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.

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.

7 Days

I’m watching vintage Anthony Bourdain — 2003 — and he’s in Vietnam and being very Anthony Bourdain.  He’s a fish out of water, but eager to learn; he’s caustic and classic but a much younger version of the person we see today. It’s fun to point a finger and say “ha, ha, isn’t he awkward!”, right up until he gamely eats the half-matured duck egg (complete with duck fetus) and can appreciate it as a culinary event instead of the classic “ew!” that 99.9% of folks I know would engender. Including yours truly.

It’s been a busy week.

A week ago tomorrow, I sat in a large dining hall at the Seattle Westin.  My brother and husband were there. My best friends were there. Some of my more colorful (and worldly) friends were there.  While I’d love to say they were there for me (and in a way, they were, and it’s wholly flattering), or that they were there for Team Read (and in a way, they were, and that’s wholly heartening), they were there for Nancy Pearl. Nancy Pearl was our guest speaker and let me tell you, it’s one thing to hear her on NPR. It’s quite another to see her in person. But of course, the real stars of the show were our teen tutors, who consistently impress me with their maturity and aplomb.  At that age I was snarfing pop tarts and hiding my grades from my parents. These kids are getting work experience and teaching 2nd and 3rd graders to read; they are looked up to not only by their tutees but also by a room of 300 adults, none with a dry eye at the end of their presentation. I’m proud to be a part of the Team Read team and looking forward to my next role as I step down from chair to secretary. And I’m eternally grateful to M who introduced me to this organization.

Last weekend, I had dinner with friends at my house — relaxing and informal; I also learned to do a gluten-free chicken parmesan (hint: garbanzo bean flour) and my sister’s banana nice cream (OMG coco whip is the secret!!)– and then on Sunday my best friend and I decided to do the Hot Chocolate 15k.

The Hot Chocolate 15k promises a lovely hoodie and all kinds of chocolate-based goodies along the raceway. It also sends you smack up the 99, up three hills, and back down them (and up them). We were walking (thanks to my recent injury) but it’s a small solace. It is 9.3 miles of sheer discomfort and as we got to mile 6 and saw the uphill slant of Aurora (the last uphill, right after you have shoved 3 or 4 chocolate marshmallows into  your face and you’re ready to play chubby bunny and you’re feeling pretty good and then you see the last, huge, uphill of Aurora and you want to say the F-word but your face is full of marshmallows) and remembered that type 2 fun doesn’t come easy. You cross the finish line, get your medal, and then get a cup of cocoa, some chocolate dipping sauce, and a bunch of stuff to dip into said sauce.

But Candie made it up to me, because we got to have breakfast at the 5Spot.

The 5Spot is in Seattle and I couldn’t find it on my own because every time I go to Seattle I get lost (this is not an exaggeration).  Our waiter had amazing purple lipstick and beautiful eyes and there’s a shirt there I like; the food was wonderful and the coffee was intense and I will go back. I also heartily approve of their attitude.  I ate and ate and ate and yet came home with leftovers (which the boy promptly ate).

Tired yet? I was, but it’s only Sunday in this chronology. Yeah, I’ll speed it up.

Monday and Tuesday was all day in an Economics class: take people whose WHOLE JOB it is to do research (with an economics or machine learning bent) and of course they are world-class (the class was run by Glen Weyl and Preston McAffee had a prominent course) and put them into a 3-day course (yeah, I only got three) and add in snacks and coffee and Q&A and stick a fork in me, I’m done. The syllabus alone is enough to make me jabber at the husband, who still gives me that little smile as he listens.

And so we find me at today. Wednesday.  I had an all-day conference on Leadership, full of those cringe-inducing group efforts that somehow were ok, and I find I am glad.  Still so much to do, but all in all a good week. There’s no big political missive here, or commentary on the state of things. Just gratitude.

Except for that friggin’ hill on Aurora.  I could do without that again. I don’t care how many chocolate marshmallows are in the offing.

 

 

Off

Greetings from my week off.  This is what it takes to get blogging time.

I have discovered that you really and truly can over-commit yourself, but more often what actually happens is you don’t manage the commitments you have very well. When I went to take this week off — which started at 3:30pm Friday April 1st, something heralded as an April Fool’s Day joke by those that know me — I would have said “I’m over committed and I need to step back”.

Three days in and I’ve already discovered part of my problem: my phone.

In order for this week off to “work”, I had to do two things: I had to arrange for Outlook (my mail service for work) to *not* automatically open when my laptop boots (done) and I had to detach my work email from my iPhone. The last time I did the latter was my wedding week in August of 2014.

I have had the most fulfilling, relaxing yet-personally-productive, best-sleep weekend. I had no insomnia Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights. I got a bunch of projects done around the house, I have taken time to actually thoroughly read my Economist (instead of jumping to the bits I usually read and then, if time permits, reading the rest). The best part of this is knowing that if I had had to go to work today, it would have been okay: I actually unplugged this weekend.

Here’s how this has worked historically: I use my phone the way many of us do; I have my Evernote for shopping lists and recipes etc., and my fitbit tracker, and my weather app, my stock market ticket and texting (the tether to my offspring these days). I use it for a variety of things, the least of which appears to be actually as a phone, and most prevalent is for email. Being the checklist-y, anal-retentive person I am, I really do not want to see the little red notification bubble on my mail that I have unread mail. It bothers me. It’s less clean looking. I could turn off the notification badging for email but that would be problematic during work hours (or on working days). So I roll over in the morning, check the phone and oh, there’s email: better answer that. I stop at the grocery store on my way home, and there’s email: better answer that. I pop open the laptop to get that recipe for dinner tonight and there’s email: better answer that. On weekends it would be get up, go to the gym, check in to the gym with my app and there’s email: better answer that. Stop by Home Depot, get those plants I need, let me cross that off my Evernote and there’s email: better answer that.

All of this email of course is not in a vacuum: answering email is step 1 and usually steps 2-48 involve updating some documentation, or sending another email to another person about the email you just got, or doing a power point presentation based off of the email you just received or the email that is due in a couple of days, or updating the excel spreadsheet so you can email the person with that and a link to the other thing about this particular thing, which reminds you about a third thing that you’d better send an email about.

It is a seemingly ceaseless stream if ingress and egress, with me as the human compute between the two; normally I like this but I’ve realized just how much it has taken over my life.  My first inkling was in checking my Delve numbers — my first instinct after seeing them was to be upset my coworkers aren’t as responsive as I am and my second was to realize I could never share these numbers with my husband else I’d get lectured.

The lesson of all of this is that I will make an effort to detach work email from my phone on weekends — or at least occasional weekends — going forward. I can commit to email — but I need to re-establish ground rules.

 

A Holiday Wish for Facebook

It’s that time of year again, when the man-child and I count the number of houses with holiday lights we see from the roundabout at the south end of East Lake Sammamish, to our turn off (on Inglewood Hill Road). It’s about five miles, give or take, and we chart how many houses we count over the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. We have been doing this for about six years, and tracking it for the last 4. Every year we add the data to a spreadsheet, when he graduates we will publish a paper. (NB: any holiday lights count — any color, any presentation, etc.).

It would appear people are rushing it, this year.

I can’t say as I blame them. Election years are as hysterical as a Kardashian without internet, and people need something cheery to cling to. As much as people want to point to the blatant, extensive commercialism that is the Holiday Season, at least there is (supposed to be) an overriding veneer of well wishing to our fellow humans.

When I log into Facebook the current top 3 news leads are: someone looks like Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian can’t have a 3rd child per her doctor, and Eva Longoria is engaged. I was all snarky about this on social media — I am neither immune nor dignified — until I realized that the alternatives are the seventh level of hell that is ISIS/terrorism, the xenophobia that is ripping through the world, the dysfunction of some aspects of the government, and the realization that there are people locally and globally in need who are not served by the apoplectic screaming of those with the microphone.

I use Facebook to keep up with my friends — and that is a loaded word these days. As with most people I have varying definitions of friendship. And you do, too. (If you will insist that you don’t, I invite you to consider what happens if you find yourself in a jail cell for whatever reason at 2am on a Sunday and ask who would bail you out with no questions asked, and then you will understand that “friendship” is a thing with  layers.)  To that last parenthetical remark, I point out that I have some friends who would bail me out at 2am, and some who would do it without question, but it’s a Venn diagram.

(No, that hasn’t happened yet. But I’m young — give it time.) (Hi, mom).

I do not use Facebook for news of the world. I use Facebook for news of my friends– friends I have worked with and some I still do, friends I had in High School and some I still see, my best friends who are painstakingly building their home from scratch, my sister who started her practice, a couple of people I have never, ever physically met but should they show up on my door in need of a bed and a meal I’d make them Mexican food and proffer tequila (hi, Magnetarball and Goliard!). I use it to see how the next generation is coming along (for many of us have offspring) and live vicariously through friends who do the things I would never, ever have the guts to do (so, Sdiver with her Heli-Skiing or rafting down the Colorado River on a dory she hand-built, or Mr. Crampy who had major heart surgery and something like 10 weeks later did an Iron man (or his wife for that matter, with whom, if you were in a dark alley, you could be confident)). I use it to check in on folks who have moved away (hi DJ and my first Boss At Premera and the Family Firehouse!) and my family that I haven’t seen since I was 12 (Hola Carla y Sylvia, besos y abrazos). I use it to keep track of former coworkers (the ones I really got along with and admired) (hi Expatriates!). I use it to keep tabs on folks I don’t talk to at all anymore but still share memories of, to follow my favorite authors, and to get Life Hacks and my F*ing Loved Science. I use it to keep track of friends I see but oh-so-rarely, because life and work and school and boy etc.

Facebook, as a PM and one who uses you daily, I ask: can I please configure the trending feed to the right to be what is trending *only* in my network? I can filter your trends by “politics” or “entertainment” but the truth is I don’t want to hear about what Donald Trump says (mostly, ever) and I don’t want to know what any Kardashian is doing, ever. I want to know how my friends are doing, in all meanings of the word “friend”; I will get my “news” from credible sources.

Please. It’s all I want this Holiday Season.

Ever yours,

b

 

 

Elephantine

“You’re like an elephant,” she explained to me. “You walk in to the room or you say something and everyone notices, because it’s very forceful. Not everyone can handle that. You need to learn to change your communication patterns.”

That was real-life advice I got from a real-life professional.

The year was 1996, and I had just moved to San Diego to be with my then-fiance. He was in the Marine Corps, and I was a recent college grad, with a degree that could get me $7/hour at Scripps or $10/hour temping with my typing skills. As the Marine Corps enlisted man gets paid atrociously small (I think it worked out to $5/hour or something because the Corps assumes that until you are married, you live on base with their provided food and housing) it was unfortunately a no-brainer. (There are times when you have those late night “what-if” conversations with yourself, and mine start with “What If” I had gone to Scripps instead and resolved to eat beans and rice every day).

One of the temporary jobs I had was with a company that had a rigorous FTE hiring process: you were welcome as a temp with whatever the agency said you could do, as an FTE you had to go through a Myers Briggs assessment and a 1-hour coaching session to determine your personality type. It wasn’t the first MB I had taken and would not be the last (I’m an ENTJ, in case it wasn’t horribly obvious). From the coaching session the quote above is what I remember the most.

In the spirit of the recent articles on how women couch their conversations differently in the workplace (to their perceived or actual benefit or loss), and in particular of memes like this, I’ve got a couple of things to say.

I do it too. I try hard not to, and I’ve found that when I get on a roll — of not apologizing, or not being “we-centric”, etc., I get a different reaction. For the most part, stuff gets done.  And for the most part, I don’t have any lingering perceived/actual issues with coworkers.  I know however it would come as a shock to some friends and family to learn that I have learned to be hyper-deferential. For the person who had to take a whole Traci Mercer class on the art of saying “No” without *actually* saying “No”, this is a surprise.

Then again, I just had that conversation with my boss: namely, he suggested that everyone should be aware of how they are perceived, and maybe that should be my goal (?) for the year (?).  My boss has 3 female employees, none male. All but four of the 25-person engineering team is male. One of my coworkers and I were in a seven-person meeting the other day and she had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a word in for about 3 exchanges. I finally had to do the “rude” thing and speak up and say “hey, I believe [A] has something to say… [A]?”

I shouldn’t have to do that.

In the hallway after the meeting, she and I were talking, and she noted that even I as the “brash American” in the group had to try more than once to get the sentence out or the point across. It stung me, because it made me realize that 1. I’m still coming across as brash, but 2. that’s somehow considered a bad things, and 3. whyinhell are we still fighting for a say at the table?

The real kicker is, I would bet you any amount of money you care to that no one else around the table even noticed. And by “I bet they didn’t notice”, I mean all of it: that we were trying to say something, and that I had to get forceful to say it. (Incidentally, yes our point was taken, yes it was considered valid, and yes it shaped the meeting: we were not dismissed.)

I am not entirely sure what my boss was driving at — and I was very conscious that we were ending the meeting in two minutes because he had another one, and I suspect that if I had pressed the conversation would be longer than 2 minutes.  I’m also not entirely sure I want to entertain it any more than as a casual mention of one thing I could pay attention to during the course of the year. For someone newly promoted, with a whole sheaf of new responsibilities, with the volume of work I have and need to help facilitate, I don’t think that my best efforts for shareholders and coworkers and customers alike should be me sitting and worrying about how others perceive me. While I agree that work is not just about what you do but how you do it, there are multiple ways in which to provide feedback to someone, and the only constructive feedback I’ve had in this position to this date is that there was one time a customer got me riled up too easily and it showed internally to the group. (Not externally to the customer). Save that, everything else was positive.

In the light of all of the recent articles this is forcing me to think about it as, “would my boss have said this if I had been a man?” In other words, would my focus for the year have been “how I am perceived” if I had been male and the brashness and posturing that is/does come with that socially were expected? I honestly don’t know (and since we don’t have a male counterpart, will not know).

Right now I am on my day “off”, and I’m working on some metrics and analysis — my “comfort” work, if you will. I like data: it’s clinical, it’s discrete, and it can help frame decisions and actions. I’d much rather live there than this current world of “how am I perceived”. In my mind, though, I’m conflating the two, and thinking about requesting a change to our internal anonymous surveys: to ask everybody if they have ever been TOLD to consider how they are perceived, and to ask them if this actually is forefront in their mind.

I’d bet it would be illuminating.

Get Ready… to Get Busy

This week is a series of “strategy” sessions at work, at Team Read, and at my son’s school. Three different days, three different sessions, with three different outcomes, to be sure, but all in the same purpose nonetheless: the brief-but-effective review of where we’ve been, a lengthy-and-detailed review of where we are going to go, and an even lengthier discussion and documentation of how we’re going to get there.

Inasmuch as these things tend to be annual — the Board Retreat for Team Read is an annual event, the Long Range Planning meeting at work is (theoretically) an annual event, and Curriculum/Back To School is an annual event — there is an overriding reassurance that we’re not doing this once and dropping it. Oh no. There are meetings scheduled throughout the year, there are metrics (donations/students served, legitimate scenarios satisfied for customers, grades), there is inherent and ongoing accountability.

As a slightly OCD, check box-oriented, black-and-white mentality, I find these meetings extremely validating and reinforcing. We will have a Plan, everyone will know what the Plan is, we will all agree on how we Measure the Plan, we will all agree on who is Working the Plan, we will all agree when the Boxes are Checked. The meetings themselves typically offer the ability to plan for the meeting itself– meta-OCD, for the win! — and involve lots of discussion and interaction and cooperation to get off the ground. I thrive on all of that. One of the reasons I like my job, and I like Team Read, and I am getting to like my son’s school more (especially as I learn what words to say and who to go to to actually implement stuff), is that beyond the “annual” cycle, the interim meetings, and even days, all carry this reinforcement of Plans and Expectations and Actions.

As a person who expects everyone to operate in the same hyperactive, insomniac, black-and-white world I operate in (to the admitted dearth of personal time, which those around me politely point out when it gets bad), these meetings come with a tinge of apprehension and dread.  What if we set our expectations too high, or too low? What if we don’t all come to consensus (or politely agree to disagree on some points and actually come up with a working plan)? What if I talk too much or not enough? What if people get bored?

I once sat in on one of these meetings, back in my Expedia days, in a beautiful conference room in Montreal. It was a series of speakers — speaker A spoke for an hour, speaker B spoke for an hour, etc. ad nauseam. The meeting lasted all day, as they do, and it included boxed lunches and bio breaks and the like. During one of the breaks — probably 3 hours in — my coworker to my left turned to me and asked, “Can you literally not sit still?” I had been bouncing my leg, making notes (about the meeting and not about the meeting), asking questions, making more notes, etc. pretty incessantly. I was not completely bored, but I was not fully engaged.

Books upon books, and now blog upon blogs, have been written to avoid meeting boredom. The advice varies from the basics (be brief, use lots of different media to get your point across, avoid Death by PowerPoint) to more rigorous applications (if it can be handled in email, don’t meet; if it takes longer than an hour, then set up follow-on meetings, etc.)  No one seems to have cracked the meeting code, although for several-hour-long meetings I think breakout sessions and interactive pieces are imperative.  What is invariable is the desire of the meeting host(s), or attendees, to make the most productive use of their time.

In the meeting I had yesterday — the final, and longest of these, the Board Retreat for Team Read in which we mapped out the actual implementation plan for our Strategy plan — we spent a good deal of time talking about how we would work together, both for the day and ongoing. We laid out the things we felt it important to note and be and have in our meetings and our interactivity, such as responsiveness, initiative, debate, etc. At one point the entire left side of a 16′ long whiteboard was filled with requirements and aspirations for meetings and basic work.

I’m not going to list them all out here. 🙂

However, I am going to take the time to parse some of them out and elaborate on my view of each of them, one post at a time, over the next few months. I think there’s value in some of the “A-ha!” moments of the day, and I think the primary value is how to remove the apprehensive, or dread aspect, of meetings.