How to unpack the most recent New York Times Corner Office column featuring Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports? There’s a couple of interesting quotes, but this particular passage got the play on journalism, markets, and socialism Twitter (the Holy Trinity).
The easy joke here is to claim it’s paradoxical that such a bro-y site would have such exacting standards, but that barb doesn’t really jibe with reality. Any company – especially ones that pursue quote-unquote frivolous things — can be workplace boiler rooms. The businesses with the least serious subject matter an be the most seriously minded when it comes to work ethic. I’m far from surprised that this quote came from a lad & sports bible, and not a hedge fund.
But Nardini’s comment above touches upon a couple of interesting points, which I will break out below. While there are no doubt A-type people and others who support such an approach, let’s assume more people will have a negative reaction to that quote, then positive. As such:
1) A tough job market (overall and within media) enables this sort of behavior. If the workers had more power (as they sometimes do in industries where everyone is growing and skilled talent is rare), this would not be a thing many bosses said. When the company has slim pickings in talent, they try to not force the issue or make unforced errors. Nardini clearly feels they can weed through people who will not respond within three hours to find the high intensity workers because there’s enough chum out there.
2) This is a net-negative strategy. Even if your team is replete with an ideal-to-you staff of always on workers, they will get burned out, whether that does or does not show up in an eye test or whether they do or do not confess that to you. Countless research backs it up.
3) Her other comments – which are wiser than the ones being passed around – seemingly contradict a reliance on this approach. She talks about how there are two types of people – the 90% and the 10%. The 10% are people who are not super-dependable most of the time, but have a 10% capacity for brilliance that outstrips the others. Her growth as a manager, she says, has come from learning how to utilize the 10%. Now, if she is using a Sat morning response time as a baseline for hires, she is clearly going to miss out on people who respect their own free time, but then are the biggest assets for a company during the work week.
4) This is just bad for society as a whole. While Nardini is clearly monomaniacally focused on her own company, it contributes to a wider responsibility worker drones feel they owe to their company. Employer-employee transactions should hew to a fair exchange as much as possible. Clearly, we are far from that, and how close we should be undoubtedly influences your political beliefs, but expanding that ravine is going to lead us to nothing but trouble. So let’s hope this is a teaching moment for business.