Entries Tagged 'Corporate' ↓

Shaping identity through naming

A few years back, during a project kickoff, we organized our engineers into teams, each intended to solve specific problems and deliver subsets of the overall project functionality.  Experimenting with some Agile concepts, we invited the teams to name themselves.

The team I was leading took this opportunity seriously; we campaigned for names we liked, we had suggestions both serious and humorous, and in the end we voted.  Our team name became Daemon.  We adopted the FreeBSD mascot for our informal internal communications, and often accompanied our team name with the following quote someone found online describing Unix daemons:

Thus, a daemon is something that works magically without anyone being much aware of it.

Over the next year, our team shifted to align with that definition.  We took pride in low bug counts, in delivering services that “just worked” and required very little configuration or setup.  Our focus shifted away from administrative use cases and focused more on infrastructure.  We sought out work that aligned with our mission.

In other words, naming ourselves helped define and shape our behavior.

We obviously took the name because we were proud of our ability to quietly deliver high quality work.  But that in turn shaped us to focus more on the traits we took from our name.

As another example, I’ve noticed this same pattern when defining strengths in performance reviews. Once someone names a strength, they are more apt to think of that as a character trait and seek out opportunities to prove it again.  Likewise, once the team leadership begins to discuss a person in certain terms, those terms may follow that person around their career (for better or worse).

So naming (or even labeling) can be powerful, and we should respect that.  Use it to your own advantage (the ever-present “personal brand”), help your teams use it to define their mission — but use it cautiously when defining others.

Let others help you

I recently sat through a meeting and got a little riled up.  I may come across as pretty low key, but I take some things seriously, and every once in a while my idealistic self threatens to take over.

I was in the middle of writing up a charged email on the subject — in fact, I had edited it four times to make it seem as calm as possible while still getting my point across — when a colleague came by for a chat.  I mentioned in passing that I was thinking of sending this email, and he just shook his head.  “Not a good time,” he said.  I was frustrated, but nodded, and saved the draft and picked up something else to work on.

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The self-appraisal as a business communication

Once more, I find myself writing about the self-appraisal, that much maligned part of the annual performance review so common in our corporate circles.  Can you believe it’s been eight years since I first wrote about the self-appraisal process?  My own approach to this topic has evolved considerably over time, and so has the corporate environment in which I write them.

Here at Dell EMC, the biggest difference between self-appraisals in 2009 and 2017 is that we no longer make use of open-ended documents. Instead of having unlimited space to wage a marketing campaign for ourselves, we’re forced to focus our thoughts on each question into just a few sentences. We often joke that we’re tweeting our strengths and weaknesses, and the comparison is apt.  With a strict character limit, every word counts, which makes strong communication skills vital in producing an effective self-appraisal.

I don’t have any “tricks” here, but I make a point to think of my self-appraisal as a piece of business communication. As with any such communication, there are some tried and true keys to effectiveness. Continue reading →

I could never be a manager because…

I’ve written about this subject before, but it’s a common topic that never really goes away. As someone who started technical and moved into management, who keeps close to friends and colleagues who stayed technical, I often hear the line: “I could never be a manager, because…”.

About a year go, our group went through some difficult changes and we had to let some people go — a substantial percentage of our project team lost their jobs. I traveled to a remote office and laid off several highly qualified engineers in one of the toughest days of my career, and then returned to corporate headquarters and watched all my peers do the same thing.

Commiserating with colleagues (and ex-colleagues) after the fact, I heard someone tell a story of a friend who had abandoned his role as a manager rather than have to tell someone they had lost their job.  At the time I just nodded, but the story has come back to me over and over in the year since. And while I would not begrudge anyone a personal choice like that, I know I would never make it.

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Lessons from the 2016 election

Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, the increasing amount of publishing and scrutiny of (previously) private communications (from both major candidates and their parties) should be interesting. It’s not isolated to politics either; we’ve seen similar situations unfold with celebrities and movie studios. And there are lessons here for managers and for tech-savvy individuals in general which are worth examining.

There’s been significant analysis and condemnation about the wording of the emails between various DNC officials, whether it relates to bad-mouthing Bernie Sanders or unflattering characterizations of vast numbers of the voting public. The same held true during the aftermath of the Sony Pictures hack. There’s been remarkably little condemnation of the repurposing of these private communications for public analysis, though. Everyone seems to believe that the greater good (or just the greater curiosity) outweighs respecting the privacy of these communications.

This is a valuable insight into the reality of 21st century communication.

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Looking back at EMC

With tomorrow marking the start of our new home under the Dell Technologies umbrella, we got a lot of mileage today out of the joke, “Enjoy your last day at EMC!”

The truth behind the laughs is that the feelings are bittersweet. When Data General was bought out by EMC, there were similar feelings – had we “won” or “lost” in being acquired?  In this case, since Dell isn’t a competitor to EMC, it’s more clear cut. Fewer people feel we’ve “lost” (though some do – I don’t know what “win” they saw coming that nobody else saw).

I personally am a little sad to see EMC go, from the standpoint of a Massachusetts success story being folded into something bigger. But I’m glad to see such a clear vision for the future. I’m excited by the business leaders and their plans. People who aren’t in the industry ask me if this news makes me nervous or scared – I can honestly tell them “no.” Change is a constant fixture at EMC, and while this is change on an unprecedented level it is less nerve-racking to me personally than the dot-com crash or the 2008 recession.

The other side of this is that people who were paying attention were already nervous. I attended a session in the summer of 2015 about EMC and its place in the transforming IT landscape. The constant calls for EMC to split off VMware, or otherwise make drastic changes in response to shareholder pressure were a big part of the conversation.  Discussions with my colleagues suggested that something “big” would have to happen in the fall of 2015 if EMC was going to remain recognizable in a few years.

Something big did happen, of course, that fall. And it’s finally completing tomorrow. And out of all the “big” things that might have happened, I think this one has something good in it for the employees, customers, partners, and shareholders. I’m on board.

Tomorrow I’ll be a Dell EMC employee. I’ll pause and reflect on all that made EMC unique and amazing. And then … back to work. Because we’ve got to help make Dell EMC unique and amazing.  The battle continues!

These are exciting times.

New day, new team

Today I logged into the system and saw that the team I’ve been leading for a few weeks now is formally now reporting to me.  I didn’t write about the change for the same reason I don’t write about a lot of my day-to-day issues as an engineering manager: it’s hard to make the content interesting while still respecting the privacy of the people involved.

My responsibilities aren’t changing, not in the grand scheme of things.  I’m still leading a team which is responsible for doing a lot of the “guts” type work in the SRM Suite, which includes functionality from ProSphere, Watch4Net, and Storage Compliance Analyzer … and unless you’re a customer or a fellow ASD employee, I don’t expect that means anything to you.

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What you remember

I didn’t want to write a 9/11 post, to try and put such a huge event in the context of my tiny corporate blog.

But I had a conversation with some colleagues and family over the weekend, and I thought it would be useful to record one piece of information about that day.

I remember many things about that day, sitting here at EMC in Hopkinton.   But one thing that stuck with me over the years is that my manager at the time gave me a hard time about leaving at mid-day to be with my wife, who had been sent home from her work in a high-rise building (if you remember, many high-rise buildings were closed and their employees sent home) and really didn’t feel comfortable being alone.

I’m sure we were working on something really important that day. I’m sure that manager did what they felt was best for the corporation on that day.

I have no idea what I was working on that day.  But I do remember exactly how that interaction felt.  And I remember how absurd that feeling is, in the context of the world-changing events that took place on that day.

It’s a lesson as a manager I carry forward.  I write this not to call out my previous manager but to remind all of us as managers that the world is bigger than our deadlines.

Becoming a manager – fear of politics

Last time I wrote on this subject, I covered only a third of the equation of the decision to become a manager.  There were still some open questions, including figuring out what skills and talents I could bring to the management table, and how to deal with the vague “ugly stuff” that most technical contributors seem to fear hides behind the manager’s job title.

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Casual Friday: Presenting Perils

While waiting for a meeting to start yesterday, a colleague and I swapped stories of the perils of presenting.  Whether it’s a livemeeting or a projector hooked to your desktop, there’s some loss of privacy that can come with using your PC to host a meeting.  For example ….

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