Antimatter Hiring

When we’re hiring, why not invite candidates to actively demonstrate the core capabilities that our organisation, group, or team, needs?

Asides: How often do hiring managers know what core capabilities the organisation, group or team needs? How often are they capable of recognising and assessing candidates on those capabilities? And how aware are they of the impact the prevailing system conditions (the way the work works) has on a candidate’s ability to apply their capabilities, should they be hired?

We Want to See Jugglers Juggle

When we’re hiring e.g. coders, we’ll generally ask to see them write some code. When we’re hiring analysts we may ask to see them analyse something. When we hire testers, we’ll likely ask to see them test something. Etc..

The Antimatter Principle proposes that the core capability in all collaborative knowledge work is the capability to attend to folks’ needs. Which, by the way, implies the capability to discuss and more-or-less clearly identify those needs, as well as the capability to subsequently find effective ways to address those needs.

Under this premise, the ideal candidate would open the interview conversation with

“Hi there, what would you like to have happen, here and now, today?”

Or more directly/explicitly (at the risk of alienating the uninitiated hiring manager),

“Hi there, what needs do you have of this interview, that I might be able to attend to, here and now, today?”

To which the cooperative hiring manager might reply,

“Well, as we’re hiring for [e.g.] coders at the moment, I need to understand how capable you would be in that role if you joined us. Can you suggest some ways in which you might be able to address that need, here and now, today?”

Prompting and Reframing

I guess you’d say that the preceding dialogue is, however, most unlikely. Most candidates will not be seeking to understand the hiring manager’s needs, nor will they know how acceptable – or unacceptable – such an opening gambit might be. Much more likely, they’ll play safe and let the hiring manager lead them through the interview conversation.

So, until the world changes and conversations of the kind I’ve illustrated become the norm, the hiring manager may have to prompt the candidate, and reframe the conversation at the beginning, to open the door, so to speak. Here’s a modified opening exploring this approach:

Hiring manager:

“We believe that attending to folks’ needs is a core capability we absolutely have to hire for in all our candidates. I’d like to experience you demonstrating your capability in that area.”

“As we’re hiring for [e.g.] coders at the moment, I have a need to understand how capable you would be in that role if you joined us. Can you suggest some ways in which you might be able help me understand your coding abilities, here and now, today?”


If we focus explicitly on the capability to attend to folks’ needs, we might improve our chances of actually making job offers to candidates that have this capability. Surely this is the outcome we seek?

Recap for New Readers

The Antimatter Principle is “the only principle we need for becoming wildly effective at collaborative knowledge work.”

Stated simply, the Antimatter Principle says:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”

Over the years, I’ve blogged about a wide variety of the deep implications, and impacts, stemming from the application of this principle.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Antimatter Principle ~ Think Different blog post

Wanna See Me Juggle? ~ Think Different blog post

Nine Aspects Of Top Developers


Ask a hundred people what’s their definition of a “top software developer” and you’ll likely get a hundred different answers. Many definitions may cluster around “someone who can make the computer jump through hoops”, i.e. a technical virtuoso of some sort.

Personally, my definition of a top developer is somewhat different. My definition is someone who:

  1. Understands people and how they – as e.g. users – might find joy in interacting with software.
  2. Understands people and how best to get along with them – e.g. in a team, a business – to create “solutions”.
  3. Understands people and their needs – and how to attend to those needs by e.g. writing software.
  4. Understands herself or himself – e.g. her or his own biases, tastes, limitations and capabilities.
  5. Looks to improve themselves and – together with other people – the way their work works.
  6. Has a broad range of life experiences to draw upon for e.g. inspiration and insight.
  7. Is widely read and informed – and especially, not just technical books, articles, blogs, etc..
  8. Is different and thinks different – to the other people around them. A.k.a. Diversity.
  9. Seeks out and takes ownership wherever and whenever folks’ needs aren’t getting met.

Technical virtuosity, aptitude, coding talent, experience, domain knowledge, numeracy, ability to learn quickly, etc. are all nice-to-haves, but not core to being a “top developer” – at least, from the perspective of e.g. folks paying their wages.

Bottom Line

My bottom line: I’d regard someone a “top developer” if they are highly effective in attending to folks’ needs. Although, just the idea of labelling someone “top”, or not, makes me feel uneasy for its implicit judgmentalism.

“it’s not what you say, or know, or even who you are, it’s what you do that matters.”

I guess my definition is just one amongst that hundred.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Three Virtues ~ Cf Larry Wall

Cultural Fit

I note a recent spate of articles advising employers to “recruit for cultural fit”. And the inevitable backlash against that advice. Like most advice, this simple soundbite conceals a whole can of worms.

Where Are We At?

If we’re happy with our current “culture”, then by all means hire for “cultural fit”. We will likely hire new people that look the same, act the same and think the same as those folks already in the organisation. And thereby reinforce our existing culture and status quo. Which, if we’re happy with it, is what we want, right?

But if we ponder for a moment and conclude that our current “culture” is more of a hindrance than a help, we might want to look to a future in which the culture is different from how it is now. Maybe, markedly different.

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like… I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.”

~ Lou Gerstner

Culture Is Read-Only

Organisational culture, being a function of the prevailing collective mindset, is not amenable to direct manipulation. To change our culture, we have to pull levers that are available to us. One such lever is hiring. Another lever is the collective mindset of the organisation (yes, that IS amenable to change, if we know how).

In which case, it makes no sense to hire folks for their fit with the current culture.

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

~ Wayne Gretzky


Rather, would it not make much more sense to hire new folks for their fit with the future culture we’re wanting to see?

And how to gauge their fit into that future culture? By their mindset.

Not only will they fit well in to our future culture, their mindset will contribute to shifting the collective mindset – and hence culture – of the organisation, in the direction we want to see it moving.

However, it’s not a free lunch. The real trick is keeping the new hires on board and engaged even though the future culture we want and into which they will fit has not arrived yet. Can we do that?

– Bob

Agile Competency Is A Crock


Part 1 – The Lede

The Agile Manifesto set out to make developers’ (and others’) live richer, saner and more fulfilling.

A true irony of the legacy of that Manifesto is that finding a fulfilling job or role “in Agile” is nowadays next to impossible.

Competency is not something valued by hirers and their gatekeepers. Being a “safe hire” is all.

Part 2 – The Background Story

My dear friend, the late Grant Rule, had many compelling stories to tell.

One of these concerned a large insurance company in the home counties. Let’s call them InsCo. For some reason, the powers that be became interested in the reasons why they were not doing as well as they thought they should be, business-wise.

Some number of investigations were commissioned. One concerned the type of people they were hiring, versus the type of people needed for business success.

To cut a long story short, it became revealed to them that not only were they hiring people with little to contribute in the way of the organisation’s business goals, they were actually hiring people whose general style actively undermined those goals.

In other words, their hiring practices were expressly filtering out those people best suited to make a positive contribution inside the business. And this had been going on for years, if not decades.

I always found the story fascinating, not least for its compelling ring of truth.

In todays’s business world, I see many of the organisation I visit or work with making exactly the same error.

Organisations whose hiring practices filter OUT exactly those candidates who would best contribute to the espoused goals of the organisation.

Guided by the heuristic of POSIWID, I assume that organisations – or more exactly the core group within an organisation – are not much interested in the organisation’s espoused goals. Deming said as much fifty years ago, with his First Theorem:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profit”

~ W Edwards Deming

I find this particularly noticeable in hiring for so-calle Agile positions and roles. […]

Now, I’m not about to criticise folks – senior executives and middle managers in this case – for acting in their own individual and collective (core group) best interests.

It’s what humans do – acting to get needs met.

I’m just inviting you, like the executives at InsCo did, to take a look at the consequences of your current hiring and staffing policies and processes.

And consider how those staffing policies and processes play against the things that matter to you.

Oh, and maybe consider what those things that matter to you are, too.

Part 3 – The Dilemma

For me, struggling as I am to find gainful and meaningful employment, the questions aired in part 2 raise an interesting question for all of us in the Agile field:

Do we concentrate on appearing competent, and on our abilities to help the organisation achieve its espoused goals? Or do we focus on getting a well-paid job – which demands a very different strategy and “personal brand image”?

The former strategy suggests we list our experience, results and contributions to the success of the organisations we have worked with. That we take hiring organisations’ espoused goals at face value and play to those declared goals.

The latter strategy suggests we present ourselves in terms that appeal to the needs we imagine the hirers – and their gatekeepers – have.

Needs rarely articulated and only determinable through observation of these folks’ actions. Needs which in most cases means portraying ourselves as conventional, conservative, and status-quo loving. As “safe hires”.

I’ve discovered – unsurprisingly, to me – that I just CAN’T bring myself to do the latter.

I’m NOT a safe hire, not do I ever wish to be. My value proposition is other.

Outwith the emotional consequences of pretending to be something I’m not, and setting myself up at work to live a life that’s a bald-faced lie, I just don’t want to find myself in any more jobs or roles that, in essence, are just another stupid punt.

How about you?

– Bob

Antimatter Recruiting

The Antimatter Principle applies not just to software development and teams, but across the whole spectrum of business. One key area that could benefit is that of search and selection, a.k.a. Talent Management a.k.a. recruitment a.k.a. hiring.


“Classifying and judging people promotes violence.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

“So what?” you might say. So, I ask – is violence the first and greatest thing you want your new hires to associate with the relationship they’re building with your organisation – and you with them?

Let’s face it, the traditional recruiting process is nothing if not a prime example of classifying and judging people. Is there any way we can get away from that?

The Default Pattern

Traditional recruiting almost always gets a new-hire relationship off on the wrong foot. By the time the selected candidate has been through the process and starts their new job, the pattern for disengagement has pretty much been set.

How might we approach recruiting such that new hires might feel more engaged when they start work, rather than less?

Would you be prepared to consider the application of the Antimatter Principle to this process?

The Traditional Focus

Traditionally, recruitment is all about the needs of the hiring organisation, and what the candidates can do to meet those needs. The candidate’s needs barely get a look-in, excepting the tacit belief that compensation (salary) is all that needs be offered by way of attending to the candidate’s needs.

How It Could Work

How might it be if recruiters, hirers, etc., focused instead on the needs of the candidate? Not to the exclusion of the needs of the organisation you understand. But putting the needs of the candidate at least on a par with those of the organisation. And helping the candidates – who will have little in the way of information on how accepting the job might help them attend to their own needs – understand how taking the job might help them get their needs met?

This alternate focus would bring a number of benefits:

  • The candidates would all feel more positive about the hiring organisation. Those who were not offered the position may well speak about their experience positively to friends and colleagues, and candidates and their contacts may feel more inclined to pursue other opportunities with the organisation in the future.
  • More engaged new hires, from the get-go.
  • An organisation with more connections, joy and humanity.

– Bob

Further Reading

Stop the Machine. Engagement is Human ~ Simon Terry
The War With Talent ~ Dr. Charles Handler

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