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.

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.

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.

Amphigory & Discovery

In 1992, I was in my second year of college and caught between a love of English (Literature), and Marine Biology. Naturally, then, all of my humanities credits were embedded in literature. My college offered a course in British Literature, and I took it.  I had had the instructor before (Dr. Linda Leeds) and I would have her again (in a custom course in which I spent it studying the Vita Merlini), and she was most judicious in her judgment.

In my time with her, she remarked that:

  1. My journalism teacher had succeeded in curing me of writing “cute” but not killing writing for me, and
  2. That I really should have stuck with English as a major (true, I use it more than Marine Biology to date)

I remember that in our Brit Lit class we thought we were so smart. There were 30-odd of us, and we “convinced” her to let us watch “Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail” as part of coursework.

The joke was, of course, on us. Have you watched the movie? I cannot, to this day, without being able to dissect Every Single Joke into a commentary on English Literature or historical fact. There is a reason there is a killer rabbit. There is a reason there are irritating French soldiers, there is a reason there are wanton harlots and questionable witches and messed up science. There is a reason the guy who is being carried to the “Bring out your dead” collector isn’t really dead, and why Dennis was considered “old” and mistaken for a “woman”. There is a reason the professor appears halfway through, the monster had 3 heads, and Robin has a divergent experience and minstrels. There is a reason a cow is thrown, a rabbit is the “Trojan Horse”, and there are no actual horses. There is a reason for the shrubbery, the Castle Aaaargh, and Wicked Newt. (If you are willing to dive deep and view askew, there is even a reason for the “Swedish”subtitles in the opening credits).

The joke was on us and I cannot speak for the others in my class, as I do not know any of them anymore, but I watch this movie with my son and smirk both in the pure joy of a Monty Python movie and the knowledge that it’s so much more well conceived than anyone thinks. It hasn’t killed the joy of watching for me, and here I am some 23/4 years after the fact fondly remembering an English Teacher.

That is power.

I do not know what has become of Dr. Leeds.  She was extremely effective as an instructor and I really do wish I had listened to her more often. I only know that I am not the only one who benefits from her wisdom and generosity.

And I am not the only one who cannot watch this movie without winking at the Black Knight, who always triumphs, regardless of the circumstance.

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.

Hot Yoga: Confessions of a Reluctant Convert

I had spent probably six years wanting to look down my nose at hot yoga, with all of its purported smelliness, its special gear, its special words (Namaste, indeed), and the trendiness of yoga pants that you could or couldn’t see through. How could it be real exercise when it’s just extrapolated stretching? How can anyone take it seriously in that gear? Then I took up cycling and the gear argument went out the door. After you shamelessly go to the Safeway in clippie shoes and chamois-padded bike shorts, any sense of dignity in costume is gone.

The kicker for me was about a six months ago when my dad told me he had taken up yoga and it did wonders for his back.

I have inherited many things from my father, good and bad. I am stubborn, I can be very black and white, I am very plain-spoken. I dislike mayonnaise, I can be extremely pragmatic, and my knees and back are increasingly problematic. I didn’t get the piano playing skills, but I got the good hair and straight teeth. When I got to my mid thirties we started comparing knee injuries, back injuries, and what color of therapy bands we were using.

So when my dad said yoga really helped him with his back, I listened. I didn’t march right down to the gym to go try a class, because that would take actual effort, but I did listen. And then I did attend a class at the gym and it was pretty much everything you think of when you think of “hot yoga”: a 15×15 room filled with various bodies in yoga-esque clothing, a calming instructor, seventeen or twenty painful poses, everyone dripping sweat, and I could tell who was a fan of garlic and/or cheese. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great.

I left yoga to its own devices; I didn’t look down my nose at it but I assured myself it was not for me.

My best friend and I were chatting a couple of months ago and, as I pointed out the new Hot Yoga place just down the hill from me, she pointed out she had been going and she found it better than meditation to calm her mind. As someone who also suffers from chronic insomnia, this sounded like a good idea. The new place had a deal: 6 classes for $10 in two weeks. For the price of three lattes I could scientifically test the benefits of yoga! That this coincided with the last week of my old job, and a week off, made for an excellent test bed. And so I signed up.

It’s been a month now. I haven’t had back pain in that time. I have had only two (2) nights of insomnia. I am inelegant in class, I am not the lean-and-limber yoga Barbie; then again there are many in my class who are not. I have seen progress in my flexibility and balance, but frankly, the fact that my back doesn’t routinely go out, and that I can run again without pain in my knees, is selling point enough.

Then there are the personalities: I try to go every Thursday night (for a variety of reasons) but it seems I’m of a minority with a regular schedule. In six weeks of attendance I have seen maybe one or two people in any two classes, the rest of the cast members change out regularly. There are a couple of yoga Barbies — and they know it — but hats off to them because not only do they look it, but they can do that one pose where you balance on the ball of one foot while in lotus with your hands up. Or the other one where you fold yourself in half, and bend over (I think it’s called “sleeping eagle” but for me it’s called “impossible”). Then there was Tatooed Yoga Jesus: a man who looked like the Oxford-Christian Jesus picture but in yoga pants, no shirt, and tattoos all over his arms, back, and chest. Again, the inclination is to mentally tease him, but Yoga Jesus knew his stuff too. Even the inflated, gym-rat-football-player-looking-dude could get some of the more difficult versions.  And then there’s plenty of people like me: not quite with-it, but improving; dripping sweat and forcing muscles to do things they aren’t used to, secure in the knowledge of a pain-free back and a good night’s sleep.

That is worth any amount of self-imposed awkwardness.

Be a Traci

Every year, about this time, I get a little hectic. I’ve decided it must be me, because every job I have had for the last ten years, regardless of industry or emphasis, seems to go absolutely crazy at this time, and it lasts right up until about Christmas or just before New Years’. In previous years I attributed it to planning, that process where you decide how much money a given individual is responsible for; in recent years I had attributed it to the frenzy of “finish what we said we were going to do by end of year”.

Now that I am in a Retail Organization, I realize that I was but a Baby Developer/Analyst and had No Idea what the Real World was like.

I am finding comfort, and redoubling effort, in light of something I learned at my old job: Be a Traci.

To explain:

Each year, at this time, in my old job, I was part of a process in which we divided up something on the order of 1 or 2 Billion Dollars (it changed over the years) to 8 or 12 individuals, in terms of responsibility for the coming year. In short: Jane Roe, Jon Doe, and George Smith, you are now responsible for $1bn/x for the next 12 months, and if you don’t generate that cash volume in your area the Whole Company will look down on you with a mixture of derision, pity, and disgust.

As you can imagine, having someone (especially a Dev Manager) tell you “Here is your number, based on my Excel spreadsheet and near-sociopathic bent for analytics, have fun with that”, is not fun. I got a reputation for being “apolitical” and someone took me aside at one point to tell me that “No and no” was not a reasonable response to email.

However, the mitigation for this at the time was to get all 8 or 12 people into a room, for 8-10 hours, with me, a laptop, a projector, and dubious catering service. In that meeting each person would grab their PowerPoint and their skills in persuasion to indicate to the VP’s that Be why they should be able to put 10, 20, or 30 million dollars back in to the pot. After two rounds, I could tell you, in advance, who was going to sandbag, who was going to like it and lump it, and who was going to knock it out of the park.

Traci always knocked it out of the park.

I met Traci formally in Las Vegas during one of these meeting events, she was responsible for San Diego and was an up-and-comer. Traci was a Manager at the time and therefore a bit more down the hill that these monetary expectations rolled down. The next year, though, she was one of the 10, and she grabbed her Power Point, her very cute shoes, and her Excel Spreadsheet, and did something remarkable:

She accepted her number, and said how she’d do it.

Her number that she was allotted was audacious. It was not easy. I remember thinking she had to have balls of solid steel to accept it, and this was in a meeting where at least three other people who had been Directors, longer, put money back on the table. She didn’t act overzealous, she admitted the number was aspirational, but she detailed her plan.

She made her numbers.

She made her numbers every year for five years.

She has been a VP for three years running at a Fortune 500 company,

When there is a problem to go solve, they send Traci.

And every time, she rises to the occasion, grits her teeth, and gets it done. In cute shoes.

There are relative few heroines for women in the working world, apologies to Sandberg and Mayer. The fact that I can only think of two off the top of my head (without getting political) is sad (note: I have a whole blog post about Lean In coming). And the fact of the matter is, Traci and I are worlds apart in the actual work we do.  But I cannot forget her tenacity, and I cannot dismiss the infectiousness of her attitude.

Traci once had a long conversation with me about the 20-odd ways there are to say “No”. I like to say “No” the way I learned to: “No”. But in modern business, you need to say “No” without actually saying it: “I need to review our resources”, “Perhaps XYZ tactic will work better”, “I will take that back to management and we can review”, and so forth. It was one of the best lessons I had ever had in management, and I use it to this day.

So these days, when I feel overwhelmed and like the Powers That Be are dumping more on to my plate than I can handle, I remember Traci, and that meeting in Vegas. I’m armed with my Excel spreadsheet, and my Power Point. Now all I need is cute shoes.

Floating Along

I am, once again, at the airport. Can I just say how refreshing it was to NOT have an instant sense of direction once clearing security? I have a whole new world opened to me, and it’s a weird one. Item one: I checked email two hours after leaving on vacation and no work urgency or email had appeared! (What is this alternate universe I have travelled to?).

No, this is a welcome weird; I am semi-secure in the knowledge that nothing really truly awfully bad can happen, that my company can survive without me, and yet my (brief) absence will not convince them they should get rid of me. Nonetheless I am travelling with two laptops, which means I’ll be totally buff when I return.

Like every vacation, I have a laundry list of things I’m going to do (that I probably will not complete). Like every vacation, I have forgotten something (although the kindly Editor dropped by work earlier today and delivered my knitting, which was the item forgotten). Like every vacation, the boychild and I went to Anthony’s for pre-flight. Like every vacation, I am looking forward to in-flight WiFi.

I cannot sit still. I really can’t. I noticed it a few years back, and it was again brought to my attention when the Brit was in a meeting with me a year back. It has peaked since: hour-long meetings in conference rooms either must include my laptop so I can multitask *or* folks need to suspend their seismographs, because the leg or the hand or the pencil or the anything else will be rhythmically moving to the sound of whatever song is in the head.  So sitting on a plane for three hours is going to be less than pleasant. For those of you recommending wine: thought of that. But I’m going to 110-degree weather, and so dehydrating myself on purpose seems a bit stupid.

In four days I will return, and will have to text my PT and tell him about signing up for Tough Mudder, and will have to acclimatize myself to the notion that in 3 months I need to train myself to 1. withstand electric shocks, or at least grit my teeth over them, and 2. be able to pull myself up (all of myself) (by my own hands) (several times). Up until now the directive for the trainer has been much more mellow, much more “hey can you make sure you don’t re-break the parts of me that are broken?” and more “I have this specific set of criteria I must meet in 12 weeks.”

But until then I’m on vacation. Leave a message!

Sur La Awesome

My resolution to blog more often has gone by the wayside courtesy of a new job. I started working at Sur La Table about 10 (calendar) days ago (officially) and I’m having a bit of a hard time.

I’m having a hard time separating reality from all of the awesome.

Any time you start a new job, you’re going to be in a “honeymoon” period. Everything is new, and different. It’s a bit like the 4-week rule I had when I was dating. It went something like this:

Week 1: Dating again. Ok, this is cool, this is normal, everyone dates. Cool.

Week 2: He can do no wrong! He’s going to be a Doctor or Lawyer or Artist or Trashman and this totally meets with my life plans because of X/Y/Z contrived plan.

Week 3: He has a fault. It’s not a big fault, it’s a fault; everyone has faults! I’m totally not judging!

Week 4: The fault… has spawned. It has morphed into one giant gelatinous blob of fault-ness, and I can’t stand it.

(At the end of week 4 I’d dump him. He was still on week 1.)

Fully aware that I’m in week two at my new job, I’ve been doing my damnedest to be diligently down on the novelty, and… it’s just not working.

I get to *build* things again. My professional experience with C# is very, very little and very, very old, but I’m almost done building a nifty little widget complete with error handling. I’ve reaffirmed my faith in Stack Overflow, my lack of faith in MSDN, and re-verified that “Dummies” books are anything but. Half of my day is spent “managing” (two rock stars in their field, incidentally) and the other half is spent “creating”. There are two good coffee sources (NOT including those directly in-office) nearby, two Subways, and my desk has a view of Mount Rainier.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re a small shop. There’s a lot of cross-functional, “ok-you-don’t-know-it-so-can-you-build-that-into-your-estimate” expectations, a lot of last-minute, “oh by the way”. But… I get to *build* things again.

And… there are no more 5am meetings (or 6am, or 7am, or 8am). My earliest meeting is 9, most people don’t set one past 5. People show up, they work balls out, they go home. A tremendous lot gets done and while the shortcomings of the vendor/system/funding/etc. are all publicly, and explicitly, acknowledged, this somehow does not diminish the drive of the people who are involved.

We are selling kitchen supplies for the devoted chef. We are not saving lives, we are not universally accessible. But we are providing you the very best that you can get, at the very best value you can get it, with the very best, real advice you can get it with. We are trying lots of things, and we are experimenting, and we are innovating. And yes, my first paycheck will likely be contributing to my future Le Creuset collection. The real value, however, is that I get to build things again.

Even if it means I hit Stack Overflow six times a day.

Transition

Managing transition is either awesome or sucks, there doesn’t seem to be a “transitory” mood to it; either everything buttons up all sweetly or everything runs amok at the last-minute. Or so it seems.

My transition between Expedia and Sur La Table is marred by my boss’ work trip, my personal trip, and a whole host of concern over who takes what work management piece over. Not to fear, the formal plan has been (properly) vetted and communicated, now is the task of actually putting those succinct bullet points in place. For the most part they’re actually aligning nicely, so I’ll deem this transition “awesome”.

I’m very much looking forward to my new position, and a bit sad to leave Expedia, although I really do feel it was time. After nearly nine years, 8 offices, 7 countries, 6 bosses, 5 titles, 4 buildings, and 3 groups (not including a brief reorganization into Finance (?!)), it’s time see new things. And so I go from Passion One (Travel) to Passion Two (Cooking).

When I was 15 I got a job at a Dairy Queen. “Don’t worry,” they said, “after a couple of days you won’t like ice cream or fast food anymore. Everyone loses weight.”  That actually was true for me but more because the walk to and from work was a mile each way, which was certainly good for my food-centric self. I am not, nor have I ever been, known to eschew a Blizzard or a cheeseburger. Going to Sur La Table does not mean I will stop cooking, it will mean I will want to procure more cookware and do more things, and that is an exciting prospect.

Aside from the added incentive to create in the kitchen, though, is the incentive that I will be creating product again — specifically technology product. I’ll be running a small development team, as well as doing some dev myself, and I’m extremely excited at the prospect. I’m quite rusty in parts — although the SQL whiteboard was fun my C# skills are woefully outdated — and so the next few days will be that awkward position of cramming for the “new” job whilst handing off the old.

Transition, indeed.