What Does 'Good' Mean at Work?

"You should always be thinking about what it takes to win and how to get there"

When his smartest friend couldn't find an entry-level job in the fight against climate change, Kai Han knew that the recruiting market needed to change.

So he created Pallet, a hiring platform that relies on trusted industry leaders, or "B2B influencers," to connect elite candidates with top employers in a vetted fashion.

Kai has spent his whole career helping companies and candidates define what "good" looks like, so I sat down with him to hear what he’s learned.

We also talk about:

  • Why you shouldn't let other people determine your ups and downs.

  • How to tell if the work you've done meets an acceptable quality bar.

  • How employers can build trust with candidates by leaning into a diversity of opinions.

If you're looking for tactical ways to improve your work or to build trust with candidates in today's fast-moving market, then you can learn a lot from my conversation with Kai.

You can watch it on our YouTube channel, or you can read it below.


Quick note before we get into it:

Running a distributed team can be chaotic. That’s why we built Almanac – to give remote teams structure and transparency without having to hold more meetings or buy more tools.

And I’m proud to say that Almanac has helped hundreds of world-class teams, like Credit Karma, Indeed, and Cisco, to document knowledge, collaborate online, and manage projects in a single place.

If you find it hard to escape the gravitational pull of chaotic processes, often caused by office-first ways of working transplanted into remote contexts, and you want help, shoot me an email ([email protected]).

I’ll have my team personally walk you through Almanac, help you set up your workspace, and I’ll give you a $35 credit to use on any of our plans.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Where did the idea for Pallet come from and what made it an interesting problem to solve for you?

It really started when I was in college. There was this one guy in my microeconomics class. He was the most brilliant guy that I knew. He asked the best questions. He was the person that I'd always go to for help with homework.

One time we were talking, and I asked him: hey, what are you going to do after we graduate? Do you have any plans? He went into this really beautiful speech about how he cares deeply about climate change and really wants to work on that, but he doesn't know of any good opportunities. So he was going to take a job at Goldman instead.

Now, there's nothing wrong with taking a job at Goldman–it's a great place to work, but his situation piqued my interest. The fact that the smartest guy I knew, who was super passionate about climate change, couldn't find any good opportunities in the climate space so he decided to take a job at Goldman, really motivated me to do something in the world of recruiting. His situation showed me that recruiting is just this insanely messy, convoluted, and fragmented market.

The second part of my idea for Pallet came from this newsletter I was reading called Accelerated. It was written by two venture investor sisters, and at the bottom of the newsletter every week, they would put the best jobs that they had found on LinkedIn. I thought it was such a great filter for me and really helped me hone in on things that I wanted to apply to.

So, going off of those two things, I started to realize how difficult it was to find good opportunities and to find the best thing to do with the vast majority of your time. So I combined this realization with this newfound proliferation of what I call "B2B Influencers." You can also call them "tastemakers" or "creators." It was a very compelling offer to sort of take these tastemakers and leverage the audience and influence that they have to help people figure out what they want to do with their lives.

So that's really what Pallet is. We partner with podcasters, newsletter writers, Slack community managers–anyone who's got a media audience–to help people find jobs.

What does a good job or good work look like right now?

That's the interesting thing–just the sheer amount of opinions and information we're exposed to today is so much larger than it's ever been. Everyone is seemingly creating content online and saying something about work and the world of work.

We work with newsletter writers who've built their entire audience off the merits of continuous development–saying that it's the one way to ship product. And we work with another person who makes any sponsor of his pallet fill out a twelve question quiz on their engineering culture.

Ultimately, there's no right answer here. You can do great work if you're working remotely and have a four day work week. You could do great work if you're in the office all the time and grinding 80 hours a week. To find the truth amongst a sea of different opinions is probably an impossible undertaking. It's important that you find an opinion that you resonate with, and that you stick with it. If you're constantly going from shiny thing to shiny thing–like one week you're all about continuous deployment and then the next week you're all about chaos engineering–then you're going to find yourself lost in the end. Consistency is really the key to actually being able to develop a foundation.

How do you think employers can build trust with candidates in this new landscape?

It's important for employers to recognize that there's not a definitive way to build a company anymore. And it's much better to lean into things that make you unique than to speak in platitudes. An average, in-demand candidate will receive upwards of 150 recruiter emails on a monthly basis. And I can guarantee you that every single one of these emails–if it's coming from a startup, at least–is talking about how great their investors are, how strong their revenue is, and how fast they're growing.

It's gotten to the point where these emails mean nothing. Because no one in their right mind would pitch the opposite. No recruiter is going to say, "hey, we have average investors, revenue is slowing down, and we're not growing very fast, but do you want to come work for us?"

As an employer, lean into the diversity of opinions, taste, and takes that you have. Really put your foot down and say, "this is what we believe work should look like, and if you align with this, then come work with us." You could do this by aligning yourself directly with a tastemaker who's already built an entire brand off of what you stand for. There are a lot of companies that are really great at this, like Linear. They've done an incredible job of clearly outlining how they believe work should work. And you guys–Almanac–do a great job of putting your opinions out there, which is so much more valuable than speaking in platitudes and telling people how great your investors are.

How can a candidate tell a good company from a bad company? What are some trapdoors to watch out for?

You can split up the recruiting process into two parts. The first part is the initial call. You basically have to decide if you're going to take the call or not. It's important that you find out a few things, like: what the company believes in, what it's like to work there, and what kind of traction they have. At the very least, you need to figure out these things when you're getting your foot in the door. And it's important that you're aligned with the company on what they say.

Then there's the next step, which is figuring out if you actually want to work there or not. Oftentimes, a great way to do this is just to use the product–it's the most crystal manifestation of what that company believes in. So, for example, if you're interviewing with a super-heavy B2B SaaS company, and no salesperson reaches out to you after you sign up, it's probably a (bad) sign that they don't have their core fundamentals down.

Generally speaking, employers have to align themselves with one type of candidate or one type of person. And then, in order to close the candidate that's come through their door, they have to be able to back up the things they say and put out into the world.

For the newly initiated managers out there, how can they figure out what good looks like in a very new context?

Good work is "good" in the context of the strength of your team and the collective of your team as a whole. There will be things that your team is good at, and there will be things that your team is bad at. When you strive to find good work amongst the team, it's sort of like asking, "how can we maximize the strength of all these people?"

Rather than saying, "hey, I've got this opinion on what a good job looks like, and I'm going to try to fit everyone into this mold," it's actually taking the time to say, "ok, who do we have on the roster right now? And how can we actually maximize their strengths?"

I'm a big sports fan, and I think it's insane to think that a sports team would have their definitive opinion on what a good team looks like and try to fit all their players into that mold. The best coaches look at the team–at the strengths and weaknesses of their players–and then position players accordingly. So, if you can identify someone's strength, then that's already a great start. If you can look at someone and say, "hey, this person's actually really good at this thing and not as good at this other thing," then that's step one.

If you can't identify what someone's good or bad at, then the truth might be that they're actually not very good at anything in the current moment. The first step for me is always to ask, "does this person showcase any specific strengths?" And then I ask, "can we actually apply those strengths in a way that helps the business and everyone else around them?" At Pallet, we focus a lot less on what people are bad at, because that's an uphill battle that you have to climb. Instead, we try to focus on what people are good at already, and we have them focus entirely on that one thing.

So, the short answer is to figure out what someone's good at before you figure out what good is. Then, if you can figure out what they're good at, ask: are they better than other people that have been good at that thing? Are they in the top of that class? Is their strength or skill helping the company right now?

As an employee, how do you know if the work you've done is good? How do you avoid the trap of doing work that you might think is good, but that doesn't meet the bar for your manager or customers?

The first two things you need to ask are:

  1. What's the score right now?

  2. What are the things that we have to do in order to help our customers and our team win?

At Pallet, we've found that the people who are really good at driving impact can very quickly understand what the score is and what contributes to that score. The more time that you spend thinking about how to do an exact task super perfectly, and the less time you spend thinking about what it's going to take for your team to win, the worse off you are.

At the very least, if you're dealing with an inexperienced manager like myself, sometimes you get assigned tasks that might not make sense in the moment. So it's important to be able to formulate opinions on things, and to understand what your team needs to do to win. You should always be thinking about the two, three, or four conditions that it takes to win and how to get to those points.

So what I hear you saying is that the best people understand the strategy, mission, and vision of the company and can triangulate what they need to do in order to help the company win.

Yeah, some of the best people on our team will message me and tell me that I'm wrong, or that I'm being an idiot. And obviously, when we've all aligned and agreed on something, it's not helpful to do that. But when we're still discussing something, if you have a take on why we should or shouldn't do it, then that's a great start.

You know, it's going to be interesting to see how these LLMs (Large Language Models) develop. I think a lot of work today is somewhat commoditized, and that it's a trend that's just going to continue on and on. You can draw pretty rectangles, or you can write good copy, but these skill sets are the starting line, certainly not the finish line. It's going to be harder and harder to make an entire career out of executing on these specific kind of tasks moving forward.

What role do you think AI should play in work? And do you think AI will force us to redefine what good at work looks like?

I'm a little less blindly optimistic on some of the stuff that's happening today than other folks. I think the work that you can get out of these LLMs right now is intern- or entry-level type IC work. And the good thing about it is that you can scale it up definitively. So that's already super valuable. I come at this from the perspective of, "hey, I've got someone with one or two years of experience who can do things really fast."

So if this type of work becomes totally productized and totally commoditized–to the point where anyone could get an intern to do something for them–then I think the way to develop and actually evolve in your career is going to be exactly the same as it is today. Which is to understand the actual drivers behind the business and the actual things that matter and to find a way to go and contribute to those things. Because I know that with a few prompts a chat bot can produce slightly worse work than I do. But still, that is the work.

In tech hiring, people don't usually hire junior people for their literal output. Very often, when folks want to hire a junior person, the hope is that they'll hit a diamond in the rough. They're looking for someone who has the capability to be a senior person and to think strategically about the business–someone who can do novel work and produce novel outcomes. So I think in some ways, the way to succeed is much the same as it's always been. But I think it's just going to be a lot more drastic, and that the feedback loops could be a lot tighter.

What advice do you have for all of the other founders listening in?

We've certainly had ups and downs, and I think everyone's going to have ups and downs. But, the key is to not let other people determine what your ups are and what your downs are. There's going to be moments where you get good press and people on Twitter are talking about you. And then, there's maybe going to be moments where a customer is super pissed and they think your product is garbage. You're going to have both of those extremes.

So, like I said before, it's important that you have your own understanding of what the score is. For example, maybe everyone on Twitter is talking about you. That's super exciting, but you need to ask yourself: are we doing the things that we need to do in order to build a sustainable, successful, and rapidly growing business? If the answer is no, then turn off Twitter as quickly as you can. Don't get drunk off that.

If a customer is pissed at you, and tells you that your product is the worst thing they've ever dealt with and that you're garbage and your team is garbage, you need to ask yourself, is this feedback an actual red flag that something in our core model is wrong? Or is it just an angry person? Because there are a lot of angry people out there.

Next Week on The Big Bet: Hiten Shah, Co-Founder and CEO of Nira

Hiten Shah is the Co-Founder and CEO of Nira, a real-time access control system that helps companies prevent unauthorized access to their documents.

Prior to starting Nira, Hiten founded three other SaaS companies: one that was venture-backed, KISSmetrics, and two that were self-funded, Crazy Egg and Quick Sprout.

In addition to being a serial entrepreneur, Hiten is also a startup advisor and investor. Some of his notable investments include: Front, Loom, and Truebill (Rocket Money).

You’ll get my full conversation with Hiten next Thursday.

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