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it’s your job November 18, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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cs_reportWhile this is generally true, there are times when delegation of reports can be a good thing. My old boss asked me to start doing monthly reports for the sales staff and the executive team, and I figured, why not? I’m good at research and I’m always interested in how we’re doing as a company.

Turns out that I was not only way better at it than him, but I could get it done faster because I didn’t look at it as a chore.

However, it’s highly likely that when you’re asked to put together a huge report, it’s because it’s something your boss should’ve done but is just too lazy to do right. And it totally resonates; why else was it a major point in the first Harold & Kumar film?

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rotting from the bottom up November 9, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Observations, Seen Elsewhere.
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A lot of us are pretty pissed off that our companies are doing poorly. We’re seeing our stock options lose what worth they had; we’re not getting raises or actual promotions — just new titles that mean “here’s another responsibility we’re not going to pay you for”; we’re working unpaid overtime because we can’t finish our jobs in the allotted day because we have so many meetings to attend that we can’t get into a groove and finish more than half a task at once.

But it’s not just the corporate office that’s the problem. Some companies are rotting from the bottom up.

Jim Hopkins, formerly of USA Today, used to run a watchdog blog that took USA Today’s parent company, Gannett, to task for its misdeeds. Here’s something that a blog commenter posted a while back that you might be interested in reading:

I can’t help feeling that lots of little stories were missed here. Combined, all the many smaller issues are what really makes or breaks a workplace. Employee spirits and productivity are often broken by bosses who hit the bottle a bit too much or by managers sleeping with the help. I know of one Gannett editor who was emotionally/clinically disturbed to the point where he should have been removed from his job years ago, before he inflicted so much damage on so many careers of people who worked for him. He went undetected because higher-ups refused to open their eyes to realities, a common problem at Gannett properties of all sizes:

* Staffers who have to pull double duty because of a coworker’s incompetence.
* The general lack of accountability for some while others are held to impossibly high standards.
* The huge workloads and all the rework that is necessary because of territorial misbehavior.
* The inability of mid-level editors to truly lead without being either mean or over-the-top friendly (in sort of a fake way).
* The lack of respect that comes in all forms.

Which of those five things have affected you already?

Double duty: I’ve written on several occasions — and in fact just last week — that employees often find themselves covering for the less-skilled workers so that everyone doesn’t get dinged. They do it without getting paid extra or even getting recognized, and if they go to their bosses because someone’s slacking… well, the boss might do something, or the boss might not, but it will trickle back down that you’re the person who tattled. It’s just like grade school except without dodgeball.

Accountability: The only person held accountable is you. Not your co-workers, who keep screwing up. Not your boss, who keeps overloading you and expecting you to continue to perform but doesn’t even thank you for making him look good. Not the CEO, who keeps his job and his expensive car and his two months off a year when you’re barely keeping your head above water.

Rework: The last person to know that the entire focus of the project has been changed is the person who has to do the most work, or the most detail-oriented work at any rate. And that person is always told at the last minute, right after turning in something that he or she thinks is some of his or her best work. And that person is always, always you.

Lack of leadership: Who’s in charge around here? No one! No one wants to take responsibility or make any decisions because that creates an accountability situation. People run around like beheaded chickens until the Big Boss finally tells them what to do, and that doesn’t help much either because the Big Boss just gets grumpy and takes it out on the peons — you again.

Respect: If your boss doesn’t respect you, then you don’t respect your boss. And you don’t respect your boss’s boss because s/he isn’t making sure your boss is respectful of how much work s/he is dropping on your head on a daily basis. Oh, and “employee of the month” doesn’t cut it. Not anymore.

Is your company rotting from the bottom up? Or just from the top down?

The correct answer is probably “both”, and you know it.

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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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expanding on the idea killer: the marketing manager October 2, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Management, Observations, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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This is the third post in the “idea killer” series, based upon three images I posted on September 28.

I’ve spoken at length about how there are final hurdles — people whose job it is to find the flaw in the plan, that one sticking point that’s going to take your carefully-constructed project and make you redo all of it, usually at the very last minute. That person is most often the marketing manager.

cs_marketingmgr

Marketing managers, unfortunately, perform a very vital task at any company: it’s the marketing manager’s job to figure out if something is marketable at all, and if so, how that will be done. They’re generally operating on reduced budgets and with too-few people, and they’re trying to do everything and satisfy everyone:

  • Big Bosses. The Big Boss wants to see everything he already knows. He doesn’t want it to be new. He wants magazine ads, television spots, radio jingles, the works. Oh, and billboards. Lots of those.
  • Webmasters. Anyone who’s come up through the web world knows that it’s the web where brands are built these days — blogs, robust websites, mobile apps, and so on. Marketing on the web generally costs less, but it’s harder to do because you have to know where and when the right place and time are to make your buys. Webmasters know this stuff, but unfortunately marketing managers don’t know enough and don’t listen to them. Instead, when it comes to online, they listen to…
  • The Marketing Team. These guys (and girls) are the absolute worst. They’re bucking for their own positions as marketing managers; they want to show that they have a reason for drawing a paycheck. So they point to their favorite buzzwords: social networking. They’ll put a disproportionate amount of time and effort into Twitter and Facebook — or, worse, force the webmaster to develop a local social media application that lives inside the walled garden and doesn’t play well with others. Then they’ll call it a success when someone fans the product on Facebook. Because, you know, that’s the best place to spend your marketing dollars.
  • Interns. They’re there to prove they’ve got what it takes, and interns — who are still in college and are still part of that vital network of college kids with disposable income who will buy your product no matter how crappy it is. So they promise to energize their awesome group of local young people to hawk the product. It’s basically building viral marketing, which is good in theory, but interns don’t know how to do it. No one does — it happens completely by accident, and usually too late to capitalize upon.

Y’know who’s not there? The person who built the product or service or offering. That person won’t be lucky enough to be involved in the marketing efforts, but he or she damn well better make all the changes marketing wants made or else.

This is why people don’t come up with new ideas anymore: they’re tired of their ideas getting bogged down in committee, which is really a horrible feeling. Now, if you’re lucky, the marketing department will only make cosmetic changes — in a full site redesign I did a few years ago, all they did was add big chunky graphics to my nice, clean layout — but that luck doesn’t come around more than once a year. If that.

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shortly after I return September 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, The Two-Year-Old.
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I was clearing out my e-mail today and found this inexplicable memo from the Two-Year-Old:

I will be at our corporate office Monday through Wednesday. I am attending meetings with all other executives in our branch to learn about CorporateSpeak’s new program which some of you have heard of, called Mercury. They want me to take this information and share it with all of you shortly after I return. So we’ll be meeting in the main conference room room Tuesday, July 28th at 10:00am.

Baroo? (Originally seen on Cute Overload)

Baroo? (Originally seen on Cute Overload)

This was sent on Friday July 10, which means she returned on Thursday July 16. I don’t know if 12 calendar days (8 business days) is corporate’s definition of “shortly”, but it certainly isn’t mine. To me, “shortly” indicates that we should have had this meeting on Monday the 20th.

This e-mail highlights a problem I’ve been seeing more and more of in both my own company and companies my friends and e-mailers tell me about: the fear of moving quickly. Companies are petrified of doing something wrong, of taking a chance that might not pan out, so they refuse to commit the kind of resources they need to really do something right, whether it’s right or wrong. If you don’t take bold steps, you won’t succeed, not in this economic climate.

Mercury, as it turns out, is completely useless to our branch. We never use it, and we never will. Of course, the corporate office will continue to send out e-mails about how we should be using Mercury, and people here will hem and haw about it, and then someone intelligent (usually me) will say “ah, but we don’t use Mercury, and we never will, because we never will receive the software package”, and everyone will ctfd and go back to their lives.

Oh, and by the way, we still had that meeting, and the Two-Year-Old still explained Mercury to us, and you wouldn’t believe* the amount of questions she received… and then, as she said “well, we’re not going to use that aspect of Mercury” to each of them, the crowd became more and more restless and distressed until finally one of our Old Guard — a photographer who’s been here for about 20 years — said, “so what you’re saying is we’re not going to use Mercury at all?”

Naturally she couldn’t give us a good answer to that either. So, you know, an all-around success.

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* Yes you would.

sit around and do nothing September 1, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere, Wasting Time.
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The bigger your office, the likelier this will be:

Dilbert.com

Everything I do has to get past the Two-Year-Old, the Marketing Manager, and often the Big Boss as well. Good luck pinning the three of them down in a single day.

my problem with give-and-take August 31, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned, The Two-Year-Old.
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What we were always taught as children is: be fair. If you do something for me, I need to do something of equal perceived value for you. Perhaps it isn’t fair in your eyes, but it is in mine. This is also a founding principle in sports trades — perhaps Randy Moss was only worth a fourth-round pick to Al Davis and Bill Belichick back when he was traded to the Patriots. Davis felt he was getting a fair shake, so both sides were satisfied.

If your boss is on the other side, you lose. (CC-licensed photo by toffehoff)

If your boss is on the other side, you lose. (CC-licensed photo by toffehoff)

Unfortunately that doesn’t happen a lot at work.

The trick of give-and-take is to not overload one side — either perceived or actual overload. That happened to me last week. I went to the Two-Year-Old with an idea: we have this topical blog network, and I offered to write a new blog in the network about a subject that interests me — let’s say, for the sake of argument, I’m going to write about professional wrestling*. Writing blog entries about the world of wrestling will make me happy, and I’ll be able to bring to bear my not-inconsiderable writing talent** and wrestling knowledge to the table. Many people will read and enjoy my words as a result.

She was fine with the idea. But while I was sitting in front of her, she hit me with an “oh, by the way…”

Yes. That’s right. I’m now in charge of making sure people remember they have to consider the web side of their projects during planning meetings. That’s going to eat up about three hours every morning. Some of my web development duties are going to be shifted to the new corporate guy, which I guess is fine, but the problem here is that I don’t have any real power. I just have to be in charge without being able to pass punitive judgment on employees who refuse to do the web right (if at all).

But that’s what she decided would be the price of running this blog, and now I’m stuck with it. To me, it’s unfair — taking on a ton of responsibility in exchange for spending maybe 30-40 minutes every couple of days doing something I actually enjoy and getting paid for it. I really wish I could take it back, but it’s too late.

Beware the management definition of give-and-take. It will rarely end in your favor.

It was so easy living day by day
Out of touch with the rhythm and blues
But now I need a little give and take
The New York Times, The Daily News

–Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind”

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* I haven’t been seriously interested in professional wrestling since about 1999, but the principle is sound.

** If I do say so myself.

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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the swine flu and your workplace August 19, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Management.
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swinefluYesterday, my doctor told me she believes H1N1 (or “swine”) flu is going to continue to be a problem in the U.S. and elsewhere, despite the relatively-small amount of news coverage it’s been getting lately. Also, over the last couple of days I’ve gotten two e-mails about there being swine flu in my office. I’m sure your company’s put out e-mails about flu prevention, handwashing, and sanitizing.

Amusingly, our Big Boss said, when he announced we had a swine flu victim, that he would ask the custodians to do a thorough cleaning of the building. They did, which begs the question: what do they do every day when I see them trundling through the building with their yellow buckets of doom?

The dilemma at every level has is how to deal with an employee who has swine flu.

Employee: You would think it’s not required for employees to disclose personal health information, but the Littler’s privacy blog says that under the ADA, they actually do in some situations. Plus, in the interest of being a good citizen, wouldn’t you want your co-workers to have knowledge that they might have been exposed to this illness? On the other hand, if you do reveal you tested positive for swine flu, you’ll become a pariah when you come back. People will actively avoid you.

Manager: When an employee calls in sick, the manager asks what’s wrong. If you say you want to keep it private, that raises a potential red flag, and the manager can always request a doctor’s note. Some businesses require it, as a matter of fact. There’s usually a privacy screen in that you can go to HR and say “this is what’s wrong with me, please help me keep it private”. After all, there are plenty of embarrassing diseases that you don’t want your boss to know about — and some not-so-embarrassing ones; one of my co-workers recently beat cancer, and he wanted to keep it private, so he didn’t tell anyone. His boss just said he was out on sick leave and when he came back, we welcomed him as we would anyone who’d been out for a long time. The company really can’t force an employee to reveal his/her sickness, but they can in the interest of general health request more information.

Other Employees: If an employee contracts an infectious disease (in the example above, my co-worker’s cancer was not infectious so it was well within his manager’s rights to withhold the nature of his illness), other employees need to know about it. Managers need to communicate the illness, the prognosis, and the general situation while protecting the employee’s privacy if s/he requests it. HIPAA comes into play in some cases — it did with my swine-flu-afflicted co-worker. Instead, we got a couple of e-mails from the Big Boss. The first warned us that an employee in the department had been diagnosed with the flu and would be staying home until s/he* had recovered and was cleared to return to work. Also, s/he would be getting a swine flu screening. Well, that screening came back positive and there was another e-mail stressing both that the employee was recovering well and that we should enact the protective measures being exhorted by the corporate office since well before anyone here caught it. They will not reveal who was stricken. I feel my company made pretty good choices here. However…

Gossip: When someone’s out for an extended period of time and an e-mail about swine flu goes out, it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s afflicted. The day the first message was sent, most of us figured out which employee it was. She’d been out for a few days, and every day in the message queue it said she was out sick again. We can all correlate data, and we all know exactly who it is. We hope she comes back soon — she’s well-liked around here — but I’m curious to see how people react around her. Especially the person who shares her cubicle pod.

Corporate: At the corporate level, it becomes more about planning for trouble than dealing with the issue at hand. The company has to foster a positive environment despite the difficulty of dealing with this potentially-deadly illness that has everyone running scared and over-sanitizing themselves. They have to provide resources for dealing with potential outbreaks, and they have to keep the lines of communication open if anyone has concerns. Plus, if someone does catch the illness, there needs to be a policy in place to deal with employees who feel they cannot be around anyone who might have been infected — for example, pregnant women, who the CDC says should be first in line to be vaccinated once a vaccine is available. And not just them… what about parents of children with immune system difficulties, or parents whose children have another kind of influenza? How does the company deal with employees who have family members with swine (or regular) flu? The bigger the company, the bigger the potential for trouble if it’s not handled correctly.

The pandemic potential of swine flu** is bringing a lot of these issues out in the open. Despite the danger of the disease, I actually think it’s a good thing. This is stuff managers, employees, and corporations need to think about and plan for — preferably before it becomes a true pandemic.

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* The e-mail from the Big Boss was riddled with “they” and “their” in conjunction with singular verbs — “they are recovering well”, “their doctor said”, and so on. That acceptably-wrong use of subject-verb agreement has always driven me up the wall, and I felt it made our Big Boss look unprofessional. I wonder why his secretary didn’t catch it and change it to s/he and his/her.

** There has always been a potential for flu pandemics. I firmly believe we’re more worried about swine flu than any other in the past few years because it has a cool name. Did the media create this whole pandemic issue by using the name? I can’t tell you — I don’t have the answer — but I’m sure you’ve got your own theories.

the culture of time-wasting August 11, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Unsociable Networking, Wasting Time.
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I iz jus chexin mah facebuk. (CC-licensed photo by tehusagent)

I iz jus chexin mah facebuk. (CC-licensed photo by tehusagent)

A friend of mine once said that “social networking” is just a synonym for “work avoidance”. She’s absolutely right: if you don’t want to work, why not check Facebook or Twitter? Why not post to your personal blog about how bored you are? Why not peruse your favorite blogs on Google Reader or del.icio.us or catch up on the news on Fark or Digg?

Why not make your company spend money to support your goofing-off habits?

There’s plenty of research about how letting workers use Facebook or Twitter on occasion (maybe a couple of minutes an hour) to give themselves breaks in their days is beneficial for everyone and actually increases productivity. We’ve all seen stories about companies in other countries doing office-mandated naps or exercise (as with Hiro and Ando’s company in the first season of “Heroes”). Some companies have patios or exercise rooms or ping-pong tables so that employees can unwind a bit during breaks.

The problem is this: people are taking advantage. It’s easier than ever to lose the train of thought while working; it could be something as simple as checking personal e-mail or texting your spouse to say you’ll be a few minutes late tonight. Ubiquitous high-speed internet, smartphones, music players, social networking… the more options you have, the less likely you are to avoid them all.

But flatly forbidding these things is dangerous. It creates a culture of covert surfing. It pits IT guys against people who just want to see their friends’ friends’ bikini pictures on Facebook. It lowers morale and wastes more time because people are going to (a) talk about the draconian computer policy and (b) find ways around it, forcing the IT guys to work harder to block social networking sites. Or people will just sit on their smartphones, which wastes even more time because the internet connections are generally (but not always) slower.

The trick is to get employees to realize they don’t have the right to spend all day goofing around on the internet. One poster on MyLifeIsAverage.com recounted her boss’s method:

Today my boss sent all employees a facebook message to meet in the boardroom at 3 p.m. The meeting topic? It was about not using facebook at work. I felt tricked but still had to give him credit for being clever. MLIA.

I wish the poster had written a follow-up, but I get the feeling that she and her coworkers were both impressed by the ingenuity of the boss and, during the meeting, probably came to some sort of compromise.

That’s the best possible endgame in the culture of time-wasting: compromise. Compromise with management to keep them from outright forbidding social networking and other time-wasting sites. Compromise with employees to keep them from wasting too much of the company’s time and money. Compromise with the culture itself in recognizing that Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and other social sites are a vital part of most people’s lives and cutting out that part will just lower employee morale.

Which is just what we need in this economic environment, right?

This blog entry was written while I was technically supposed to be working.

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