven largely by a company's informal network. "So-and-so in marketing knows a programmer who's looking for a job and he can vouch for him." At the apex of the job seeker's market, people were hired almost solely on potential and recommendation. While this shouldn't be the sole basis for hiring, leveraging your team's contacts has become more of a focus again in recent years with the rise of networking sites like linkedin. New hires come in more tied to the team and its success, with a built-in source for information and advice.
Task Mobility: An atmosphere where people are hired based on potential by managers who are running a department for the first time led to a relative openness to people switching teams and taking on tasks that were well outside their job description, if they had the interest and some semblance of a skill set. A measured amount of what management expert Lynda Gratton calls "boundary spanning" can be a great motivator, showing employees that you see their potential and that you take an interest in their development. It also adds valuable flexibility to your team.
Selling the Vision: The dot-com era was a time of great hubris. VCs seemed to be rewarding big ideas as much, or more, than sound ones. Places like San Francisco, Seattle and New York served as giant incubators for Web-related ideas. Many of these visionaries were long on inspiration and short on preparation. But everyone wanted to believe they were part of something important. That is, of course, always the case. Perhaps it was the youthful naivete, or the feeling of getting in on the ground floor, the apparent possibility for mobility, or the penchant for group problem solving, but dot-com CEOs and upper managers seemed to have a prodigious ability to inspire the troops and get them to work 70-hour weeks to further the cause. Many teams could use a leader with this level of belief in the product, but paired with a level head for the realities of the business.
Spending on Employees: The dot-coms were decried for their capricious spending and often the first things brought up were the frequent parties (many of which were catered and had open bars) as well as overly generous benefit plans and expensive equipment. The dot-com hangover brought an era of frugality and paired with rising costs of benefits, a tightening of the belt on per-employee spending. But one glance at Fortune's annual list of the Best Companies to Work For shows that you have to spend some money on employees in order to see gains in productivity. Have you seen the kind of benefits companies like Microsoft, REI and Network Appliance offer their workers?