Entries Tagged 'Culture' ↓

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.

Tell me a little about yourself

I wish I had a picture to accompany this post — me, sitting on a chair, in front of a green screen, with high tech A/V equipment all around me, and bright lights shining in my eyes.  Me, nervous, blabbing off topic.  How did I get into that mess?
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Through the looking glass (door)

Polly Pearson recently spoke a bit about GlassDoor (indirectly, via “a tech gossip rag” which used GlassDoor’s ratings to classify our satisfaction with our CEO). I’m kind of disappointed nobody else called ValleyRag out on the awful statistics of using reviews from eleven employees to determine the rating of the CEO, but whatever.

What I wanted to do was take a look at GlassDoor and the state of EMC’s corporate picture as painted by GlassDoor’s users, now that the site has been up for a week.
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Saying Thank You

In the corporate world, it’s easy to feel powerless, but there are things within everyone’s reach which can improve the culture of your team (and taken to its logical conclusion, your company). One of these is taking time to say Thank You.

Our successes in the workplace depend a great deal on those around us. Every day, our co-workers make decisions which impact us. And when that person does something that makes our lives easier, what should we do? We all learned this as kids. We say Thank You.
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Is it time to break kayfabe?

If you’ve never followed professional wrestling, the concept of kayfabe is probably new to you. It’s an old carny concept – you had to deceive people into caring about your staged fights by making them believe the fights were “real.” So even though everyone in the wrestling industry knew that the outcomes of matches were predetermined, nobody would admit it, for fear of being ostracized and blacklisted. Kayfabe was stronger than just not breaking character – it was a code of honor that nobody broke.

The fact is, wrestling knew its product wasn’t good enough to survive any level of openness.

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Talk Hard

In my late teens (and beyond), I watched Pump Up the Volume more times than I can count. Released in 1990, it summed up the high school experience in a way that found a very enthusiastic audience (especially among disenfranchised kids who liked “weird” music, not that I knew anybody like that).

The hero of the movie, played by Christian Slater, has trouble talking to people face-to-face but uses pirate radio broadcasts to reach out to his classmates. Like a much darker Ferris Bueller, he’s loved by everyone, but nobody knows who he is.

DVD box from Pump Up the Volume
I imagine the movie would have a tougher time being understood by today’s teenagers.
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EMC World Day Two

Another day down in Las Vegas!  Instead of writing a blow-by-blow of the day, I wanted to focus on an interesting event I was a part of.  I spend a lot of time writing about changes in company culture, but on Day Two I was able to participate in an example of the positive “old school” culture that let EMC get to where we are.

Last year, there was very little turnout for the “advanced” handson for StorageScope.  So this year, it was only offered once, and only 25 laptops were provided.  I decided to drop in on the session (being run by my manager Seth Silverman and my peer Anu Shivnath) to see how it went, and was greeted with chaos.  At least three times as many people arrived as were planned for, and more were lining up hoping to get in.  The room was packed beyond capacity and we had to turn people away.  Seth, however, offered everyone who was turned away a second runthrough in 75-90 minutes.

We pushed through the session (which I was very impressed with) and were wrapping up in 75 minutes as expected.  As people filtered out, a few filtered in — but only three people had returned for the promised second runthrough.

And they got it.

Three StorageScope customers had the undivided attention of 4 Control Center managers (QE and development), the director of our development organization, and an additional QE representative.  Six employees to three customers, for about an hour of intensive education and discussion.

We talk a lot inside the company about putting the customer first.  It’s not always easy in a development team to see how that happens.  But that, to me, defined EMC’s customer focus.  

I hope they enjoyed the session (and that they tell their friends 🙂 ).

The Inertial Dampeners of Cultural Change

One of the common themes expressed when talking about EMC’s internal online community is people collaborating and taking ownership of a task, making things happen without any corporate structures. The other day, I ran into a real-world application of why this takes time to gather momentum.

Scrum
Creative Commons License photo credit: .Page.

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No pom-pons here

Playing possum

I’ve always been a bit suspicious about corporate cheerleaders (this phrase brings up some interesting search results; I linked one of the safer ones here). It’s easy to be proud of where you work and excited about what you’re doing when new to the work force, but after a few years of watching the system in action it’s natural to be a bit jaded. I’ve always tried to avoid outright cynicism but I would be lying if I said I had never dipped into that realm. So when someone never stops talking about how excited they are to work at a certain company, I wonder who they are trying to convince.

So I was a bit surprised at myself when I told a friend in a recent email that I was excited to be working where I am.

In this case, it isn’t about a specific technology, or a set of tools, or even my co-workers. Instead, I’m excited because of what I’m seeing in the corporate culture.

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