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Missionaries vs Mercenaries

Last Edit 28/11/2019

A central idea in most hiring and team building, and explanation for why outsourcing doesn’t work is captured in “missionaries vs mercenaries”

Missionary: People who have skin in the game, believe in your project, and are invested in your long term success

Mercenary: hired guns, create a product and then move on to the next one

Both Marty Cagan, in “Inspired”, and Ben Horowitz, in “What You Do is Who You Are”, stress this point.

This is a huge opportunity! If you can turn mercenaries into missionaries — that’s a competitive advantage

A dichotomy between missionaries and mercenaries is too stark. People are not one or the other, but exist somewhere on a spectrum. And where they are on that spectrum largely depends on how we treat them and how we understand their position.

[1] We should view each person as existing somewhere on the spectrum between missionary and mercenary,

[2] We should not require someone to start as a ‘missionary’

[3] We should try to move them closer to ‘missionary’ over time

Using your own personal experience will create an authentic path for you to move people towards being a missionary.

The people who respond to your experience will naturally align with what matters to you. This is the beginning of a company/team culture.

It’s hard to change who you are. If you build your team with an honest understanding of who you are, that’s a great starting point.

Here are 7 keys:

[1] Listen The first key is to listen. Ask questions. Be perceptive. Try to understand the other person. Why are they doing this job? What is their long term goal? Who is the person on the other side of your conversation? What do they want and expect?

Being interested in how they got to this point, and where they want to go will take you a long way in knowing how to build trust.

[2] Give Autonomy

Focus on providing the right amount of guidance, feedback, management. This will be different for every individual.

Don’t be hands off, but allow your team members and team mates to make their own decisions and to make mistakes.

This may cost you short term, but the long term gains will be well worth it. If you aren’t willing to do this, you will never move past having mercenaries.

[3] Mastery

Put people in a position where they can continue to master skills — that there is continuous improvement in their abilities. Teach whenever possible.

How will they be in a better position after having worked with you? They are only here for a short period. They will always be thinking about what’s next.

[4] A Clear, Consistent Vision

Have a clear vision for each project, and for the entire company, that does not waiver easily. Do not change from day to day. Be consistent in your message. Be flexible in how you get there.

[5] Role in Outcomes

Everyone wants to play a role that matters. They want to use their experience and talent in a way that affects the outcome. Make it clear why they’re doing what they’re doing. Have real outcomes that they can attach themselves to.

This can be done by having your team members give input into how features should be rolled out, which features should be rolled out, and what matters. Always ask for feedback and suggestions. If you’re hiring someone, they should be able to help shape your product in some way.

[6] Win-Win Outcomes

Know your team members goals for a project, and for the long term.

If you are hiring someone for a single project, think about what their worries are? Can you write a reference letter for them? A testimonial? Can you refer them to someone else?

What would make them more hireable in the future? Work with them to help them improve their CV/resume/portfolio. How can you help them be more secure about the future?

Talk to them about the future. Don’t make it a one-off, make it a “first project”.

[7] Be Energizing

If you can make the work energizing, you will always have better outcomes. Think about their energy levels. How can you frame your messages to increase energy? To make things more exciting for them?

In the end, any freelancer has worries about security and this creates issues. These methods and ideas are all about increasing psychological security for your team members and helping them become more aligned with your goals.

By creating systems that win for you and your freelancers, you are creating a competitive advantage over companies that fail to make this connection.