Bill Gates: `Best and Brightest' Employees


I'm often asked how to be a good manager, a topic I've taken on in this column more than once. Less often does anybody ask an equally important question: What makes a good employee? Here are 10 of the qualities I find in the "best and brightest" employees, the people companies should attract and retain.

If you have all of these attributes, you're probably a terrific employee.

First, it's important to have to have a fundamental curiosity about pop culture. I mean, if everyone in the office is having an argument over whether or not Sam out of Bewitched is cooler than Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie and someone turns around and says "Oh I never watch television" or "I only watch documentaries", then everyone is going to want to join the last train to depressionville.

This can't be stressed enough in the computer world. It also carries special weight in other knowledge-based fields where technology and practices exist that excludes individuals from having a life of their own, forcing them to substitute vast amounts of trivia.

Second, you need a genuine interest in engaging other staff members in passionate and illicit liaisons. There is nothing like a bit of sexual tension to make the workplace that much more exciting.

Third, once you understand your customer's needs, you have to be able to think of ways to satisfy them without doing any actual work or helping them in anyway. Say for instance you work at an IT magazine. Occasionally you will get readers ringing up to find out who distributes some lame-ass piece of software. Since they're a customer you can't tell them the truth (which would be "like I give a fuck"), but you don't care enough to actually find the information for them. What you should do is tell them that you are "searching our databases", while you type off a few e-mails to your friends. Then announce that unfortunately you can't find the distributor, but suggest they do an Internet search, which they would have done in the first place if they had any brains.

These first three points are related. Success comes from understanding and caring deeply about fellow workers, pop culture and a unified stance against your customers.

Fourth, you as an individual employee should maintain the same type of long-term approach that a good company does. The long-term approach of most companies is basically to make as much money in as short a period of time as possible and then disappear before the shit hits the fan. This is the philosophy you should aspire to.

Management can also encourage motivation, of course. "Work hard or you're fired" is a great motivator.

Fifth, you need to have specialized knowledge or skills while maintaining a broad perspective. For instance, it is very important that you acquire the skills to at least look like you're doing some work while at the same time, not doing any work.

Sixth, you have to be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities that can give you perspective. At Microsoft we try to offer a person lots of different jobs through the course of a career. Anyone interested in joining management is encouraged to work in different customer units, even if it means moving laterally within the organization or relocating to a different part of the world blah blah blah blah. You're not still reading this are you? I'm bored. Entertain me. The richest man in the goddamn world and I have to write this bollocks. I'm going to change my name to Gigantor and get some silver underwear. Phwoar, that chick from Friends is a babe.

Seventh, a good employee will want to learn the economics of the business. Why does a company do what it does? What are its business models? How does it make money? Can I take some of it without anyone noticing? I'm always surprised to learn of a company that doesn't educate its employees in the fundamental financial realities of its industry. Employees need to understand the "make or break" aspects of their industry so that they know what it is about their own job that really counts. Of course, employees have to be willing students who direct attention to the areas where it makes the biggest difference and there is lowest security.

Eighth, you must focus on competitors. You must focus on getting them to try and give you more money than your current employer. You think your company gives a shit about you? They'd sell you out in a second.

Ninth, you've got to use your head. Any time someone pisses me off, I just go over and head butt them, they never expect that.

Use your head in practical ways, too. Prioritize your time effectively. Think about how to give advice crisply to other groups. But mainly head butt people.

Finally, don't overlook the obvious essentials such as being honest, ethical and hard working. These attributes are critical and go without saying.

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