Learning From the Past

My last post (from what I’m told) ruffled some feathers in my old team. I actually find that odd given how well known the types of actions I mentioned are among that team.

I live my life as if everything is a learning experience. I mean that – everything. I don’t regret my time on Teams for a moment. I learned a lot, had a chance to do a lot of what I think I do best. Even the bad management and culture are learning experiences, even if they’re a lesson in what not to do.

Last week, I had a long flight to an offsite with my leads – we work in five different offices and get together twice a year to discuss people and strategy. On the people side, we discuss impact (what did they deliver?; how valuable were there contributions?), and potential (what’s their upside?; what will their long-term impact be?)

I spent most of the flight from Seattle to Toronto (on my way to Montreal) in a half meditative state thinking about the last year, and thinking about the upcoming discussion with my team. Above all, I wanted to have a fair discussion, but between thinking about the things I didn’t like about Microsoft (someone once told me that a way to discover your values is to think of the things that piss you off the most – the opposite are your core values), it took me a while to focus. At Microsoft, a lot of the high potential pool is dominated by “very Type-A” people (not you, Dan). Given the culture of competitiveness, that makes a lot of sense. There’s nothing wrong with that for people who do (or want to do) well in that culture.

But that’s not us – while I’m sure there are ultra-competitive people at Unity, it’s not really our culture, and especially not my team. Eventually, I got a little bit of clarity and came up with a model we used to discuss potential that worked pretty well.

As a starting point, I stole a grid from HR that described “Low Potential” (no room for growth), “Medium Potential” (solid performers with room to grow), and “High Potential” (Rising stars, the heart of the operation, and a knowledge anchor).

Yes – I know. WIth that range, a lot of people will fall between Low and Medium, and Medium and High. But  I realized that those descriptions (much longer in the grid from HR) were descriptions of the person, with no discussion on the what people did (actions). My initial thought was that high potential people in an org like ours were, 1) humble; 2) great communicators / leaders; 3) passionate and hungry to learn.


Egos get in the way of success People who are humble and treat others with respect will go farther.

Emotional Intelligence

People with higher emotional intelligence (ability to manage emotions of themselves and other people) maintain relationships better than others, and building relationships (over burning bridges) is critical for long term success. Senior employees need a network, and you need EQ (or good “people skills”) to build that network

Hunger and Passion

A demonstrated passion for learning and the courage to continuously try new things and incorporate new ideas is something I see in all of the rising stars I’ve ever met.

Incidentally, I believe these are all also things we should look for in hiring new employees.

I believe, that people who are good at all three of these have the ability to succeed in the long term, no matter what they do. People who are weak in all three are likely also weak employees. Everyone else (including those who may be excellent in two items above and average in another) have moderate (not bad) potential overall.

It’s not a perfect model, and definitely a work in progress, but it feels right – both in looking at my current team, and applying the model to dozens of folks I’ve worked with throughout my career.

I have another long flight next week – we’ll see what I come up with next.


  1. Teams has not changed for the better. Worse quality, worse performance, and worse culture. Anybody who tries to be reasonable or think of anything other than instant gratification is sidelined or streamrolled. Only silver lining is there are now even more sycophants so it’s fun to watch them fight. Eat-your-young culture is also doing a number on attrition, especially of women.

    — a former colleague

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