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mixing markers December 31, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Overheard.
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Here’s a little something lighter to close out 2008, CorporateSpeak’s inaugural year.

A friend of The Speak* — let’s call her Chicken — works for the government of one of the 50 United States. We chat via IM pretty much all day (on and off; it doesn’t occupy my entire day, and besides, I only have so many good stories before I start repeating myself).

She recently sent me this:

Chicken: i just aspent 10 minutes separationg out “used” markers from “fresh” markers for my boss
Chicken: she doesnt want them to mix anymore
Chicken: she freaked out over sharpies the other day
Chicken: because someone had taken ours
Chicken: someone who works with us
Chicken: she yelled at me because i “let” him

She went on in that vein for a while. We tend to blow off steam by chatting back and forth in this fashion, complaining about what’s going on at our respective offices, and commenting on the general stupidity of people.

A few years ago, I worked in an industry that depended on writing on things with red Sharpie markers. It was almost impossible to find said markers, which is why I tended to buy my own and keep them in my bag, and put only one in my cubby in the production suite where I tended to work on my marker-related projects. It was always amusing to see just how long people had to spend going around the building trying to find either a red marker or an unlocked supply cabinet. (It was a 24-hour shop and I worked more frequently when the sun was down than when it was up.)

In my last year there, we transitioned to a computerized system that precluded the need for red markers. Many sighs of relief were heaved. Apparently Chicken’s office still is on that old system.

***

From all of us** at CorporateSpeak to all of you*** who read this blog, have a safe and happy new year. Don’t drink and drive. And if you’re in the unfortunate position of having to come to work on Friday January 2, don’t worry; there’ll be a fresh blog post here for you, just like usual. But I’m taking tomorrow off. It’s one of the Seven Major Holidays, after all.

***

* That’s what some of my friends here at work call it so it doesn’t get out that I write this blog. I probably wouldn’t last very long if it did, despite not sharing any privileged secrets.

** All of us? There’s just me, really.

*** According to my stats software, about 20 or 30 people a day. Tell your friends.

the folly of allowing employees to use smartphones December 30, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Conference Call, Meeting Minutes, Observations, Technology Trouble.
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I can’t find the article right now, but a few weeks ago I read something about how people’s socializing behaviors are changing the more they use their smartphones. That is, the time they used to spend talking to people (even their own families) is now being spent doing more work — and play — on their smartphones, including but not limited to answering work e-mail, browsing the web, and staying updated on their social networks. And playing games. (I have to be honest; this game is pretty addictive, as simple as it is.)

I was in the same meeting I referenced in yesterday’s post. Very little useful information came out of it — it was mostly stuff we’d all covered before. My boss, myself, and my co-worker were all in the same room.

CC-licensed photo by Gail Jade Hamilton.

CC-licensed photo by Gail Jade Hamilton.

We were all on our phones — updating our social networks, complaining about how boring and useless the meeting was, checking and responding to e-mail, updating applications and software, talking to others via IM, and generally trying not to die from boredom. (There was one more person in the room; he was using the second computer in the room to finish a project.)

What’s the lesson here?

None of us were paying more than token attention to the conference call and accompanying shared-desktop PowerPoint presentation. In fact, I can’t remember more than three of the speakers’ names, and one was a VP at my office (she wasn’t in the room with the rest of us, because if she was she wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything else at the time).

Here’s the problem: with the sheer amount of work everyone has to do, and the sheer amount of time that’s spent in meetings, people need to steal back as much time as possible. Fortunately, companies want us to be as in-touch as we can be, so they get us smartphones… or pay for our smartphone plans… or just make it impossible for us to not buy smartphones ourselves and pay for them ourselves.

If you’re going to make it possible for us to do work on our phones, we’re going to do work on our phones. If it’s at a time that’s inconvenient to you because you’ve invited us to meetings that we don’t really need to be at*, then you’ll just have to deal with us checking and answering e-mail, updating our social networks (by complaining about the time wasted and boring nature of the meetings), and playing a game or two.

It’s the folly of allowing us to use smartphones. Every sword has two edges**.

* The VP of ours who was at this meeting walked by while I was writing this and said it was very boring and a waste of time, so that was nice.

** Not really. But I was too lazy to think of a better metaphor.

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #13 December 29, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success.
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If really great technology exists to do something, your company will try to build or acquire a competing version, rather than making a deal with the really great company, so they can have a stranglehold. As a result, your product will suffer.

I was sitting in a meeting* last week about some social networking software that we acquired. Now, keep in mind that about two years ago we acquired a different social networking company and integrated it into all of our web products.

a really great idea is easily sold

a really great idea is easily sold

It’s terrible. Truly awful. The functionality doesn’t function, the scripts slow down our sites to a crawl (so much that we’ve built code into our pages that shuts it off unless it needs to be actively used on load, because they didn’t build that code in when we bought the software), and it’s not nearly as full-featured as… um… any other social network.

Well, when we rolled out our new crop of site features, we used this other company. It seems to work fine; I haven’t had much interaction with it because I’m not part of that group. But now we’ve acquired that company, and we’re going to use this new technology to replace our old social networking.

In the aforementioned meeting, the person leading the conference call** said:

The software does a lot of really neat things to integrate with Facebook.

First of all, Facebook is not the be-all-end-all. Everyone’s integrating with Facebook, but soon enough something will supplant it and then where will we be?

Secondly… why didn’t we just deal directly with Facebook? Why didn’t we take the millions of dollars we invested in this new company and say, “hi there, Mr. Zuckerberg. We’d like to use Facebook Connect as the social networking platform for all of our sites. Here’s some money. Let’s make this happen.” Then Zuckerberg would say, “thank you very much for your money. Here’s some support in integrating Facebook Connect into your CMS software. Let us know what else you need and we’ll be glad to work with you. We’d also like to put ads on certain parts of your site, but we’ll handle all that scripting and targeting, so you won’t have to worry about it.”

See? Easy.

But no. Instead of using what everyone thinks is the best thing out there, we’re acquiring other companies and trying to start up our own competing model. And, what’s worse, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot because we’re just creating more things people have to log into, more passwords to remember, and more functionalities to use. The more options people have, the fewer they will use.

This new company acquisition is going to be a failure, unfortunately.

Companies will never figure out that the only way to build a new social network is to either:

  • Fail several dozen times before having even slight success, or
  • Use an existing one that people already are familiar with and know how to use.

They’d rather spend the money and fail. Sad but true.

By the way, I find it interesting that more companies aren’t just using OpenID, which is free and works across many, many websites.

This example perfectly illustrates that, despite there being a better and established option, companies will always try to recreate it and always come up short.

* A huge shocker, I know.

** It’s always a conference call, isn’t it.

rearranging the deck-chairs December 26, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Does this Dilbert smack of rearranging the deck-chairs to anyone else?

When things like this start happening, it’s time to find the lifeboats.

***

CorporateSpeak hopes you had a pleasant Christmas and that you didn’t receive a Boxing-Day present that was pink and slip-like.

the practical alternative to work December 24, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Meta, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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CC-licensed image by Flickr user bettyx1138.

CC-licensed image by Flickr user bettyx1138.

I often joke that CorporateSpeak’s #1 product is meetings. Most of my colleagues agree. I’m really tempted to print this out and leave it in various places around the building.

***

CorporateSpeak will be on vacation tomorrow (Christmas Day), as it is one of the Seven Major Holidays, but will return on Friday with fresh content for you.

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #12 December 23, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success.
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When you implement something intended to build morale, you don’t tell the peons that you’re implmeneting something to build morale.

At a meeting yesterday, one of the VPs unveiled her new strategy for getting everyone interested in working directly on our end-user product. Our industry is experiencing major difficulties. Our company is laying people off and, in some states, cutting pay as well. So this is her plan to make everyone happy about working here.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Northeast Indiana

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Northeast Indiana

It’s not a bad plan, either.

But toward the end of the meeting, she said, “…and this will help build morale.”

I didn’t facepalm, but I really, really wanted to.

A good percentage of our employees have no idea what goes into making the end-user product. Most of them work in sales or content creation. Some work in finance and marketing. But I’d say fewer than 25% of the people in this building can tell you the entire life-cycle of one of our products, from start to finish, without making at least three glaring errors based upon erroneous assumptions. I’m one of few people here who is involved in the entire life-cycle, start to finish, and that means I do know.

The people who don’t know are the ones who are demoralized. Despite being demoralized, though, they’re not stupid*. When you tell them you’re implementing a new strategy to improve morale, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. If the employees know what you’re doing, they’ll be on the lookout for ways to undermine your efforts.

I didn’t catch a look of “shouldn’t have said that!” when my head snapped up** upon hearing her say it, but I bet that she didn’t say it in the 3:30pm meeting.

Don’t tell the peons what you’re doing. Especially when you’re doing that. It wastes everyone’s time when it fails miserably. Then I get stuck being part of having to do it all again the next time.

* Some of them are. Not all of them, but at least… oh, I’d say 10%, to be fair.

** I wasn’t paying attention. I’d been part of the first set of meetings on this, and had quickly realized that it was exactly the same things being said to a larger audience. So I tuned out and started making notes that I could convert into articles for CorporateSpeak.

perceived level of disruption December 22, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Technology Trouble.
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CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Joi

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Joi

I was sitting in a meeting a few days ago. It was one I’d already attended a couple of versions of, but this was the Big Meeting, the one where we announced that everyone in the company would be doing every function of every department in some way or another. I’ve been a part of this distressing process since it started.

The VP was giving her presentation. I’ve heard it. Twice. So I was sitting in the back of the room, very quietly fiddling with my phone. Next to me is one of the young guys from manufacturing and next to him is my boss.

Ten minutes in, my boss tells me to stop fiddling with my phone, that I’ve been playing with it since I got to the meeting. (Which is true.) But before, during, and after, he’s been chatting to the manufacturing guy.

So… which was more disruptive? Me playing quietly on my phone or the two of them talking to each other?

Apparently it was me.

who cares if it’s late? do it anyway! December 19, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Sales Floor Stories.
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This is what salespeople look like when they tell me to do something at the last minute.

This is what salespeople look like when they tell me to do something at the last minute.

When you work with salespeople, you become accustomed to things showing up late — if you’re lucky, the day before they need to be done, and if you’re not, the day of or after — and needing to not only be done right now but also needing to be the most important thing on your list, ahead of… well… anything.

At CorporateSpeak Headquarters, I work with salespeople. Things show up late all the time. We try to force a 5-7 day turnaround, but the sales managers don’t enforce it and the salespeople don’t give a damn. (It’s been a very trying few days. Pardon the negativity. Or don’t.) The orders I get often show the amount of money behind what I’m doing.

Some things I’ve noted:

  • The biggest, most complicated, most time-consuming projects have the smallest amount of money attached to them.
  • The bigger the client, the less we charge them, and the more teeny-tiny cogs there are in the process of finishing the work.
  • The small clients never complain, or if they do, they’re really understanding when something isn’t done that very instant.
  • The more work you put into something, the less the client likes it.
  • The biggest clients belong to the least-responsible salespeople, and that means you get their material at the last minute no matter what. And no matter what you do, you’re still going to get what you need five minutes before COB on the day it’s due.

I was recently tasked to put together a contest for a client. I’m not necessarily upset with the client, because once I finish this, I guarantee they’ll never look at it; they’ll just ship it to an agency. But the salesperson decided to deliver everything on Thursday at the end of the day. That left me one day — Friday — to complete a project I’ve done before, but takes three hours or so to do (there’s no way to replicate old ones because of the way it has to be done).

Yep. It was due Monday.

I got it done. But that’s no excuse. Of course, in a corporate world like ours where there’s no accountability despite the dozens of hours each work week that go into writing accountability reports, nothing will change. I fully expect another production order like this to cross my desk next Thursday at 5:55pm.

if you can do this, that would be great December 18, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Sales Floor Stories.
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Just to follow up..one of our suggestions is that if you have any [company-wide] campaigns running the same time as this campaign, it would free up some space on your site if you go into [the server] and uncheck [the financial section]. If you can do this, that would be great! Please confirm!

Okay, so here’s the background: a company bought advertising on our network. Our national ad people took care of everything. But then they e-mailed all the branch offices who run the individual sites subnetworks and sent us that message. Basically, here’s what it means:

  1. The clients paid us a lot of money.
  2. After we cashed the check, they said “by the way, we want way more than what’s on the contract.
  3. Rather than give back the check, our national ad people said “sure, you can have whatever you want because you gave us a lot of money. We’ll find a way to make it work.”
  4. Our national ad people couldn’t find a way to make it work.
  5. They contacted the individual offices and subnetworks and said “hey, everyone, if you have any paid advertisers running across your entire subnetworks, go ahead and take them out of the financial group so we can deliver this thing we overpromised on.”

My group chose not to comply, pretty much because our local ad manager knows that we’re already overpromising with our local clients. But in order to comply with the request in that e-mail, a local ad manager or trafficker has to:

  1. Pull a report of every ad running across the entire network.
  2. Go into each one of those advertiser categories in the server and find the flights that involve the financial group.
  3. Remove the financial group from the flight.
  4. Save and uncache.
  5. Repeat until all entire-network flights are out of the financial group.
  6. When this big client finishes its run — and we don’t know what date that is because no one’s been told — go put back everything you just took out.

If you can do this, that would be great.

“I forgot to give you this” December 17, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?.
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As a web developer, I’m often asked to put together special presentations for our websites. Well, we’re having a big event at our office tomorrow, and we’re going to be broadcasting it across the entirety of our corporate entity. My boss asked me to handle the video presentation over the internet, which is easy and which I can do within the appointed time period. I told him yesterday, “I’ll take care of this tomorrow.”

Got into work today and immediately started working, as I said I would. Worked on it for about 2.5 hours. Then he comes strolling out of his office with a piece of paper and I say, “hey, check out the thing I did for tomorrow.”

He looks at it and gets That Face.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user mahalie.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user mahalie.

Then he unfolds the piece of paper and says:

Yeah. I forgot to give you this. It’s sort of my idea for the whole thing.

And he proceeds to explain what each thing is, what it should do, and how it should look.

There goes about 75% of what I did. And I’m sure this has happened to more people than just me — on a more regular basis than it happens to me, too. But it’s just so frustrating to experience seagull management.