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Assessing Company Health

Hacker News Discusses How to Assess Company Health

Hacker News, the democratized link aggregator preferred by tech talent, periodically features its users chiming in on issues common to startup employees. This week, the community offers its two cents on indicators employees can watch for when assessing company health. Users suggested everything from keeping an eye on catered lunch frequency to overt questions about financial runway, and responses ranged from incisively perceptive to vague tinfoil hat paranoia. So, without further ado, I give you Fish or Cut Bait: Startup Edition, featuring the friendly engineers over on Hacker News.

Assessing Company Health

Tiredwired, go to the head of the class. This top commenter sounds like they’ve been around the block a few times, as they rattled off several examples of rats on a sinking ship:

They suddenly decide to inventory equipment (determine company value or collateral). Cutting back on benefits like 401k matching. Delays buying new equipment. People quitting and not being replaced. Senior management having all-day private meetings. They request your background information as if to determine if you are qualified for current or new positions (if company is discussing being acquired). Hackathons with a theme completely off target from current products….Managers stop showing up for meetings. Managers stop caring about product quality. You look up from your desk and realize the office is empty when it should be busy – either those people are being terminated or you are being terminated.

Later in the thread, user fnbr pipes up with a more talent focused approach to assessing company health:

I, personally, focus on who’s getting promoted and who’s leaving. If a company is promoting internally and retaining people, then it’s typically in a good place; if a lot of people are getting hired above others, and new employees aren’t staying long, then it’s in poor health.

Truly, employees are the leading indicator of a company’s health. Even if the company isn’t at death’s door, churn beyond industry standards is a sign the org doesn’t focus on employee development, doesn’t listen to employee feedback about leadership, or a host of other organizational ills. Either way, if employees are quitting and the company isn’t hiring from within, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

how to assess company health

In a response deserving to be far higher in the thread, Shimon recommends asking direct questions of your superiors. Mind blowing, I know.

One simple thing missing in most of these replies: ask questions. Ask your boss, ask your peers, ask the CEO now and then.

  • How is the company doing against its goals for the year?
  • What does our runway look like?
  • What signs of product success are we expecting? What are we seeing?

In the responses, be wary of blithe positivity more than bad news. Bad news is normal; a healthy organization learns from it and improves. Optimism disconnected from reality is either an attempt to mislead you or a sign of blindness to results.

On the refreshingly contrarian front, some users discussed the notion that a company’s success ought not to concern you as much as your own personal development. User Scarface74 asks you to say hello to his little career development philosophy:

It shouldn’t matter to you if a company is doing well. The only thing that should matter is are you learning skills for which there is a market? Getting in the mindset that your “job” does not determine your well being but your skills do.

That mindset presupposes a few things:

  • That you always have your finger on the market and the skills that are in demand
  •  Your network is strong – including recruiters.
  • You live below your means and have enough in liquid savings to survive a job loss and getting a new job.

If you want to hear what everyone else had to say, you can head over to the full thread here. And if any of the above sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s time to poke your head out of the water.