Change Management, Part II

Following up on the earlier post, as I have had Spare Time TM courtesy of a bout of COVID.

The Ripple Effect

I failed to mention previously that Big Changes tend to have ripples, and much like when you throw a rock into a pond and then another rock shortly after it the ripples sort of crash into each other, creating other ripples, is how post-major-change ripples go. For example: you have broad reorganization A – let’s say whole departments move, charters move, Big Changes happen. That’s the first rock.

As the ripples from the first rock stretch out to other parts of the water, things in that part of the water get impacted — in this case, there’s the tactics of administrating to a reorganization (changing of cost centers, migrating of resources, identifying process or people gaps, revising projections, etc.) and then there’s the tactics of reacting to a reorganization (I had guaranteed funding from your team to do X, you have gone through a reorganization, is my dependency on you at risk). After enough buildup of these ripples, it often comes to management’s (correct) mind that another reorganization is needed, to account for the things that weren’t immediately derived or attended to with the first one. This “aftershock” reorganization is typically smaller, more nuanced, and often has better details worked out (direct reporting lines, accounts for previously identified gaps, etc.). Perhaps pedantically, this aftershock can breed additional, smaller aftershocks (or, additional, smaller ripples) that eventually calm down as they extend through the system. Depending on what time of year The Big One hit, the Little Ones can extend 3 to 6 months afterwards.

Driving To Clarity

The unloved but absolutely necessary job of the shitbird.

I’m sorry, there’s no better way to put it, although LinkedIn me wants to change “shitbird” to “change facilitator” or something; the bottom line is that oftentimes the people who have to drive through the stickier parts of the ambiguity pursuant to a reorg (particularly when we are talking about things like charter, support, keeping programs running, transfer of knowledge, transfer of understanding (those are indeed two different things), and so forth) are incredibly unpopular because we are often the ones pointing out the un-fun things to be done. For example, if the reorganization of people and charter does not equate to a clean reorganization of resources, there’s typically a lot of tedious work in identifying which resources go where, which ones can’t move until they’ve been reviewed, etc. In a world where development teams are already stacked with features and fundamentals work, the tactics of a reorg often present an unfunded mandate and are not usually expressed in cost of hours (e.g., this reorganization equates to N developer hours spent on the tactics of the reorg).

Note I do not say “wasted”. The time spent inspecting and enabling a reorganization to be successful is *not a waste* if done transparently, with understanding of the purpose of the reorganization, and in good faith. Like any effort, there are costs to that effort; the overall reorganization ostensibly results in greater long-term efficiencies, development or productivity. There is a short-term cost, however, and I’ve yet to see any reorganization actually attempt to size the cost and get better at sizing and predetermining the costs associated.

Tactics vs Strategy

Thus far all of my conversation here has been about “tactics” because the reorganization itself is the output of a strategy decision, and the implementation and administration of the reorganization is all tactics. But should it be?

I’m fairly certain that my company is not the only company to regularly shift resources, assets and charter in a near-constant effort to get better: we are a for-profit company and like sharks you either swim or die. We spend money on things, we want to be as efficient as possible for the best possible outcome, and ostensibly every reorganization is made with that goal in mind.

In a world where this is the case then it occurs to me that, by now, there should be a playbook for these things: how to determine the lines of the reorganization, how to pre-identify some of the impacts (both proactive and reactive), and most of all size the costs associated. Those costs need to be juxtaposed with the previous planned expenditures and weighed accordingly – you cannot absorb the impact of moving a thousand people around with no delay in production or productivity; to do so is either specious or obtuse.

One could argue that we cannot get to the impacts of the proactive/reactive tactics to a reorganization because the people who tend to understand these pieces best are too close to the ground – they cannot be trusted, in advance, with the knowledge of the pending changes enough to provide sizing of impact, and so it’s better to let the reorg roll and then “just deal with it”.

If you cannot trust your team to size things in advance, that’s probably a signal to pay attention to. Let’s ignore that for now, because that’s not what we’re talking about here (but we will, later).

You can have some aspect of both worlds.

The Strategy of Shuffle

Working with the fait accompli that a reorg is coming, you cannot (for whatever reason) pre-plan the reorg transparently with your organization, and you have to land the message and then pick up the pieces: approach it as strategy.

Because this isn’t the first one of these you’ve done, and it won’t be the last.

Playbook

If you don’t have a playbook, build one. Literally start building one by capturing the experience of the pain of the tactics of this reorg:

  • What were the hardest parts of the implementation?
  • What were the things you didn’t plan for?
  • What were the things you planned for that didn’t actually happen? Or didn’t turn out the way you thought?
  • How much time did your team actually spend implementing the reorganization?
  • What projects for that period ended up being delayed (either directly or indirectly)?
  • Did any of your KPI’s suffer?
  • Did your OKR’s have to change?
  • How did your employee satisfaction scores change before/after/6months after 12 months after (for those who were part of the cohort before and after)?
  • What volume of attrition could you directly or indirectly tie to the reorg?

You’re already having to absorb the tactics of the specific reorg you’re undergoing right now, you may as well track this while you’re at it.

Sharing

As you’ve captured all this information, be transparent with it – share it with your team, share it with your management, share it with your impacted peers, share it with your leadership. None of these things should be sensitive and every single one of them is useful.

“None of these should be sensitive? What if my KPI’s suffered? What if our employee satisfaction scores suffered?”

I would argue that it’s likely anyone seeing this data already has access to it — it’s not unusual for employee health scores to be shared out semi-or-annually, OKR’s and KPI’s by their very nature are shared in a Measure What Matters context, and I guarantee that regardless of what they wrote on their “going away/changing roles” email everyone knows why someone left the team or company.

The transparency and sharing of the data facilitate conversation, they facilitate awareness, and most of all they facilitate the ability to identify areas to improve *next time* — because there will be a next time.

Benchmarking

If you’re thinking, “hey it looks like you’re gearing up to say now that I’ve measured all this and documented it, I should benchmark and improve” then ding! go to the head of the class. Because that is exactly what you (I, anyone in this) should do. If for no other purpose than your own for the next time you go through one of these, to better set expectations and understand the volume of work, and to better approach the tactics of *that* reorg, record what it took last time and use it to inform your experience the next time.

Forecasting

Obviously if every impacted team did exactly this then that would be a heck of a conversation with leadership about (and accrued body of data to inform) the strategy of reorganizing. Armed with the data of the costs pursuant to a reorganization (in time, developer productivity, attrition) vs. the benefits (in strategic pursuit, overarching delivery, etc.) leadership can make better informed and more surgical reorganization decisions. Specifically, armed with data about implementation times — e.g., if Reorg A took a really long time to implement because the volume of entrenched and shared resources was particularly gnarly to tease apart — then when approaching the next reorganization leadership can cast an eye in that direction and ask their middle management (who will be better informed on this aspect but also ostensibly in the Circle of Trust, or at least enough to help message the reorg) to size the effort for this bout and/or adjust their reorganization plans accordingly (move more/fewer people, move more/less charter, etc.).

In turn, much like any development effort, the management team can identify predictive costs of the reorg (if we do X, it will use up about Y productivity, and potentially impact Z project, to N degrees), avoiding many of those unpleasant conversations (or worse, handwavy conversations without any actual data attribution) that happen 6, 8, or 12 months down the line when we’re collectively trying to figure out why something did or did not happen.

Perfect vs Good

A quick note here about perfectionism: it’s good in small doses to get you directionally better at things. It is not a good management philosophy or philosophy to apply to any sort of “benchmarking and improvement” endeavor, which I would posit the Strategy of Reorgs as. Which is to say:

  1. Your first round of reorganization benchmarking will not solve for All the Cases.
  2. Your first or even second set of impact metrics will not be enough data to create a predictive model, but will be enough potentially to suggest correlation.
  3. The practical upshot of this exercise is to fractionally minimize the pain and/or volume of expense with each go.

It’s not going to be perfect, ever. You are welcome to aim for perfection; understand you will oft settle for good.

Which is better than settling for nothing at all.

Change Management

Author’s note: I had to go back and read through this blog a bit because I was certain I had already talked about this, but it turns out I’ve only dallied around the edges. Time to hit it head on.

I’ve been at my current company for about 8 years, meaning that if I stick around for another year (likely) it will be the longest time I’ve ever been at one company (and, should I stick around another year after that, the longest time I’ve been consecutively in the same approximate management chain/position). We just underwent the largest reorganization I’ve ever been through.

When a reorg happens, one or more of at least three things can happen:

  1. Your manager changes.
  2. Your reporting chain changes.
  3. Your charter changes.

Any one of these can be disruptive and when they happen it’s a good idea to go through and do that risk assessment, “Do I want to be here/Do I want to do this”. I advocate doing that assessment on a twice annual basis (or however often you have formalized reviews/checkpoints of your career at your company) anyway, so in my case, this assessment was about a two-minute exercise.

Once you’ve picked your stance, you then have to pick how you’ll approach it. As a manager, my first responsibility is to my team to make sure they have what they need to 1. do that risk assessment and 2. act on their plans outbound from their risk assessment. It’s also to make sure they get the answers they need to the questions they have, and to make sure they are supported. My second responsibility is to my charter: I am here to do a job (and it is not volunteer work, I am well paid) so let me focus on that job.

Which is why when a major reorg happens, I am probably not the best person to ask about “how I am feeling right now”. I put that in quotes not because I don’t feel anything, but because any emotional reaction I am going to have about the change will not hit until all of the change is managed and is *complete* — meaning, until we are all comfortably in our new place doing our new things as defined the new way, I am still in “change management” mode and my focus is to *get things done*. One of the defining criteria of leadership at this company is the ability to manage through ambiguity and my ability for that is to work consistently until there isn’t any.

This is all well and good until you work with someone who expects you to want to talk about the emotional reaction to the reorg, to have sentimental lookbacks, to “wallow” in the unknown a bit, or (and this is the one that grates the most) you have to work with someone who is “ostriching” — ignoring the change and hoping that things will just “stay the same”. That last shows up in things like being willfully obtuse, or pretending like the decision today will not make a larger impact four weeks from today; it’s the opposite from “I see the vision of the future and I want that future right now” (which to be fair is also pretty annoying — you have to traverse the interim between the two, you have to *do the work* to close out the old world and prepare for the new one).

Unfortunately, the way many folks deal with change are to either ostrich or to do that “assumptive time jump”, and so when you are the person who points out you can’t really do either and you must traverse the A, B, C, and D between the two, it can be perceived as unfriendly or adversarial. Which sucks, because the intent is to get through that sludge as quickly and efficiently as possible, not to reinforce the discomfort people are feeling with that change.

The problem is even though I’m aware of it I can’t really turn it off, for two reasons: 1. I’m literally paid to make sure we actually do the things we’re supposed to do, and 2. I’m fundamentally wired this way. Case in point: when my mom died. My mom died of vascular dementia and acute arteriosclerosis in April 2020. We found out she had this in December 2019, her having hid the dementia (and associated health issues) behind an alcohol problem and a refusal to share any health information with us. By the time she got through the first of two surgeries it was clear that we were in the end of the book, and by the time we had to engage Hospice there wasn’t any pretending anymore. This is change and that change bridges between the old world (Mom is “fine”) and the new world (Mom will not be here). And in that world, I felt helpless, because unlike this in-between space I have at my job, I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t a doctor, a nurse, a hospice person; I had no job to do in this space except sit and wait. I could bring blankets and chocolates and have nonsensical discussions and on the side work through the endless paperwork; but these were things I could manufacture for myself to do to at least feel like somehow, I was contributing.

It’s a pretty stark comparison to take a major life event and compare it to something so trivial as a job; I draw it only to reinforce that this is a “me” thing and not a “me at work” thing and it’s a thing I have to balance.

I’m therefore in this weird space between Old World and New World where I want to focus on the steps to get from A to Z but I’m dealing with folks who want to pretend we’re in “A” for ‘just a little longer’ and folks who want to get to Z ‘right now’ and I’m the shit bird who has to point out there’s 25 steps to do first and the more time people insist on wallowing the less time there is to do those effectively.

In terms of energy expense, I think the main difference is that for these other folks, their mental energy expenditure is the stress surrounding the change and what that could mean for them/their charter/their vision; for me, the mental energy expenditure is the practical approach to get it done. Which is why on my Insights profile I get things like “Bobbie needs to be reminded of the humanity in others.”

So really, I have to manage myself through this change.

Unplug

TL;DR: Use your paid time off if you’ve got it.

There’s kind of a lot going on in my world right now, a conflux of “things we should have known better” and “things we had no idea would happen”; as my job is professional Anvil Spotter these things touch me in one way or another. (Typically: “Yes we saw that anvil, here’s proof we saw that anvil, here’s how we will duck out of the way of said anvil”, or, “Nope, didn’t see that anvil, but here’s how we dealt with a similar anvil, and here’s how we’ll keep from being under this anvil next time”.) So far none of the anvils have landed but there’ve been some close calls.

What this means in a dynamic, hybrid work environment is a finely controlled chaos. In a meeting talking about interpersonal dynamics the other day a graph popped up to show all the interaction capabilities in a group of say, six people — and it’s factorial. Which means that if you have six people then Person A can have a “group” with all 5 other people, or 4, or 3, or 2, or 1, and as you whittle down the numbers the combinations increase as to which people they can be interacting with. Which in turn means that a group of “six” people is actually something like 720 “groups”. Which is why at the end of the day you and I and everyone are exhausted when working on a “small group” project (never mind 3 or 4).

The privileged luxury I have is to be able to take a break. This break has been like a few others where I’m actually not completely removing myself (even though that is/was the stated purpose) from work, but it is a departure from my normal work habits and a drastic reduction in the amount of mental involvement and time spent in front of a machine (for work). It’s that last that gets to the crux of it – the same machine I would log in to for fun or just routine access to docs and such, is aligned with my work. I can remove work notifications from my phone relatively easily (without having to remove the apps) but removing those from my Outlook, for example, is a bit more of a project. Thusly I’ll log in to say, update my grocery list or check in on something outside of work and I’ll see the little red bubble and it will entice me to go pay attention to that Teams chat or email. These sporadic check ins are not as tiring as a full day of work but are, as you can imagine, not as relaxing as one completely departed from it.

The fact that I *also* stacked this “break” with my to-do list of non-work stuff makes it feel like less of a break — car maintenance, catching up on house stuff, etc. means that my eternal fantasy of sitting on the couch systematically eating the marshmallows out of a box of Lucky Charms while watching Jaws and Aliens still eludes me.

That said, this “break” still provides respite and is necessary to ensuring that when I do officially return, I’m a sane, practical, rational person, whose job it is to identify anvils as they hover. The takeaway here for you, is to use your paid time off.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a thing – and probably drives some amount of “nah I’ll just take a break later”. It’s not necessarily fear of missing out on the fun stuff, though, but rather fear of missing out on crucial information to a given project, or the nuance in a meeting, or having the time to catch up on XYZ technology, or getting your administratea done. The objective horror of coming back to literally hundreds (thousands) of emails can also be a deterrent. Much as lying down without sleeping can offer an incomplete yet still valid rest, so too can be the “break” with a teeny check in here and there. In my case, the little red bubble will not be too scary when I return.

Does this sort of “semi break” take the place of a real, honest to goodness, vacation? Heck no – no more than that 20 minute beanbag loll takes the place of 8 hours of sleep. But it can give you the respite you need to keep going until you can get to the *real* break. Just remember to actually take that real break. I’m scheduling mine shortly… you know, while on this one.

To Link or Not to Link, That…

… is really a decision that gets made on an individual basis, if I’m being honest.

Having ranted about What LinkedIn Is Not For, let’s talk about what LinkedIn *is* for, at least as I understand it:

  • To create connections between yourself and people you have worked with,
  • To create (potentially) connections between yourself and people you have worked withs’ connections, to expand your network (e.g., in order to reconnoiter on employment prospects, places of work, specific candidates, etc.),
  • To identify potential candidates for your open role (if you’re a recruiter or hiring manager),
  • To share your work/discipline achievements with your peers and potential recruiters/hiring managers,
  • To share news/media/thought leadership/anecdotes around your area of occupation or expertise,
  • To find candidates or indicate interest in candidacy for nonprofit or volunteer positions (board or otherwise),
  • To vet skills and/or educational achievements

It also gets used by consultants and service providers to find potential provide-ees, which I find questionable, but I’d totally roll with (if there were an option to opt out, see previous). With that, here’s my criteria for linkage.

  • We worked together, either in the same group or in the same company on a given project or product
  • We served board or volunteer time together (yes even PTSA)
  • You have provided goods/services in a professional capacity (the very best traffic lawyer in Washington is one of my links, you’re welcome)
  • You reach out and identify how we are linked (“I see you worked with Princess Buttercup, I did too back before she started working at Dread Pirate, Inc.”) AND you identify how a link would help either or both of us (“I’m looking to transition into program management from engineering; do you have time to talk about your experience?”/”I see there’s an open role in your organization that I think would be a perfect fit for me…”)
  • You reach out and do not identify how we are linked and/or aren’t really specific about why we should be linked (e.g., I can see from the tooling that you’re linked to Inigo Montoya, and I remember working with Inigo Montoya on that project for Vizzini, so I can infer that that’s how you found me; but I’m not really sure if you’re just clicking “link” to have a bigger network count or because you want something from me or what.)
  • You are “cold mailing” me out of nowhere (as part of your mail you don’t share how you found me/why you think the linkage is worthwhile),
  • You are using InMail to sell me stuff, and want to link me so you can sell my links stuff,
  • You are one of those aforementioned service providers with whom I haven’t actually transacted any business,
  • You are just trying to expand your network via searching for keywords/key organizations and clicking “link all”
  • You do things that make me question your judgement, either on LinkedIn or at work. This includes conspiracy theories, derogatory comments about others, grind shaming, self-care shaming, or just generally being a d*ck.

Linked Out

I have, as of right this moment, reached my tipping point with some Bad Behavior on LinkedIn — from “professionals”. I’m not talking about your coworker who posts political stuff or that link from 3 jobs ago who posts pictures of their kids’ graduation — spare me the “LinkedIn is not Facebook” drama; I understand that but can scroll by those posts just fine on the “let people live” principle.

I’m talking about proactive outreach that is ostensibly about opportunities, that is not in fact about opportunities. These actually really waste time, and not just the recipients’ time. They waste your time, recruiters and business opportunists. They make me think less of your organization. They make me less likely to consider your company and/or “opportunity”, ever.

I’ve grouped these broadly into four categories. If you’re thinking about doing any of these, please count me out.

The “Come Apply for This Completely Irrelevant Role” In Mail

In this one, you get the semi-form letter that says “Dear [your name here], I was looking across your resume/LinkedIn profile and think you’d be perfect for [their job title here]…” and then goes on to list the benefits of their organization and how to get in touch with them. So far, so good. Here’s where the red flags come in:

  1. You are pitching me for a level that I have exceeded by at least 3 stages and/or haven’t been at in 7 years.
  2. You are focusing on a skill set or keyword that is not in the last 10 years of my job history.
  3. You sent me this same mail 30 days ago, 60 days ago, 90 days ago, etc. and at that time I sent you a polite, “thank you, love where I’m at right now, might consider new options *next year*”.
  4. You are identifying a role or a skill set that appears nowhere, not anywhere, and in no way in my history. Like ever.

Looking at you, Major Seattle Tech Company, Major California Banking Company, Major Seattle Tech Company, Major Seattle Tech Company, and Major Silicon Valley Tech Company.

When I get these, they tell me either your algorithm is borked and coming from a tech company that’s probably not a good sign, or that you aren’t using an algo and your recruiters are so desperate they’re legit just looking for any name whatsoever to send a mail and make some sort of number/incentive, which is also not a good sign.

The “Come Join Our Advisory Board as a Way to Give Us Cash” Opportunity

Admittedly I fell for that this morning, and it wasted 30 precious minutes of my life and also probably someone else’s. Here’s how this one happened: I have, on my LinkedIn, that I’m looking for opportunities in the nonprofit sector specifically in board support – either as member of a board or of committees (as I already am and have). Life is precious, time is precious and so I’d like to spend my ephemeral existence trying to help improve things. In this case, I got a mail for an advisory board role opportunity linked to a local educational endeavor, one I’m actually close to. I accepted the 7:30am call (because sure!) and the day before the call I got a link to “more information”.

Cue the red flags.

The first three pages of “more information” is/was the usual stuff around board support — this is what we do, this is what we need, these are the kinds of support. Then it got into phrasing like, “Work with the design team to select the format best suited for your organization and budget. Each activity and discussion will focus on your industry and company needs. Start your corporate program with as few as 30 employees…” which… somehow read as a sales pitch? For a board role? I responded to the invitation asking for clarity and, got none.

Here’s where I made my mistake: I attended the call. I should have taken the non-response as “we don’t want to answer that right now”, either because it would mess up people’s target call numbers or perhaps the plan is to get people emotionally invested in the first five minutes. Regardless, I attended the call. The inviter was five minutes late (fine) and after some initial small talk when I brought up my question about the “hey what kind of board role is this”, after some very scripted speech the ask was to start talking more about me and what I’m interested in. I was frank, “That’s another red flag for me; you shouldn’t need to know more about me or what I do in order to let me know how the board advisory opportunity squares with the language around organization and budget.” After some initial clarification, what came out is that prospective board members are expected to actually participate in the program the board advises on, to the tune of $5k (oh! but for special people it’s only $2.5k).

I have no problem donating money to nonprofit organizations and do so, on the regular, for ones that I do and do not participate in directly as a board member or advisor or committee member. This bait and switch, however, means that I would re-think any fiscal donation to the educational institution whose name shares this “opportunity” because this “invitation” feels like a scam, and frankly if anyone comes asking me about it, I will share with them my concerns and experience. I mean, if you’re looking to drum up cash just say so, don’t obfuscate it with a theoretical opportunity to actually advise or help.

The Come Use Our Irrelevant or Superfluous “This As A Service” Service

I work for a Very Large Company. There are a few Very Large Companies on my resume and that’s normal as I like the stability of Very Large Companies – you can move around within them without having to renegotiate health insurance sign ups, for example. When I get a LinkedIn email asking me if I want to consider using your HR services to administrate my HR needs, though, it sounds really tone deaf. Like somehow, I’d have the power or the inclination to bypass my existing company Human Resources organization (which is pretty darned great) and just– somehow use your company for my team? I understand when people offer contracting services — that makes sense, I’ve hired contract services before so that is normal — but when I get solicited for things like payroll services it is just a time waster — the precious minutes of life gone, reading that email.

The “Here Let Me Help You Even Though You Didn’t Ask for it and I Don’t Know You or Anyone You’re Linked To” Service

Executive Coaching. Financial Management and Estate Planning. I do not know or understand what the algo is here but I get one about once a month of someone offering to be my coach or manage my money. On one hand, good for you! Go get ’em. On the other hand, I wish LinkedIn offered us the ability to flag that we are not open to business opportunities. We have for example the ability to say we are “Open To Work” (for recruiters — which is not the case for me and I still get the pings), it would be great to opt out of “business opportunities” or better yet opt in to the ones we are looking for.

Hire Learning

I have at various times in my career been a manager, and more specifically a “hiring” manager. Management is a constant improvement cycle — I look back at some of my managerial experiences and cringe heartily, but I saw a good quote I try to employ whilst cringing: the ability to look back on a behavior and cringe means you’ve learned from it and won’t do it again. Or not as much.

The process of sifting through resumes, having “screening” calls, technical interviews, panel or individual interviews, as-appropriate interviews, offers and accepts, is a daunting, involved endeavor and I really, really wish it could be made easier for all – the candidates, the partners in HR, the interviewers, and the hiring manager.

I’ve just finished a round of hiring in my own team (two roles! different disciplines!) and a round of interviews for some other teams (as an interviewer but not hiring manager) and the most consistent thing I’ve observed is the sheer volume of nerves and anxiety involved. This stems from a positive place: as the candidate we’re nervous because we really, really want this role. It may be because it’s got the technology we want to play with or the skill set we want to enhance or the team we want to be in or the organization we want to be a part of or it may just be because it pays well, and money makes things work. (These are all acceptable reasons to go for a job, by the way. There is no shame in declaring you want to get paid and paid well.) We’re used to understanding this anxiety from the perspective of the person applying for the role; I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s a bit nerve-wracking for the hiring manager as well.

Inasmuch as it is tempting to believe a hiring manager sits atop their chair (or stands at their standing desk) and flicks dismissively through resume after resume, that isn’t it. For the hiring manager, this is an exercise in making the best possible choice: the role is open because someone has vacated it or because you have identified the need for it based on a backlog of work. In either case, every day that role remains open is a day that the needs are not met and the volume of stuff to be done grows (along with the pain of the absence). The absence of a human to fill the role is not the only problem, though: the human that you hire is now your responsibility — to foster their learning, their career, and their growth. This is a person you are going to advise and help — and probably help grow beyond what you can give them in this role. *Your* role in their career is transitory, and so the onus on you is to not only find someone who can do the work that needs to be done but find someone that you can help grow beyond that work.

In a perfect world, that is the sole consideration set for either side. The reality is that then another layer of stress is laid upon the effort: speed. How *quickly* can you land that job/ land that candidate/ schedule that interview/ get that feedback/ get the offer out/ get the accept/ get to that first day? Because every day that passes is a day you can lose them to another role, a better offer, a different company.

It is important to lay over this massively privileged stance a healthy heap of perspective: I am fortunate in that I am employed (and hiring within) the tech world, one in which the December unemployment rate was less than 3%. The movement we see is person moving from Job A to Job B, almost always to a better situation (money, location, tech, company size, whatever). If you’re in hospitality that unemployment rate is double. Same if you’re a woman in administrative services, or household support; if you’re a man in coal/petroleum or textile products it’s triple. The people I am interviewing and who come through our portals are folks for whom these roles are a good step up; there are literally millions of people for whom the job search is not anxiety-ridden because they may not get to work with a cool piece of tech but because they may not get to eat. Or they may get evicted. Or (from the hiring perspective) their business will go under (and then they will find themselves on the other side of that coin). The “problems” I face, and to some extent those that apply for roles like mine face, are objectively less problematic than others are facing right now.

My inclination (as an engineer of sorts) is to look at the system within which I work and try to figure out how to make it better — I am that person that sends unsolicited feedback to the teams I work with — like how can we be nimbler about counter-offers, how can we better screen candidates *in*, how can we make scheduling more efficient, and so forth. But as we look at the overall employment health here in the US, we have more work to do.

Reassurance

“Can you imagine what it would have been like to work in the technical space in Y2K time?” — actual quote from a coworker about 4 months ago at a lunch. I casually knew that I was “older” than a hefty chunk of my coworkers; if you’re in the software space the sheer volume of intake from colleges and study programs are such that you get a large incoming batch of folks as their first (or second) job in tech, and then as folks get on a bit in their careers they move elsewhere — sometimes to other parts of the company, sometimes to other companies. Life choices are made differently in your early 20’s than in your early 30’s.

I don’t think I look my age; maybe that’s just a healthy narcissism or maybe I’m delusional. I looked across the table to him and said, “Yes. I can. I was there.”

I entered the corporate world while still in college, at a pharmaceuticals company, in the early-mid 90’s. My title was “Computer Operator” and that was a legit title then – I “operated” the computer. In this case, the “computer” was a set of terminals in which orders were processed and verified, backed up by a mainframe at the top floor. One of my jobs was to administrate the backups of said mainframe (had to be done at 11pm-2am each night, so as not to interfere with work). Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I was, at this time, blissfully unaware of the Y2K problem.

Fast forward to the late 90’s, and four job hops. (Mine was, I think, the first generation to change jobs and change companies multiple times in a short period — our parents’ generation was aghast because for them, you went to a company and stayed loyal to the company. For us, we were chasing money.) I was working for a government contractor and the Y2K buzz was firmly in place. Was “this” software we were reliant on ready? What about “that” software? What about our OS? What about our vendors? And so forth. Which is entirely different from the larger, “OMG everything is going to stop working on January 1, 2000, and we are going to be back in the dark ages” conversation. If you look at the media hype machine today and how it can leverage extremes for clicks, do not think that just because there was a more nascent internet that hadn’t yet fully been squeezed for every last eyeball “dime”, we didn’t have fearmongering and panic. Y2K was a constant conversation; subject to the same conspiracy theories we see peppering today’s news — that it was overblown, that it was fake (and a distraction created to take attention away from the President/current government), etc. It was, of course, real but it was, of course, not as bad as advertised. To be absolutely fair: it was “not as bad as advertised” because a ton of people put a ton of work in, based on a ton of companies putting a ton of cash in, to fix it. The Great Refactoring took something on the order of 2-3 years (depending on when you got your stuff together).

Sometime in the afternoon of December 31, 1999 (I don’t remember the exact time) I was getting gas at the local gas station, near my apartment. It had become “the latest thing” to have streaming video (!) at the pump, so you could watch TV (usually news). As with typical 31’sts of December the “New Years’ around the world” coverage was in session, showing the fireworks and crowds celebrating a new millennium. The video was showing New Year in Moscow, where the power was on, the fireworks were firing; it looked sane and normal and like any other New Years’ celebration. The USSR had fallen less than a decade previous and, at least as far as the “western” world was told, and Russia had been spending the interim period getting economically stable and finding its new path forward; they had had bigger things to worry about and less resourcing to prepare. “If they could manage to have power and water and fireworks and such on Y2K”, I thought to myself, “we’ll be fine”. And for the most part, we were.

We sit here on our 3rd year of a global pandemic, vaccine distribution and access globally are inequitable, our medical professionals are exhausted, disinformation and fearmongering are at levels commensurate with dystopian novels. The great reckoning of racial prejudice and injustice that was supposed to be had did not happen: we “touched” on it, and I suppose we’re going to “circle back”, are we? Gender equity is in the toilet (thanks to pandemic response: no, you don’t get childcare and no you don’t have the wherewithal to work from home, so I guess you lose), and the failure to respond to climate change is so ingrained that we have a sarcastic parody of said failure. We elect a stream of pale septuagenarians who gladly make promises they cannot keep and then wonder why we don’t get what we want and why they don’t understand what we need.

I yearn for the days when I could get reassurance from a 2-minute TV reel at the gas pump. Here’s to a hopefully better 2022.

Liminal

We sit, in the western world at least, in the liminal space between One Big Holiday (yours truly celebrates Christmas as a cultural holiday rather than a religious one) and Another Big Holiday (New Year’s Eve/Day). Annual odometer changes are so ripe for “new beginnings” that the question “have you started writing up your New Year’s resolutions?” is a fair one, even if one doesn’t practice it.

As we know, I make lists, and I like to make goals; I have had my brain described as mercurial and that’s pretty accurate: I use goals and lists to keep myself in check. (One of the reasons I don’t really get into competitive sports or games is that I’m already in constant competition with myself I don’t really want to add a new adversary.) And since many of you out there are quite possibly in that “making of lists” mood, I figured I’d share some of the resolutions and plans that have stuck best and that I have benefitted from. Take this and use it as you will; I am not a professional, just a passionate amateur.

Money Matters

I’m nearly 50 so the things I have to contend with — and the problems that money solves — are different from a new college graduate, or a young family. But having been a new college graduate and started a young family, I can provide the following things I did and used that helped:

Track Your Money; Make a Budget: I once had a friend who avoided the mailbox because she knew there were bills in there. The “rationale” was that if she didn’t open the mailbox, the bill wasn’t really an issue. (Yes, yes, my mind exploded too). *Fear of money* is a real thing, and fear of decisions about money is a real thing. In the US our financial education for children and teens is appalling. It’s offered as an elective, in some schools, and in others not at all. I get it if you’d rather not look at where the money comes, and where it goes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it — this is a fear, or a task, you will need to master because (at least at this point) we are in a world where currency is exactly that.

There’s all kinds of budgeting software out there, like You Need a Budget and Mint. They come with their own downsides and detractions, and when I started out they did not exist; so I used Excel. At one point in my life I was budgeting down to the penny but you can budget to the round number and general idea you are comfortable with. The principal parts of a budget are: how much you expect to earn (income), how much you expect to spend (outgo), and that’s it. Ideally the former is larger than the latter and if not, you work the puzzle to get it to either be even (okay) or surplus (better). You can download your most recent bank statements, import them into excel, figure out what your habits have been, and go from there. (Pro tip: work in small batches. Don’t get draconian and say “I’m never eating out again” — just like crash dieting you will regret it — pick one thing and go after it in increments.) Review it quarterly and update as needed (put an item in your calendar and treat it like a work meeting!).

Get out of Expensive Debt: If you have debt — and everyone does — you need to prioritize it. Some debt is advantageous (e.g., depending on your circumstance you would still write off your mortgage interest) but debt is debt. Identify all the money you owe (cards, loans, etc.), identify its interest rate, and look at how “expensive” that debt is. The higher the interest rate, the higher the expense, so extra cash goes to pay down that higher interest rate *first*. And if you’re really in trouble? Go to credit counseling — they can help negotiate with creditors and reduce interest rates and put things on a payment plan so your credit score doesn’t go down the tubes but you also don’t live on ramen and rice. Those store cards are tempting because they give you a % off at the beginning but they almost always have the highest interest rates, so if you plan to carry a balance (or if it’s even a possibility), don’t.

Shop Around: Your insurance company has to compete for your business. So does your cell company, and depending on where you live, maybe your internet as well. Look around and see what other companies are charging for what services and you may be able to save some cash. Sometimes all it takes is letting your current company know you’re thinking of leaving, and they’ll offer discounts.

Bulk Buying, maybe: If you have the storage space for it, bulk-buying (like what you get from Costco) is great. But you may be in a 600′ apartment and… not so much. However, you may have 3-4 friends *also* in 600′ apartments and if so, you can get a Costco membership and split the purchases. While Costco won’t do this for you — it’s a per-household thing — and while you need to trust your friends won’t stick you with 24 rolls of toilet paper — it’s worth considering.

REduce, REuse, REcycle

Marie Kondo did a bunch for many people (including me, I learned a new way to fold things) but I don’t sit there and hold up my vitamin container and ask if it brings me “joy”. There’s stuff you need to have. Clothes seems to be though the one that gets away with many of us, and so here’s some ideas:

  1. Clothes Clutter: On New Years’ Day (or some other very familiar “start of a year”, like a birthday or anniversary), flip all of your hanging clothes backwards, so you have to work to get the hanger out (so instead of the curve of the hanger facing away, it faces towards you). As you wear something, when you put it back put it the proper way (facing away). At the end of the year, anything facing you has not been worn, and at that time ask yourself: is there a good reason it has not been worn? (Oh, I dunno, maybe a pandemic rendered all those work outfits kinda useless for a bit?). Then ask if it’s worth another go. If it is, relegate part of your closet to these “unsure” clothes, put them backwards again, and go another year. If after two years you *still* haven’t worn them, and there isn’t a specific sentimental value and/or practical value (I mean, formalwear is a thing), consider donating or consigning.
  2. Paper piecing: Do you scribble notes a lot? I do. I use the backside of discarded envelopes, or misprinted pages, to jot a temporary note. (Because frankly sometimes I don’t have patience to type it into my phone with thumbs and it’s ephemeral in nature). You can make a specific tray/location for this “second chance paper”.
  3. Food Foraging: Make leftovers and use storage containers to store it. Tupperware and/or other storage containers can be got for cheap secondhand and/or accommodate your current set with a practically-priced set (bonus: organize your food storage so it isn’t hard to get at and you know where the lids are). Then, store your leftovers oldest-to-newest in the fridge (oldest at front). If you can, take lunch from home.
  4. Kitchen Kvetching: Declutter your kitchen. I am one of the friends in my group that “cooks a lot” and I was the one to do dinner parties and such in my 20’s and 30’s (and early 40’s). As a result I collected, over the years, a ton of cooking stuff… that I rarely use. I mean, how many casserole dishes does someone need? How many blenders? A friends’ friend recently pulled out all of her kitchen tools onto the counter and laid them out, and picked one (maybe two) of the favorites from the group, and donated the rest –(or if you have good stuff and larger stuff, consider selling on Mercari or Marketplace or Craigslist).

Health is Wealth

I do realize that I’m atypical here – I mean, I’m not the only one in my circle (or family) that has a spreadsheet and chart of my cholesterol levels (and other tests) over the last 15 years, but bear with me: your health is everything. (Overtones of Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen here).

  1. Move every day for 30 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a run or biking — even if it’s a brisk walk (<20 minutes per mile if you can manage it, and/or up a hill or two). It’s good for your heart but it’s also good for your head – you can listen to podcasts, or music, or mull over that issue you need brainspace to mull over. It’s raining? You don’t have a treadmill? Do some basic stretching. Check out YouTube for “bodyweight fitness” and find something do-able.
  2. Get your blood panel done annually – like my friend and her mailbox with bills, just because you haven’t gone to the doc doesn’t mean there’s nothing to attend to (and by attend to I don’t mean worry about). A regular blood panel will check for lipids, sugar, etc. and provide guidance on some changes — or not– that you may need to make. In the US, even though we don’t have socialized medicine, insurance companies are *required* to cover 100% of the cost of preventative care — which includes a blood panel over 40 and for at-risk folks.
  3. Wear sunscreen.
  4. If you want to start some sort of fitness regimen — e.g., regular work outs, tracking time and such — there’s a wealth of stuff out there to help – Strava and MapMyRun have free modes where you can sign up and just track what you do/where you do it. Or if you’re like me and less into the social aspect of working out, you can track it in Excel/Google Spreadsheets. In my 30’s I belonged to a “run club” at work where we basically had an annual goal of N miles per week and were free to track and/or do as much as we wanted. You could leverage others for accountability or not, and you could be as detailed in your tracking as you wanted.

Finale

The important thing to remember here is these are ideas for *if you want to do them*, if you identify that you need/want change and if they are appropriate to you at this time. They’re also by no means the only ones out there and, with it being that time of year, the internet is full of lists and opportunities to review. My one last piece of advice is this: you don’t have to do “all the things” and if you try you may go nuts. Pick one, maybe two, and tackle those. If that’s working, maybe pick a third and go from there. Remember: you’re not doing this for anyone else; you’re doing it for you.

Positive Disruption

Many, many years ago, when I was but a young person, “disruption” was not a positive thing. If you were disruptive in class you’d get detention; if you were disruptive in public you’d get the consequences of that behavior. (Side note: I’m not the first person to do the “hey back in my day this wasn’t a thing but now it is”, as evidenced here.) So I’ll spare you the history lesson (as best as I can tell from personal experience I started hearing about “positive disruption” in the first dotcom era) and get to where we’re at, which is my job.

My job is all about minimizing the disruption at work. A team has a thing, a thing they need to do, it is not as smooth as it can be, my team makes it smooth. That’s the simplest description of how my team works and frankly how I do. Constant iteration and improvement, balanced only by the reality of resources.

When I first came to the ‘soft, I got a lot of raised brows from friends, family, and coworkers – “they reorg an awful lot” was the net of it. In my previous experience, “reorg” meant losing your job most of the time – or that you were in danger of losing it. Moving my eggs to the Microsoftian basket was considered by some in my peer group as a risky move. In my first sixteen months I had four managers and moved five times. I was never in danger of losing my job and in the transitions since (I’m on my fourth role here) reorgs have been fairly regular (about twice a year), and relatively minor (the impact to me was typically a skip level or skip-skip level) (and when it wasn’t I reevaluated as needed). This semi-regular disruption leads to an exercised muscle of constant career evaluation: “Do I want to be here?” “Do I want to do this?” It’s not a bad thing, but it can be a scary prospect for those who look at a role as an exercise in stability.

This is the time of year we see the most in terms of change; our annual review process is complete and we’re firmly in second quarter; teams have evaluated what they’ve promised and now (a quarter of the way into the year of promise or halfway through a semester) the rubber meets the road. As folks evaluate, “Do I want to be here? Do I want to do this?” they identify other opportunities and, should they be attractive enough, pursue them. This happened in my own team and I’m proud of and happy for the person who did – they had a list of what they wanted, and they got what they wanted. For me, it means I need to fill a gap.

I’m in excellent company. Right now my larger team is hiring, the organization is hiring; we’re hiring all sorts of disciplines and all sorts of levels. You cannot have that level of gap-and-fill without having an amount of disruption and yet, the show must go on: credit to Friedman that the business of business is business. Here we are then, doing all the things on one hand while simultaneously hiring and ramping in the other. It’s a frenetic time for all, from hiring managers to individual contributors working on the front lines of the product. It is unsettling for some and the twitchy adrenaline rush others need. In my case, it’s a function of recognizing the positive in the disruption. I find it helps to ask “Do I want to be here? Do I want to do this?”. Right now, that answer is positive.

Posted in Uncategorized

Bring the Pain

Learning is hard.

I’m not talking about casual, “oh that’s how Bob Ross turns that odd-shaped line into a tree” learning; or even “hey I was listening to my podcast the other day and they let me know that there’s actually only 8 species of bear in the world”; I’m talking about “you need to learn this new thing and be able to *do* it within a given period of time”, usually with a flavor of “for your job” or “for your life”. Requisite learning, not-necessarily-your-idea learning.

I’ve previously blogged about how I had to stumble through and learn a new query language and I hated every minute of it. It was such an unpleasant experience that the running joke with my teammates for about 6 or 8 months was how much I hated it. I use that query language every day though, and it allows me to do all kinds of analysis and make all kinds of cases that I would not be able to, or would be hyper-dependent on others to do. No pain, no gain.

The company I work for, like most major companies that hire a ton of engineering talent, looks for drive, initiative, and potential. The entire review system is based on ‘and what else could you do?’; you are measured on impact rather than delivery. (You can work all day and not deliver. You can deliver all day and have no impact. You are measured on impact.) The set of humans surrounding me are all people who are very used to being *good at a thing right away*, or getting good at it quickly.

When you’re in an environment with that level of expectation, and the culture is one of “growth mindset” (e.g., yes learning is hard but we lean into it), it can feel lonely. One is often looking across the Teams chat to identify if the person who is talking just naturally knows all that stuff (query language, given service architecture, etc.) or if they had a painful time drilling through it, too. Not unlike high school, where there was some subset of people who looked like they got effortless A’s (because you didn’t see the late nights, the weekends, the tutoring sessions, the agita. You saw the A’s.) You question if it’s just you, if you’re the odd person out, and this (unfairly) leads to impostor’s syndrome. I don’t belong here, I can’t do what these people do, how did I get here, etc.

There’s actually two things at work here: first, the invisible mountain those folks climbed or climb that you do not see (e.g., all the studying, or head banging, or side meetings with all kinds of other people to ask all of the questions), and second, comparing your step two to someone else’s step six. Or sixteen.

The only way to “get over” the idea of unseen investment is to acknowledge it exists regardless of admission. That is, not everyone shares their investment effort — some prefer to come off as “naturally good at things” and they may as yet be, or they may come from a culture where that is the expectation. I come from one where you share the investment and that potential embarrassment is the price of entry; I ask smart people stupid questions (thanks Ologies) and I share that I asked smart people stupid questions. The questions aren’t stupid and if it wasn’t evident to me/not easy to self-serve and find the information, there are others who are having the same problem. If there are others having the same problem they need to see that they aren’t the only ones. The struggle is real but it does not have to be lonely.

As a result, without knowledge of the hill that person climbed (the investment they had to make), it’s easy to assume they are on step 2 just like you; in fact they are on step 6. This sets up for unfair self-comparison and expectation, which can bleed into other areas (so and so got a promotion and it was *just so easy* for them).

I’m not saying there are not people who are just naturally good at things. There are, of course. Some of us though are “naturally good” at a thing because we have been doing it so long it is no longer painful: when I started in the corporate world (in 1994) I was not “naturally good” at anything. Now I am “naturally good” at organizing and streamlining things, making shiny power points and anvil-spotting, because I have spent 27 years doing that (in various capacities). It would be unfair for me-of-’94 (or ’98, or 2000, or even 2007) to compare myself to me-of-now, because me-of-now has literal years of investment, experience, embarrassment and failure to build on.

There are areas I’ve doggedly tried to learn and have not mastered — and that is what growth mindset is. It’s going to hurt, it’s going to suck, and I’m going to pursue it anyway because I will learn and grow, and I know that I can because I have done it before. I’m “naturally good” at “A”, but I still am learning “B” (and I frankly have no clue about “C”). The phrase “A Jack of all trades is a master of none” is only a partial quote: the actual quote is “A Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oft better than a master of one.” In our careers (and in our lives) we have the opportunity to sit tight and do just one thing, or go out and do and learn many things. In both there is opportunity to learn, and expand, and learn more — and it’s going to hurt. No pain, no gain.