David Heinemeier Hansson

January 4, 2023

A high bar is high respect

It's tempting to think you're doing someone new a favor by initially holding them to lower standards on work, effort, or decision making. They're new! They need to find their feet! Yes and yes, but neither fact is helped by going easy on what good decisions, reasonable effort, and solid work needs to look like at your company.

Now keeping the bar high for all isn't the same as expecting that everyone is going to meet it right away. Nobody hits the ground running. But it does mean being honest about the distance between where they're starting and where they need to be, right from the get-go.

Making that distance obvious immediately is a sign of respect. As Kimo Williams would say, "the standard pace is for chumps". So don't bother too much with what a "standard" ramp of learning or acclimation might look like. Focus on where it needs to end, for the targeted level of seniority, and then set everyone free from the damnation of "standard" expectations to get there as quickly as they can.

If you assume that everyone new might well have the capacity to surprise you with their pace, you're likely to be just that – surprised.

You're also likely to find that there's more potential motivation available from being considered intrinsically capable of reaching that high bar quickly, and from being clearly told where the gaps are right away, than there is from the kind but coddling instinct to make the onramp too gentle, too safe.

Ultimately, smothering newcomers with lowered expectations is a strain of the poison that is ruinous empathy, and the antidote to that is radical candor. But even if you're familiar with that dichotomy, it's easy to think there ought to be an exception for someone new. Don't.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Creator of Ruby on Rails, co-owner & CTO of 37signals (Basecamp & HEY), best-selling author (REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, REMOTE), Le Mans class-winning racing driver, antitrust advocate, investor in Danish startups, frequent podcast guest, and family man.