When process overtakes content

Hiring is one of the most important skills in being an entrepreneur. And no one ever gets its all right. I’ve now been an entrepreneur for 8 years and I can tell you if you manage to attract and retain a handful of truly world class people you are lucky and onto a winner.

A key lesson I’ve learn is that people’s qualities can broadly be split into two categories. Process and Content.

Content is the thing you produce in whatever vertical function you are in. If you’re a marketer it’s the stuff that will attract and retain new customers. If you’re in finance it’s the quality of your numbers and analysis. If you’re in product it’s the stuff you build and how it impacts your users.

Content is the real deal. It’s defines the quality of what you actually ship. But here’s the thing. For content to be great it needs process. Especially as you grow. And very few people I’ve met are actually world class at both.

Process is the thing you learn. Content is natural talent more than anything else I feel. Sure it improves over time with experience but only marginally. Process is the thing you really learn. You learn how to get shit done, how to coordinate with others, communicate, set expectations, draw roadmaps and fancy charts with lots of colours that people understand. But you don’t really step change on the content you ship.

So here’s the thing. In evaluating people or coaching them I’ve learnt the importance of splitting the two. If someone sucks at content get rid of them. The likelihood is that they will always suck. You cant teach someone to write great prose or engaging content past a certain age, or get numerical when they are not. Or teach them design sense or a sense of taste. Or commercial awareness. Those fundamentals are baked in their system at a young age. They either have that or they don’t

What you  can teach them is process. How to organize all the moving parts better. How to build and execute a roadmap, how to motivate others to align themselves with it and get the shit done.  But you won’t ever move the needle very much on what it is they get done.

So content my friend is king.  Content plus process equals a goldmine. If you find people who both have ingenuity in what it is they produce and they are people who are ruthless executors, organized, great communicators, team players and all that jazz: those people are like goldust. Look after them cos they walk on water.

Process on its own is like an organized path to the graveyard. It’s like getting there in single file. Queuing up and slowly laying yourself down to be axed. You will produce some mediocre shit at best   – albeit in an efficient way. But who cares?  Your content sucks! So it doesn’t matter if it was done in world class operating efficiency. You’re an efficient aircraft with no engine!

On the flip side, content on its own is like an uncultivated goldmine. But when you cultivate it, great things happen. Magic.

Entrepreneurs are rarely process people. They are more often than not about the content. That’s how they break new ground. And in fact – like in my case – they hate process. They cringe and force themselves to do it because they have to.

But as a business grows process becomes more important and people become obsessed by it. Sometimes so much so that they forget about the content. Process becomes so important that the thing that got them there in the first place is now on the back burner

That’s the beginning of the end. The start of long meetings. Bureaucracy,  politics, red tape. Death by power point and long meetings. In other words: time to get the hell out.

So the key takeaway is this: learn to differentiate between content and process. Learn to evaluate people on those two axioms separately. And never, never let process overtake the content.

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