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a very corporate holiday celebration October 31, 2008

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something.
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Holiday celebrations at the office are always cause for disappointment. It has to be inoffensive. It has to be all-inclusive. It has to be fun (for certain values of “fun”). And it has to be accessible to everyone, even people who work weird shifts.

So what are the options? Really?

  1. In the big meeting room: These are probably the worst. Everyone crams into a room that’s too small and probably too warm (though occasionally too cold). Departments socialize with each other — sales with sales, marketing with marketing, IT with IT, and management with management — and don’t mingle, which is the intent of the gathering. There’s catered food which is usually decent, but the lines are often too long and are always poorly-organized — no one knows which way to go in and which way to go out. Then you’re subjected to an address from the Big Boss, a lame photo or video presentation, and then the obligatory Q&A about how the company is doing and what’s next. If you’re very… ahem… lucky, there’ll be a talent show, too.
  2. In the office: Think of a pub crawl. Think of everything that sucks about a pub crawl. Then take away the alcohol. Yeah, that’s exactly what it’s like. Each department makes a token effort to decorate their room/area/cubicle block with some sort of pleasantly-festive accoutrements, and most of them put out a dish or two of food. Some departments will do pretty good meals, but for the most part it’s chips, cheese, and store-bought cookies. You’re still expected to walk around and visit every stop, though.
  3. Off-site: Off-site gatherings are a blessing and a curse. You can get out of going if you have kids — “I couldn’t get a babysitter” is the perfect excuse — but you’re missing out on free food, free or cheap drinks, and a night with… um… people you spend all day with. But on the plus side, you get to see your co-workers let their hair down…
    • They think anything goes because they’re not at work, so they’ll say things they wouldn’t normally dream of saying. Sometimes about you.
    • They drink too much and act crazy, and you can get pictures.
    • Single employees benefit from said drinking, and often celebrate later with a mutually-regretted sexual experience that, if you’re lucky, you get to hear about from both parties so you can equally ridicule both of them behind their backs.
    • Management tries to act like they’re part of the gang and may let slip things you can use later — information about trouble in the industry, company money woes, and the like. They end up acting extra-asinine anyway, which is a great time to be had by all.

    There’s just one problem: the first rule of the off-site party is that you don’t talk about the off-site party. You don’t talk about the drinking, or the buffoonery, or — especially this part — how good or how bad your co-workers looked in their evening finery. Like I said, a blessing and a curse.

No work party is ever all-inclusive, entirely-fun, or even-close-to-fun. If you really want to have a good holiday celebration, do it with your friends and maybe invite someone from work. But seriously, you spend eight hours a day with these people; how can you possibly find anything new or interesting to talk about that you haven’t already talked about while you were wasting time at the office?

Exactly.

I’d like to do a Christmas post later in the year. Someone remind me as we get closer.

“this training will come in handy” October 30, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above.
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We have an increased need to scan documents so we are having some additional training on the copier so people can take advantage of that feature. [A trainer from the copier company] will be here Wednesday to come out and train us on the scanning features of the new copier.

Training will start at 10AM to Noon for folks who can attend in the morning. We’ll have an afternoon session starting at 2:30pm-3:30pm.

Please try to stop by for a quick tutorial. Going forward all reports will be submitted online and receipts will have to be scanned & attached. This is training will come in handy.

Wow, can I count the ways that the head of the entire finance department messed this one up? Grammatical and usage errors (starting at 2:30pm-3:30pm??), complete lack of parallel structure, missing words, no real explanation to the meat of the message (that reports will be submitted online), and of course the most important part: this copier resides in a room about eight feet by 15 feet, and cannot possibly support a 200-plus person staff for a training session.

Once again, we are reminded of the fact that the best way to learn is to teach a few people and have them teach a few people and so on and so forth until everyone knows how to do it. Either that, or assign someone to scan everything for the reports. There’s bound to be someone who’s not already doing 15 jobs and could make the time, right?

Here’s what should’ve been said, in brief:

As your managers have already told you, all reports must now be submitted online. Therefore, your receipts must be scanned and attached to the reports, not simply handed in to the accounting department. Fortunately, we have a new copier that is capable of easily scanning your receipts and [sending you the files via attachment/letting you download the files to a thumbdrive].

A trainer from the copier company will be in the building on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon and 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. to show you how to scan your receipts and move the files. It should take no more than 15 minutes. Please make every effort to attend.

Remember, if you do not scan your receipts and attach them to your expense reports, you will not be reimbursed.

If you have any questions, please call [my secretary] at [her extension]. Thanks.

See? Well-written, makes sense, communicates the message accurately and briefly… was that so difficult?

Apparently it is for a corporate employee.

That Guy’s Tips For Corporate Success, #10 October 29, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success.
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All the training in the world can’t replace someone showing you how to do it one-on-one.

Think back to the last time you got a new job. You came in all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to learn your new responsibilities. The company gave you some manuals, some sharepoint training, and maybe a video course or two. You took in all the training…

…and then promptly screwed up your first time out.

So you went to your co-workers or your boss and asked for help, help that they were only too happy to provide*. With their help, you figured it out, and eventually you became proficient. Then, when you were the veteran, you helped someone else out.

That’s the way it works. That’s really the best way to learn.

Last summer at CorporateSpeak Headquarters, the home office rolled out two huge new software packages for internal use. Let’s call the first one CSDistro and the second CSStats. CSDistro is actually a very cool piece of software that’s light-years better than what it replaced. However, the company started training and planning for CSDistro on a local level more than two months before it was rolled out. They expected us to watch hours and hours of training videos but not have a sandbox to play in.

So I ignored the training, went to a few conference calls, and then, seven days before the rollout when I got our install, sat down with the manual and taught myself most of it. I called the helplines put in place by the company and got one-to-one help where I needed it and now, four months later, I am the building expert on CSDistro.

I’m not very involved in CSStats, but I did do a little rollout work. This one’s even worse. No one in the department that uses CSStats made the time to go to training, so my boss and one of the guys in my department had to train everyone. The worst part is that CSStats doesn’t really work very well and we’re still forced to use it. I’m glad I’m not a part of that department — where everyone who needed to learn how to use CSStats learned it from another person.

One-to-one training. The most effective (unfortunately nowhere near the most cost-effective) method for training employees on how to use new things. Even though corporations know that, they refuse to accept it and work it into the budget. Get used to it.

* That’s not sarcasm. People are usually helpful when it comes to new employees joining the team.

it doesn’t actually matter how hard you work or how good your work is October 28, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned.
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Everywhere you work, you will be told to do your very best work and damn the consequences. But as I learned many years ago, this is not actually the case; it’s all about how well people work together and pandering to the folks in charge.

I went to the same summer camp, as a camper and a Counselor, for nine years, six as a camper and three as a Counselor. In each of those seven years, there was a war within the camp.

Color War. My least favorite time at camp.

It was a pitched, heated series of battles between the forces of White and the forces of Blue (or Orange, but mostly Blue, because more people had blue shirts than orange ones). The White Indians and the Blue Cowboys would fight, play, cheer, swim, run, hit, throw, kick, fish, and behave. At the end of each War, a gigantic sing-off between the teams culminated in the judges – arbitrarily-chosen Counselors, plus the owner, her assistant, and the Swimming Counselor. Several tens of thousands of points had been awarded throughout the week, and one team would invariably win.

Of course, it was a closely-fought sing-off at the end. I mean, hell, there were kids as young as five at this camp; no one wanted to make them think they sucked.

And afterward, everyone was friends again.

Gee, how nice.

I realize that Color War was just a way for the Counselors to get us to behave better and, supposedly, have more fun, but there were parts of it that were pretty insidious.

Color War would often start on a Monday afternoon. Our final “period” would be cancelled, and we would all be brought to the Meeting Cabin, the home-base of the camp, where the owner would announce that Color War was starting. Our Counselors would receive lists of who was with what group and one group would board the bus to go to another pavilion.

Then came the first competition of the war: cheering.

Yes, cheering. We had to learn cheers that we could use to show our spirit as campers and simultaneously show how dispirited the other team was.

The second day began with measurements of behavior. Often, friends were split up – ostensibly to get the less-popular kids to make new connections with other campers – so behavior points were lost for fraternizing with the enemy. It came down to how straight a line you had, how quickly you were ready to go somewhere, how well-behaved you were on the bus, and to a certain extent, how much better-behaved you were than the other team; after all, if your team was bad but theirs was worse, you’d get more points.

When I think back on it, it sounds a lot like the point system in the Harry Potter books.

But I digress.

There were always competitions in sports, which boded ill for me. I wasn’t much good at them. I was decent at dodge ball and soccer, but not at running – races were always an easy way to earn points, unless I was on your team – and I was an endurance swimmer, not a speed swimmer.

We had some free periods, when we were allowed to hang out with our friends on the other teams, but they were few and far-between. Still, I relished them.

In addition to sports and activities at the cabin – Arts and Crafts, for example – we had activities at the various locations in the park. Waterslide periods were always free, but boating wasn’t. Boating was, however, my specialty. I was expert at maneuvering the paddleboats and canoes, and using the boats as offensive weapons (read: ramming speed). Whenever we went boating, my team won. There was mini-golf, which I wasn’t all that good at, and biking, which I was good at, but again in endurance, not in speed. My endurance skills helped at finding items in cross-park scavenger hunts – always a plus.

Whenever there were field trips, there were points. It could’ve been a visit to the movie theater – graded on our behavior. It could’ve been the roller rink – again, races and behavior. It could’ve been bowling – points and behavior.

Seeing a pattern?

They were indoctrinating us that war wasn’t about winning or losing, about doing the right thing or the wrong thing. It was about spirit and behavior.

Each day ended with a practice period, where we would learn our team songs – several unique, complicated cheers (to go along with “U-G-L-Y,” “We Love You, Judges,” and the ever-popular “We’ve Got Spirit, Yes We Do, We’ve Got Spirit, How About You?” among others) and three songs. Two were written by the Counselors of the teams, one being a comedy song (making fun of the other team’s Counselors) and one an “alma mater,” where we had to pretend we really liked the other team. The third song, if I remember right, was the camp song, and we all, as two teams, had to sing it together.

By the end, the scores were usually within five hundred points of each other. The final cuts were often separated by less than one hundred points. And we can’t forget that at the end, we had to sing a nice little song. You might remember it as “Two Four Six Eight, Who Do We Appreciate?” before doing our celebrations.

And then we’d have the last half-hour to reunite with our friends before the buses left and our parents showed up. This would be on a Friday afternoon, and we’d all come back Monday having forgotten the entire war.

What I learned from Color War was this: while sporting prowess meant points on the battlefield, showing you respected your enemy by cheering for them and also behaving properly counted for much more than winning did.

In my time as a Counselor, I learned that by the end of Color War, I would get depressed at the futility of it all. More depressed when we were winning, believe it or not, because I knew we hadn’t won. We’d pandered our way to the top.

That’s what summer campers really learned from Color War: pander your way to the top, and behave when you get there.

Lesson Learned: It doesn’t actually matter how hard you work or how good your work is; making sure you follow every silly little rule or workflow step and giving credit to everyone — including the people who got in your way — will earn you a lot more capital in the long run.

The preceding was produced several years ago for a column That Guy used to write.

which way the wind is blowing October 27, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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This isn’t the first time I’ve seen signs of trouble — new rules, people leaving every other week, changes that no one (including management) really likes, more work for fewer people — in a job I’ve held. In fact, what’s happening now at many corporations and businesses is very similar to what happened at a job I had between five and ten years ago.

At least half of the part-time employees were upset with something or someone. At least half of the full-time employees felt the same. The part-timers who were happy with the state of affairs were the ones who are most disliked by the others. Some of them looked at objectionable websites, some of them didn’t show up on time if at all, some of them lied about being (or not being) on the schedule, and some of them were, to put it bluntly, 95% asshole.

What do you do when one person smells which way the wind is blowing long before everyone else?

That happened there. One employee seemed at first to simply be upset about everything, many of his complaints seeming to lack substance, sense, or sensibility. But after a while we all started to see what he meant. He’d seen personnel problems, he’d seen training problems, he’d even seen aesthetic and cooperative problems, and he saw them all long before any of us even noticed.

Or cared to do anything about it.

It all came to a head after about three months. Four part-time employees who had been there since day one expressed their frustration openly. Two of them seriously considered quitting. One of them let everything roll off, like water on rocks, staying above it all. And the fourth was sometimes part of the problem, but usually part of the solution.

There was one person who skirted openly racist comments by the tiniest of margins, ignored instructions, did horrible work, seemed to have forgotten all of our training, and was generally an asshole. There was one person who made an effort to do the job the right way, but for some reason, something about him really bothered everyone else. There was one person almost universally disliked except by, as I said before, the people who thought they could do no wrong.

Myself and my senior co-workers tried our best to stay above it all, but it got pretty difficult.

What do you do when you see which way the wind is blowing before management does?

What can you do?

Precious little. Except wait for the fallout.

no interruption to your site should be seen October 24, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above.
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On Tuesday [date redacted] between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. EDT, Crappy CorporateSpeak Product #8 will be migrating all development sites to a new network infrastructure.

No interruption to your site should be seen. Users will experience intermittent access to development sites throughout the duration of the maintenance window.

Crappy CorporateSpeak Product #8, for those who don’t know, is the system by which users of CS applications communicate with each other. Kind of like a cross between a sharepoint and a BBS. It’s slow, buggy, poorly-designed, and poorly-scripted. Naturally CS bought it from a third party, because there were so many better versions out there but this was the only one cheap enough for CS to buy and make their own.

Yeah. Anyway.

The people who developed CCSP8 announced recently that they would be upgrading the sites upon which the system is hosted. I’m all for that.

But not during the heaviest usage period for the entire east coast network of CorporateSpeak regional and branch offices. Seriously, what idiot came up with that plan? Someone far, far above the pay grade of myself, my colleagues, and my boss. And, actually, his boss too.

We’re hoping everything goes as planned — especially since we have a local upgrade to CServer scheduled for exactly the same time — but if I know our corporate web application development department, it will work only for the “PC” sites — 180 of them — and leave the “Mac” sites (24 in total) in the cold. That’s how it always, always goes.

Would it not have been more intelligent to do this late at night, when fewer people are using the system? Probably. Which is why it wasn’t done that way.

“there will be movers in the office this weekend” October 23, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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Recently, I got an e-mail from one of the managers in a department near mine that said “there will be movers in the office this weekend, delivering some new furniture to [a certain department]. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

Okay, fine, I get that. Sometimes we need new furniture. Hell, new furniture can be a gift from above sometimes, especially if your desk is decorated with coffee-rings from two employees before your tenure or your chair smells like an airplane bathroom — or, worse, is a great chair but somehow damages your back, neck, or legs by its sheer construction.

When you move into a new building, though, as CorporateSpeak Headquarters did a few months ago, you don’t expect to see e-mails like that.

But I disregarded it. I don’t work weekends, and I had been told in a previous meeting where the new furniture was going and what it was going to be used for. I have to admit, I thought it was a good idea at the time; it would spread out some content producers, allow others to move back from the switchboard, and get everyone into a more efficient configuration.

What we got was a horseshoe-shaped table attached to another horseshoe-shaped desk*.

And that’s it.

Eh. Whatever. It’s not bothering me any.

Or is it?

(click image to enlarge)

The blue line is the path I now have to take to go to the bathroom. The orange line is the path I used to take. Not a huge hardship, except that now everyone on the left side above the printers has to use the blue line. It was pretty amusing, the day after the furniture arrived, how many people messed up, got stuck or trapped in the meeting area, and had to turn around.

The whole thing just struck me as kind of silly; announcing movers in the department, telling everyone there’d be some new furniture, and then only seeing one new thing that just happens to inconvenience 11 people on a daily basis.

Well, I guess it wouldn’t be corporate if it didn’t inconvenience someone.

* The desk was already in the office; it used to belong to a middle manager, but said middle manager was downsized last month.

pink shirt guy October 22, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Staff.
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Pink Shirt Guy is a holdover from the days when people used the term metrosexual and meant it seriously. He saw that the corporate dress trend was heading in the direction of pastel colors and when he hit the store he stocked up on pink shirts and matching slightly-darker-pink ties. He also has a lot of lavender, beige, and maybe some cerulean.

But every time you see him, you get the feeling that he only wears pink. Pink button-downs, pink polos, pink vests, pink sweaters… more pink than the average one-year-old baby girl has in her wardrobe, and that’s a lot of pink.

Pink Shirt Guy is usually a pretty personable fellow. He’s pleasant, easy to work with and get along with, always takes an interest, and never gets upset without cause. He knows his stuff, and can do at least three different jobs where you work without getting confused or needing much help. He can make the tough decisions, but is just as happy being told what to do. He enjoys local sports and attractions, and he supports your daughter’s Girl Scout troop whenever cookie season rolls around. He’s often married, may have kids of his own, and never, ever has facial hair.

To sum up, it seems like there’s nothing about Pink Shirt Guy that can really be offensive to anyone. And that’s just who he is: an inoffensive person who wouldn’t take up any space in your subconscious… except for those pink shirts. Seriously, every shade, from palest blush to pink lemonade. It’s kind of disturbing, actually. And you can’t even tell him it’s weird, because he wouldn’t understand why you think so. They’re just shirts, right?

Right?

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #9 October 21, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success.
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No matter how intelligent you are, there will always be someone who has to sit at your computer and do something to it.

My department is full of very smart people. We all have at least one college degree, and we all are very computer-savvy. And we can all spell and write.

But recently CorporateSpeak Headquarters was tapped to implement a new centralized solution for something I can’t discuss because of security rules. Every computer has an install of CServer* (as referenced in this post). The new solution requires both a minor upgrade to CServer and a few tweaks made to the computer itself. I already made the tweaks to my computer, as did the other folks in my department. But Pink Shirt Guy (haven’t written about him yet, but I will someday), who’s in charge of making the CServer upgrades, has to physically sit at every computer and log into CServer and see what we need.

And he has to do it himself. We’re all smart and good at our jobs, but Pink Shirt Guy, who has this whole workflow in his head, has to come to everyone’s seat and install the appropriate upgrades. He could put out instructions and tell us to just get back to him if we have trouble. But the vast majority of people around here are not as smart as my department, so I guess Pink Shirt Guy is just bulldozing his way through every department to upgrade CServer.

Or we could just eliminate CServer, right?

Yeah.

Anyway, when Pink Shirt Guy or your version of him comes by, just get out of the way and get it over with quickly. It’s faster and easier than telling him you’re smart enough to do it yourself. No one cares about that anyway.

* CServer may be someone else’s trademark, but I’m using it generically here.

flowchart of procrastination October 20, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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This little gem appeared on Project Sidewalk. Click for a full-screen view.

Click on it. It will resonate with you.