Hiring and Retaining Pivotal People – Cal Evans Style

pivotal-talent.jpgCal Evens, technical manager of training at Zen, gave a fantastic interview to the folks over at Fog Creek this week on his process for hiring and retaining software developers. He talks a lot about culture – culture of resect, team culture, organizational culture, and trust. The core focus of this interview was scoped to hiring and retaining software developers, but the real dogma here can (and should) be applied by any organization that wants to attract and retain pivotal people.


  1. Pivotal people are the foundation of your organization. Sometimes, it makes sense to treat them differently.

  2. You have a responsibility to be transparent in your hiring process. And your applicants do too. Establish trust early on and everyone wins later.

  3. Competency comes first, after that it’s about cultural fit.

  4. Their job is to reach a goal; your job is to hold the umbrella.

He’s not advocating for an environment where pivotal employees are treated like rock stars, but there’s a lot of wisdom in remaining flexible – for the right people. The obvious advantage to this philosophy is that you have a higher chance of retaining top talent long-term if you can support your employee through the many changes they’ll experience over their career lifecycle. Beyond getting paid to do nothing at all, what’s your dream company like? Imagine that and then make it happen, or some other company will.

What cultural fit means it that I’ve got a team that is currently working together and you’ve got to be able to play a part on that team, and you’ve got to be able to disagree with these people, and not be a hindrance to the team. 

I’m a complete fangirl for cultural fit. I work on a self-managing team of 10 and fit is critical to the team’s overall performance. Even a short-term project with someone whose chemistry doesn’t flow with the group can put us in a funk. Your immediate co-workers, particularly in small groups or organizations with a start-up feel, are secondary members of your family. You don’t need to move in together, but you’d darn sure better be able to get through Thanksgiving dinner together – or Monday mornings.

Finally, I love his emphasis on transparency and trust in the hiring process. And I truly believe we need to, as hiring managers and job prospects, lean into this more. Everyone has a number. If you’re going to advertise for a position, give your number. If you’re going to apply for a position, give your number. Don’t give the bare minimum you’d pay, or the bare minimum you’d need to barely scrape by with your student loans, lay it out there honestly. Sure, you might be passed over for the job, or you may not be able to hire your dream candidate, but you’ll both be better off in the long run.