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Something Ventured: June 21

Insight For BC Technology Entrepreneurs

By Brent Holliday

It's Not About The Money... Really

"Money don't get everything it's true.
What it don't get I can't use.
So gimme money THAT'S WHAT I WANT " - Beatles, Money (That's What I Want)

A recent Harvard Business Review article outlined the 6 myths of compensation for employees. The last of the 6 caught my attention the most. It said, "People work just for the money". I read this article after digesting the recent survey by KPMG and CATA on attracting and retaining high-tech workers in Canada (it found that salary was 6th on a list of most important factors in selecting an employer and that stock options were among the least important factors). So, looking at this "myth" of employee compensation got me thinking about the reality of work and what it means to people.

Work is a necessary part of life. Unless you want to drive a VW van, grow dreads and live off the land, man. In fact, someone wiser than me once told me that you can boil life down to three things: your work, your family and your hobby(ies). "Unfortunately, for me", said this liver transplant surgeon, "my hobby is my work."

So, if work is just a given in our lives then why wouldn't we all try to minimize our time and maximize our return at work in order to go and enjoy the family and hobbies. Fact is, most of actually get a kick out of what we are doing.

Work can be broken down into a) the actual tasks you perform (job description), b) the people you interact with (co-workers and customers) and c) the setting in which you do your job. If you don't actually enjoy all of your job description duties, hopefully you like the people and/or the setting. If you don't like the people (overbearing boss, not fitting in with the group), you'll probably leave. If the actual workplace drives you nuts (excessive travel, cubicle farms) you'll probably leave too. The point here is that we seek much more from our work than just the actual work we perform

Going back to the myth of people working for just money; of course they don't. In high tech, the challenge and excitement of leading edge technology drive engineers. Marketing types are driven by the challenge of complex products being sold through complex value chains in rapidly growing markets. It's exciting!

The KPMG/CATA survey confirmed that high tech workers value challenging work, working with newer technology and career opportunities as the most important factors in choosing an employer. For those of you that missed Phil Northcott's enthusiastic presentation to the High Tech Policy forum at the Vancouver Board of Trade breakfast, June 24th, you would have heard these very same points made. The actual job tasks excite and stimulate people to work in high tech.

Technology job seekers should look beyond the actual tasks and try to discover who works for the company and what the setting is like. You can make a career for yourself by learning from the right person. You can keep your sanity and be more productive working in an ideal setting. From a management point of view, a high tech worker that is happy with the job, the people and the setting is going to stay and be very productive. And productivity is the key to the success and profitability of any business. My favourite "setting" story was when the boss wanted the workers to work long hours and be extremely productive, but shut the air conditioning off after 6 pm because it was expensive to run at night. Sweaty, pissed off employees are not productive, they are living in a Dilbert cartoon.

Work setting is the most often overlooked and undervalued part. I'm fond of the comment from Microserfs, the book on Microsoft culture, by Doug Coupland., "Nerds love doors.". I wonder about the local Vancouver tech companies and their use of the bigger setting of BC. Every single BC Tech company should be incorporating the awesome geography into the workplace.

Have I mentioned pay yet?

The ugly reality of why we work is to make money to pay the government, support families and pass time with our hobbies. So pay is important. And what a worker considers "good" pay is relative to the objective cost of living and the subjective greed values of the individual. But pay is not why most people take jobs and stay in jobs any more. In fact, if you are interviewing a potential worker and pay is mentioned at all before the end of the first interview, I suggest you not hire them. If pay is the number one concern, then you will only keep them until the next better offer comes along. And it's really expensive to have large turnover.

So what about the specific problem of attracting and keeping workers here in BC, when our cost of living is very high relative to everywhere else? I think we can really start to promote all of the facets of working in BC technology companies. I've got some ideas along those lines. I want to leave that for next week.

Random Thoughts

Speaking of jobs in high-tech, you should look at this really cool site done as a public service by Microsoft. It allows you to see high tech employment numbers and revenue dollars state by state. It also links to some insightful papers on high-tech employment. Gosh, those guys in Redmond are really swell.

The June Technology Dinner Circuit rush is nearly over. At the Vancouver Enterprise Forum Dinner on Tuesday, Mike Volker's group put a really neat presentation together about 10 years of BC High Tech. It really put into perspective how far the industry has come. Of course, my favourite part was the actual audio tape of Dr. Geoff Ballard talking in 1989 about his lucky day. It was when he took the advice of his partners in Ballard Technologies to stop trying to negotiate a better deal with the venture capitalists, Ventures West and BDC, and just take the money. Geoff took the deal offered, although he felt he might have held out a little longer for more. He signed on Friday. the following Monday was the October stock market crash and venture capital would have been twice as expensive. Words of wisdom from a legendary BC entrepreneur.

What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday

Something Ventured
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to share some of the perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC. The column is always followed by feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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