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if your boss is a child November 3, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Management, Seen Elsewhere, The Two-Year-Old.
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Is your boss a bully? Or, as my old boss was, a two-year-old? Well, apparently there’s a book about this. Here’s a tip:

Reinforce good behavior. When your 3-year-old does something wonderful, you praise her. Do the same thing when your boss does something praiseworthy. Example: “Thanks for clearly explaining that assignment. Now I understand why we had to push so hard.”

cs_tantrum

cc-licensed photo by Christine Szeto

Well, I’m not quite certain how I feel about that. Sounds more to me like it would be taken as a sarcastic comment, and no one wants to do that these days because jobs are so scarce.

What employees need to remember these days is that, just like themselves, bosses are under huge amounts of pressure to make more money for the company while spending less, hiring and paying fewer people who are constantly asked to take on new challenges and new initiatives. And, for the most part, they know their employees are overworked and underpaid and unhappy about it. Some bosses are legitimately pains in the ass, but I’m willing to bet that if you try to see things your boss’s way, you might be a little more forgiving. After all, it’s a lot harder to get a management job than it is to get yours.

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That Guy’s Tips For Not Looking Stupid On The Internet, #4 October 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid.
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Don’t type when you’re frustrated.

funny pictures of dogs with captionsAs a writer, I know that writing is one of the best ways to work out frustrations — you can put together a fantasy e-mail, do a quick story where your character kicks your boss’s character in a very uncomfortable place, whatever — as well as your fantasies. Some of which are driven by your frustrations.

But remember this: if you’re at work, you’re likely using a computer owned by the company. You’re probably complaining to a co-worker about how annoying or stupid someone is. You might even be doing it via IM instead of e-mail.

Don’t. Just stop. Step away from the computer.

Example: over the last two weeks, a client asked my department to mount a logo onto one of our pages and send them the mockups. I did so. They sent it back, saying they weren’t pleased with the amount of space around their logo. I increased the space (by decreasing the size of their logo — the area available has hard boundaries around it) and sent it back. They said it still wasn’t enough. Finally I e-mailed back my client representative (the person who is a co-worker of mine who actually talks to the clients so my department doesn’t have to) and said “please ask them to tell us exactly how much space they want, and warn them that, as I increase the space, their logo will get correspondingly smaller”.

Finally, after three more days, they gave me an exact measurement and I was able to provide them with a mockup they liked. But instead of going back to my CR and saying “this has been an exercise in futility”, I mentioned it to her during a meeting we were both in. I didn’t commit it to anything electronic because it’s perfectly within the company’s policies to hold such words against me — and in this economic client, you really want everything that reflects upon you to do so positively.

By the same token, proofread your “to” and “cc” fields; if you’re discussing something a client sent, make sure the client is removed from the chain. Before the reorg, whenever people replied to customer comments, they often did not remove the “all-production-employees” e-mail address, and we were just lucky that very few people realized exactly what they had.

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playing dress-up October 12, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Did I Hear That Right?, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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Dressing up your character in World of Warcraft or The Sims is one thing, but what about dressing up your avatar for work? Analyst firm Gartner warns that, by 2013, avatars will have to have dress codes too.

“As the use of virtual environments for business purposes grows, enterprises need to understand how employees are using avatars in ways that might affect the enterprise or the enterprise’s reputation,” said James Lundy, managing vice president at Gartner, in a statement.

Image from the World Economic Forum

Image from the World Economic Forum

Seriously? Companies are really going to start having business meetings in the corporate version of Second Life?

Yeah, I don’t see that happening. I mean, there are already classes being taught in SL, but to me that’s more a fad than anything else. Conference calls, WebEx meetings, and long chains of e-mails will continue to be the norm for quite some time.

Think about it: you meet in Second Life, but all your stuff is in Word, or Excel, or Powerpoint — so you have to flip back and forth, right? Either that or you’ll just end up using the SL interface to view the files being shared by everyone.

Actually, y’know what the future of collaborative meetings online will be?

Google Wave.

Although I do think that, as more companies adopt instant messaging and company-sponsored tiwttering, people are going to have to stop using amusing pictures of puppies as their IM or Twitter avatars and start using their company ID headshots.

Yes. I groaned at that thought too.

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“any special requests?” September 14, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Experiences, Free Food!, Getting Fired.
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Someone in my area recently got a new job. This conversation took place Friday morning between Ron, who is departing, and Harry, a middle manager who oversees Ron:

Harry: So, when’s your last day?
Ron: Next Thursday.
Harry: Okay… any special requests?
Ron: *shifts anxiously* How do you mean?
Harry: What kind of cake do you like?
Ron: *clearly uncomfortable* Um… well, I don’t like chocolate cake.
Harry: No chocolate. Okay. What do you like?
Ron: *even more uncomfortable* Whatever, I guess. *shrugging*
Harry: Okay.

CC-licensed photo by whalesalad

CC-licensed photo by whalesalad

I felt pretty bad for Ron, who was really put on the spot by Harry. Ron is a self-effacing kind of guy; he doesn’t make a fuss, and he isn’t very good at taking praise. Like me, he’s good at being criticized because it gives him something to respond to, something concrete to change, but blanket praise is hard for him. When the cake ceremony happens on Thursday, Ron will probably stand there, shifting from foot to foot, maybe even blushing a little as Harry and the Two-Year-Old (and probably Ron’s co-worker Cedric) say nice things about the work Ron’s done during his time at CorporateSpeak. Then Ron will have to make a short speech filled with the usual platitudes before cutting and distributing the cake.

I for one had always wondered how the content of the cake was decided; Poppy, the department secretary, is responsible for making sure the cake is present at the appropriate time, but I thought she just picked up whatever she thought the most people would enjoy. (She also bakes the monthly birthday cakes shared by everyone in the building, testing out new recipes.) I happen to know — because Ron and I have had lunch together from time to time — that Ron enjoys vanilla cake or cookie cake, and prefers one local grocery store to the other.

Resigning from a job is always weird — you get dozens of congratulatory messages, the obligatory “happy you get to go, sad to see you leave” from everyone who thinks they’re being original by saying it, and questions about why you’re going. Usually people ask: “more money, right?” Ron happens to be getting more money at his new job, but that’s also a hard thing to discuss — you’re basically condemning your current boss for not paying you enough. The last time I resigned — before joining CorporateSpeak — I did so because of a conflict with corporate management over how they handled harassment against me*, which I told my boss. He also asked if I was getting a raise at my new job and I answered honestly: yes, and I told him how much. I could’ve declined to answer, but my boss and I both disagreed with how corporate handled things.** Ron, for his part, is leaving because he’s dissatisfied with the way things are going here (more on “throwing your old job under the bus” in a later post).

How would you answer that question? How would you respond when someone says “what kind of cake do you want for your goodbye gathering?” Is it ungrateful to make a request? Should your boss even bring it up? It’s amazing how many tough questions there are around the simple purchase of a congratulatory/goodbye cake.

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* It wasn’t sexual harassment. And no, I’m not going into the details. It’s a rather personal story that I don’t feel comfortable sharing.

** I still keep in contact with folks at my old job, and all of them want me back; they haven’t liked any of the managers who came after me. That’s gratifying, but they can’t afford what I’ll want to be paid. That’s not being boastful, either — the person in that position shouldn’t be paid as much as I’m making for what I’m doing now. It’s just not that kind of position.

“do what they’re doing” September 8, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?.
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This morning, one of our competitors launched a cheap knock-off of one of our products — ours is clearly better and already has an established customer base. The Two-Year-Old said to the room at large:

Can you imagine being part of the team they tell to, ‘do what they’re doing’?

Yes. Yes, I can. Because you tell us to do that almost every day. When someone makes a map mashup, you want one that involves crowdsourcing. When someone launches a new social media aggregator, you want one that has its own walled-garden login system. When someone implements new technology, no matter how shaky that technology is, we have to find a way to copy it without spending more money or buying new things.

I can imagine it just fine. So can the rest of us. We’re just too tactful to tell you.

This is happening all over the country. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I liken it to the concept of flock-drafting in fantasy sports: when one person breaks the seal on, say, drafting tight ends in fantasy football, you can count on at least half the others in the draft also taking tight ends with their next picks. Nevermind the fact that the value probably isn’t there or that they have more important team needs elsewhere; one person does it, so we all have to do it.

And yes, these same people would jump off a cliff if all their friends did it.

I think that’s why so many businesses fail: instead of trying new things, they try the same things that everyone else is trying. Business thrives on innovation, not imitation.

Don’t do what they’re doing.

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this is not time-management August 28, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Seen Elsewhere, Wasting Time.
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From MLIA:

Tonight I was reading my daughter her favorite bedtime story, but she wasn’t paying attention. So, after the third page I skipped to the end and read the last page. She never noticed and fell asleep within a few minutes. I added excellent time management skills to my resume.

The interesting thing about the requirement for “good time-management skills” is that it doesn’t take into account how you manage all of your time. What interviewers want to hear is that you can multitask — that you can do multiple tasks at the same time, or get all your work done before the deadline. What they don’t want to hear is the truth: you get your work done, you get it done right, you get it done on time, and you still have time to read blogs or check Facebook. Or both.

I for one have never been late finishing a project because of my use of Facebook or my reading of RSS feeds. That’s good time-management too.

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let’s just do it ourselves August 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Big Boss, Did I Hear That Right?, Management, Technology Trouble.
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This was going to be a post about cargo cults and social networking, but a friend of mine recently told me about something her company did that put the average company’s cargo culting to shame.

Celia is a graphic designer for a web marketing company. You’ve probably seen her work in some of those silly Flash games showing up in banner ads when you check your e-mail or visit popular websites. Anyway, Celia was part of a series of meetings where various companies pitched their services in building iPhone apps out of their more-popular games. It would have been Celia’s job to make sure the art was available to these third-party vendors.

Celia told me her boss went back and forth with their Big Boss several times over the cost of doing business with the vendors — not that it would’ve cost a ton of money, but in this economic climate no one wants to spend cash if they don’t have to. Celia’s boss got to the point where a contract was drawn up and vetted by both legal departments… and then her Big Boss said “let’s just do it ourselves.”

One of Celia’s co-workers is named Larry. Larry is a Flash developer; he takes the art Celia makes and puts it into the games. Larry knows Flash and ActionScript, and a little PHP, but he’s not an expert with the iPhone SDK or the programming language that the iPhone is built upon. Still, the Big Boss said Larry could do it, so Larry had to teach himself the SDK (of course there was no training budget). Celia helped as much as she could, but she’s an artist, not a programmer. And none of the web guys at Celia’s office knew how to do it either. Larry seriously considered hiring an iPhone developer to do it for him, but he couldn’t afford it.

Two weeks later, Larry had his first iPhone app ready to go. It was a very simple side-scrolling shooter based upon a Flash game he’d coded for the company. Celia sent me a copy.

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

It was awful. The controls weren’t good, the graphics weren’t good, the game was slow to load and clunky to play, and it didn’t have the slick look that the iPhone is so capable of presenting to users. I can’t see how anyone would pay $1.99 for this app — that’s what the Big Boss wanted to charge for it, so that’s how much the company was going to charge.

I feel really bad for Celia, Larry, and their company. Celia, because she has to work at a company that will cut corners this way; Larry, because his first iPhone app is so bad — I’ve seen Larry’s Flash work and it’s frankly amazing; and the company, because they’re going to have their name attached to an absolutely atrocious piece of software.

Let this be a lesson that no company will heed: there are some things you just have to pay for because doing it yourself will make it look like ass. You don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money, but sometimes you do have to spend it to make it. Given the size of the iPhone’s user footprint and the sheer visibility of everything iPhone, that’s one place where you should pay someone else to make sure you do it right.

Hopefully Celia’s Big Boss learned his lesson. Doubt it, though; Big Bosses never do.

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That Guy’s Tips for Not Looking Stupid on the Internet, #2 August 5, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Getting Hired, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid, Unsociable Networking.
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Don’t ignore the power of social networking while you’re still employed; the moment you get fired, you’ll need it.

For the last six years or so, CorporateSpeak employed a long-term contracted freelancer named Ivy. Recently, though, it was decided that Ivy’s contract was not going to be renewed and her duties would be assumed by an existing full-time employee. Ivy was unhappy about this, but I think we all understood the economic reality of the current U.S. market.

One of the first things Ivy did when she got home was update her Facebook thusly:

Ok, I am gonna be better about updating my status. Ok, I am actually going to start updating my status. The pressure to be relevant.. sigh.

Ivy used her Facebook a little bit before this, but not as much as her co-workers did — even her partner, who was let go at the same time. She would occasionally post about what she was doing, or put up some photos, but she wasn’t active on Facebook (or, to my knowledge, any social network). Now that she’s unemployed, though, she’s got to find a new job, and she’s figured out rather quickly that networking is the way to do it.

Just don’t tell everyone. It makes you look like you’re better than everyone else, like you’re saying, “well, I had a job for a long time, and now I don’t, so I’m going to do what all the cool kids are doing and use Facebook to find a job.” Coming across as elitist on a social network is a sure-fire way to lose regard with a potential employer, especially one that you want to hire you for a high-profile or high-paying position.

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That Guy’s Tips for Not Looking Stupid on the Internet, #1 July 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid, Unsociable Networking.
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Your Facebook status update is not the place to have a conversation.

Everyone’s on Facebook. Odds are good you’re on it right now — or you at least have a FB tab open somewhere on your browser, even if you’re not looking at it at this very second. And odds are even better that you’ve got a relative on Facebook who doesn’t know exactly what s/he should be doing right now.

My mom’s best friend joined recently. Here’s two recent status updates of hers, with her name changed to protect her identity:

Patricia Smith Zimmerman Thursday it is. Hopefully the weather is good for the pool after as well We will speak tomorrow to confirm what we are doing and a time.

Patricia Smith Zimmerman Hi just touching base and wanted to know if you located Rachel’s address. Let me know when you can get together. Hope all is well Patti

So, what did Patricia do here? Simple: she posted a status update that should have been a personal message or at most a wall post. If Patricia is concerned about the weather (“Hopefully the weather will be good for my pool day tomorrow.”), then she should post that. And no one wants to know if “you” — whoever “you” is — located Rachel’s address. Who’s Rachel? Why should we care?

I suppose the argument there is “why does anyone care about the minutiae of your life?”, but then, you could just un-friend someone who’s not interesting, right?

Anyway. As you begin using Facebook for job-related purposes or trying to find a new job, remember that you not only need to keep track of what you’re posting so it doesn’t embarrass you but also so you don’t look stupid.

I’m not sure how many of these “Tips for Not Looking Stupid” I’m going to do, but just in case, here’s the first.

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the performance of strangers July 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?.
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Early last year, my now-ex-boss brought me in and we worked together to create one- and two-year traffic projections for our website network. The problem is: we can’t actually predict the way people will behave to 100% accuracy. Not only has the economy tanked lately, but for the past 14 months, so has web traffic.

My boss was fired, though not because of the lack of pageviews. I am, however, quite certain that would have happened eventually.

Dilbert.com