Entries Tagged 'Corporate' ↓

On dodging buses

The following is inspired by a number of true stories, though it is fiction:

Susan, manager of a development team, receives an email (sent to several dozen people) that the sanity test cycle is being held up because of a problem … a problem she thought had been fixed.  She sends a hurried “reply to all” saying as such, asking whether the fix ever made it in.  Igor knows his teammate Rosalina was ironing out some last-minute issues with the fix late last night, but doesn’t know what happened.  Igor sends a reply-to-all saying “Rosalina was supposed to check in that fix,” prompting Susan to ask, in front of the same 50 people, whether the fix ever made it in, in some rather unhappy language.  Rosalina replies a few moments later that the fix was held up, but that a manual workaround has been applied and testing can continue.

On the surface this looks mundane, but if you look a bit deeper it exposes some behaviors which can have a lasting negative effect on the team.  It’s bad enough when your teammate throws you under a bus to get ahead … but Igor has thrown Rosalina under a bus and gained nothing out of it.  This is a blame-avoidance culture gone too far.  Igor is so scared of getting in trouble that his first reaction isn’t to fix the problem, it’s to dodge the incoming blame missiles.

I can’t blame Igor for what he’s done.  He’s been trained, either by Susan or by other managers, to do this.  But imagine everything else about the story is the same, except Igor takes the time to walk over to Rosalina’s desk, they converse for a moment, and then Rosalina responds to the email, “I was working with Igor on that problem late last night.  I applied a workaround while we work out some last-minute details.”

The situation is no different, and nobody is being deceived or misled or any problems buried.  It’s just a matter of changing how things get communicated.

Here’s another example.

Roger, Director of Software Engineering, sends an email to his entire management staff asking whether a certain scenario was considered when the product requirements were estimated.  Bill, a Senior Manager, replies-to-all, “Li, on my staff ,was supposed to consider that.  Did you, Li?”

Ouch!  There’s another bus-throwing incident, this time Bill tossing Li under one for no reason.  In fact, Bill made himself look worse, like someone who can’t trust his own staff.  Imagine Bill instead privately contacted Li and asked about the situation, and then summarized the answer.  Here are two possibilities:

“Li, on my staff, started to look at that but got pulled aside for some higher priority work.  I can share the details with you if you want, Roger.  If we need to go back and invest more into this, let me know and I’ll work with my team on it.”

“Li, on my staff, took a look at this and we’re all set.  Feel free to swing by and we can discuss the details.”

Frankly, the reply-to-all blame dodge and/or bus-toss is one of the most distasteful behaviors I encounter from otherwise civilized professionals.  We need to drill it into people’s heads that it’s a lose-lose proposal.

Lessons from poker

A few years back, I was trying to improve my poker game (as a real geek if I start doing something I have to research it; I can’t just experience it).  I read a few books and one of the pieces of advice I received (probably from author Larry Phillips in his book of Zen advice for poker) has stuck with me well into other areas of my life.

Simply put, it’s this: don’t make yourself into a character in a story.

In the game of poker, this basically means that you shouldn’t let yourself see patterns in the randomness of the game which influence you.  After something improbable happens a few times, you might begin thinking “That always happens to me,” and next time there’s a chance of that happening, you back off, frightened.  Your ace-high flush bested by a full house twice in one night becomes “I never win with flushes,” and next time you get a flush, you fold the winning hand.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for situations where you misread the game — perhaps you are “always” losing with the second-best hand because you aren’t evaluating the probability of the winning hand being present accurately.  But that’s not what Phillips is talking about.

This advice carries over into the professional world as well.  How many times have you encountered people who claim “I just don’t get that kind of stuff,” when faced with a new problem?  “Oh, I’m no good at writing,” or “I don’t get all this social media stuff,” or even “I’d never make a good manager.” These individuals have written themselves into a story; instead of seeing all their options, they are living life like a character in a book, their reactions predetermined by the plot they’ve built in their head.

Not only are these people missing out on their own potential, they are advertising their closed-mindedness to their colleagues, customers, and managers.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t be self-aware.  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing where to invest your energy and where to cut your losses: these are vital skills to acquire.  But do it knowingly, by choice, and carefully.  Don’t project the “oh well it’s not meant to be” attitude of the two-dimensional character in a pulp novel.

Go take a class!

final exam
Creative Commons License photo credit: dcJohn
Every once in a while, life gets busy and I completely neglect any attempt at professional education. The past few months have been like that for me, but I recently had a strong recommendation to attend a specific class here at EMC and did. In the process, I remembered why I enjoy them so much.

The trick is that it has nothing to do with the class. The material in the class is important in its own way, but there’s no shortage of information available to anyone who is looking for it. But these other benefits are much harder to come by: Continue reading →

Everyone works for PR

Have you read my disclaimer?  Over on the side of my page?  These are not my employer’s opinions, I don’t speak for EMC, EMC doesn’t speak for me, and so on?

That might protect EMC if I were to go off the deep end legally.  They might be able to fire me, disavow all knowledge of my actions, and prevent themselves from getting in too much trouble themselves.  But if I were to do something legal but just plain stupid, do you think that disclaimer would prevent the EMC brand from being damaged in your eyes?  Of course not.

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A “Yes Man” feeling the energy

I’m not a big fan of Jim Carrey, and I wouldn’t recommend you go out of your way to catch his recent movie Yes Man.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to spoil the movie for you.  Saying “yes” to things you used to say “no” to opens up lots of opportunities for cool things to happen (and some not-so-cool, but they’re all worth it).  Oh, and he gets the girl in the end.

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Who tells you what to do?

As I was reading my RSS feeds this morning I stumbled across a recent post by Steve Todd, a long-time friend and mentor of mine.  He made a great point which I had to quote and comment on:

I am also of the opinion that if your manager disagrees with this approach, well, they’re not watching your every move now, are they?

I’ve written before about how it’s your own career you have to be managing first, and that includes sometimes acting in ways which your immediate manager might not approve of.  I’m not suggesting you act contrary to business directives in furthering your own career.  But I am suggesting that while your management tells you what you need to do, you shouldn’t limit your contributions to just that.  If you go asking for permission for everything, many managers will quite happily expand their control over your day to fill all your working hours plus some.  So don’t.

Of course, to pull this off well requires taking another piece of Steve’s advice.  Exceed your manager’s expectation of you, every day.  Do what you’re asked to do and do it better than expected, and ideally you’ll find the freedom you need to do the things your manager didn’t ask you to do (whether he or she knows about them or not).

How not to use twitter

If you’re clued in with twitter at all, you’ve heard of the “cisco fatty” meme.  A user tweets about whether to take a job at Cisco they will hate, and Cisco responds on twitter, reminding everyone that Twitter isn’t private unless you make it private.

Yesterday Cheezhead posted another example, a sales rep for CareerBuilder whose tweets include cheering on the Bulls, commenting on America’s Top Model, goofing off at work, and hating her clients.  By the contents of her tweets I’m guessing Miss Adriane doesn’t know she’s about to be used as an anti-pattern in effective Twitter use.

At EMC we’re throwing a meeting soon to talk informally about how we use Twitter, and help get those who are on the fence about using it to understand why we think it’s valuable.  Because right now, CareerBuilder’s brand is suffering from their employee’s actions, and the employee’s brand is suffering as well.  You spread enough negativity around and it will come back to you.

If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all (about your job … on the forever-archived always-searchable Internet).

Work/Life Balance Redefined

We’ve all heard we should eat a balanced diet.  Of course, what that means is up for some debate.  For some people, a balanced diet means starving yourself on rice cakes for five days and binging on fried food and beer all weekend.  And while that may average out to a normal caloric intake, nobody really thinks that’s a healthy and balanced way to approach food.

slow suicide by food
Creative Commons License photo credit: Joits

Many people approach their work/life balance similarly.  “Work hard, play hard,” brings to mind people overexerting throughout the workday, and then partying all night to compensate.  There’s also the approach that says “I do as little work as I can without getting fired.  The company works me as hard as they can for as little money as possible without me quitting.”  Sure, that’s a kind of balance.  But surely there’s a better way?

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Quarterly Self-Appraisal

Last time I wrote about the self-appraisal process, I was giving out last-minute tips.  At the time I said that there were ways to invest year-round to make the process less painful.  As Q1 comes to a close and we start Q2, I figured it was about time to elaborate on that, and perhaps take a bit of my own advice.

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Same problems, different worlds

I spent some time chatting with extended family members this weekend, after attending a funeral.  As tends to happen, the subject of work came up, and we got to talking about difficult times at our workplaces.  I’m changing some details to protect some identities, but I thought the stories were interesting enough to share.  Though we all find ourselves in different worlds, the major issues we face are very similar.  One family member told me that in over 20 years of working, this was the only time he had truly hated going in to work.  That’s quite a statement.  What sort of environment could cause that?

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