Link: Bulls**t Jobs (Part 1 of ∞)

“It’s too soon to have a good sample size. But it seems to usually work. I think it works because there is nobody at Mr. Smith’s workplace – maybe nobody in the entire world – who cares whether Mr. Smith brings a chair into work. Somebody wrote up a procedure for employees using special chairs, so that they’re not the sort of cowboys who make decisions without procedures. Somebody else feels like they have to enforce it, so that they’re not the sort of rebel who flouts procedures. But nobody cares.”
Original source: Bulls**t Jobs (Part 1 of ∞)

Link: Why Do Meeting Cancellations Say “I’m Giving You Back 30 Minutes … You’re Welcome”?

‘If the meeting was for your benefit the organizer would not word the cancellation that way. That’s why you don’t hear “I don’t think we need to interview you so we’re giving you back 30 minutes. You’re welcome.” or “we’re canceling your parole hearing so you can go back to your cell and enjoy an extra 15 minutes. You’re welcome”.’
Original source: Why Do Meeting Cancellations Say “I’m Giving You Back 30 Minutes … You’re Welcome”?

Link: Reaching Peak Meeting Efficiency

‘Whiteboards are a tool used by a certain type of person to “take over” a meeting. Simply going to the board and picking up a pen changes the whole dynamic of meeting ownership, agenda, control and creates a power-dynamic that is pretty hostile to collaboration. The worst part of whiteboards is that some people just don’t have the ego or personality to go to a whiteboard so they will never contribute that way. The real problem is that whatever gets written on a whiteboard can have more weight than what is said by others or than it deserves simply because it was “written”. I’ve seen whole product positioning statements upended because someone stood up at a whiteboard and rearranged the 3×3 and bullied everyone by controlling the board.’

A whole about corporate meetings in the rest of the article.
Original source: Reaching Peak Meeting Efficiency

Link: Write it down

“Whenever someone asks me to do something that I think seems ill-conceived in some way, I ask them to write it down. That’s it. Because writing is high effort. Making sentences is the easy bit, it’s the thinking I want them to do. By considering their request it slows them down. Maybe 30% of the time or something, they come back and say ‘oh, that thing I asked you to do, I’ve had a think and it’s fine, we don’t need to do it’.

“This little method isn’t about doing less. Well, actually it is. It’s about doing less important things instead of important things. It’s not about being obstructive. I certainly don’t ask someone ‘why?’ five times (which is a shortcut to being called a smart-arse in my experience). This is about a light-touch way of asking someone to slow down.”
Original source: Write it down

Link: For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly

“For many women, the disparity in assignments comes back to what we’ve called maternal wall bias — a set of negative assumptions about mothers’ competence and commitment. After having a child, mothers come back to work to find that their best projects and clients have been reassigned to colleagues. In some cases, women report that it takes years to get back to the type of work they were doing before taking maternity leave. As a white female lawyer reported, “I made partner in the shortest time of any female. Things were great. I had my son. I worked part-time during leave and came back in nine weeks. My work was gone. It has taken two years and a change in focus to get back to the level I was at.”
Original source: For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly

A real corporate meeting, avoiding triggering The Boss

This anecdote from a story on Sears struggles is spot on strategic thinking for most corporate meeting:

There, two mid-level employees were preparing a presentation for the CEO, Eddie Lampert, when their boss rushed in with some last-minute advice.

On a chart pad he wrote three words.

“He looks at the presenters and says, ‘Do not say these words to that guy,'” according to a former Sears executive who described the meeting to Business Insider. “That guy” meant Lampert, who would soon appear on a giant projector screen at the front of the room, beamed in live from a home office inside a $38 million Florida estate – 1,400 miles away from headquarters.

The pad with the three words was out of sight of Lampert’s video feed. One of the words on it was “consumer.”

The stakes were high. If any of those words were uttered in front of Lampert, the two presenters would “get shredded” by the CEO, whose frequent tirades had fostered a climate of fear among the company’s most senior managers, said another person – this one a former vice president.

These two and other executives say “consumer” can trigger Lampert. He wants employees to instead refer to shoppers as “members,” which is his term for customers who are enrolled in Sears’ Shop Your Way rewards program.

It was at that moment, as the executive attending the meeting watched fellow employees anxiously censor themselves in front of Lampert, that he realized he needed to flee the sinking 123-year-old company.

That perfectly captures how much energy you need to spend on seemingly ridiculous details to be successful in corporate environments, not only in caustic ones, but pretty functional ones as well. I love chronically this type of tacit corporate knowledge.

The rest of the article is great background on how older companies are struggling to modernize with plenty of anonymized sources telling gritty, but helpful stories.

How To Survive & Thrive In A Big Company

These are my tips on getting by in a large organization. They’re intended for people who are working in less than ideal circumstances – you know, there’s no leaked “culture deck” or well-stocked snacks. Check out the slides as well.

Abstract

If you work at a small, cool company, you can skip this talk. The rest of us in large, slow moving companies that rely on meetings, email, and inbox 2,000 to get the daily work done need some therapy and advice for thriving in big, “dumb” companies. I’ve worked in such companies and figured out how to thrive in the “back to back meetings” world we’re taught to avoid. I’ll tell you my tactics. Ideally, you’d adapt the no manager GitHub dream, adapt the Spotify and Netflix cultures of awesomeness. Indeed. However, oftentimes there are good reasons to stay in the relatively dysfunctional companies you’re at. They’re big, slow moving, and seem to use Microsoft Office as their core innovation engine. If people at your work always talk about “aircraft carriers” this is the talk for you. For whatever reasons you’re there, why not make the best of it and learn how to get along and even thrive instead of letting your head explode in rage. This talk will go over what I’ve learned working in large companies from my strange adventure working with a bunch of MBAs in corporate strategy at Dell, to working with large companies as an industry analyst, to working with marketing and product people at large companies.

Recommended more’s

Want something shorter?

Check out the 5 minute recording of me giving this talk at DevOpsDays Seattle, and slides.

Thinking wrong about knowledge workers screws up their productivity

…or: “Knowledge work is a lot more like cloud than traditional IT.”

Of course, it is most certainly not in the interest of knowledge workers to go to their bosses and declare that they have “spare capacity.” At best, they might then be judged in performance reviews as having an easy job and being not very productive. At worst, the bosses might decide that these employees could be cut. Thus it is to every knowledge worker’s benefit to look busy all the time. There is always a report to write, a memo to generate, a consultation to run, a new idea to explore. And it is in support of this perceived survival imperative that the second driver of productivity—knowledge transfer—gets perverted.

The rest of the piece is good stuff. Notice how much of the thinking follows the same pattern of opex vs. capex thinking of cloud, and the somewhat similar notions of continuous delivery. I’d also add that if you follow a small batch (smaller amounts of work delivered more frequently, rather than big projects delivered once), you’re given more opportunity to re-allocate your “knowledge workers” to different projects. As the author points out, this means you have to rejigger how HR/roles and responsibilities work; staff policies don’t currently favor moving people from project to project like you see in (management) consulting.

Couple this with the “you need to constantly be coming up with new businesses” pressure from Transient Advantage, and you have good operating theory.

The media doesn’t know what they’re talking about w/r/t Yahoo, a study in i-banker rhetoric

The notion that some in the media – who usually have no specific knowledge about Yahoo – have recklessly put forward that Yahoo is “unfixable” and that it should be simply “chopped up” and handed over for nothing to private equity or strategies is insulting to all long-term public shareholders.

This presentation is an example of many things we discuss on Software Defined Talk around large, struggling companies and the way they’re covered. Among other rhetorical highlights:

  • Check out how they make their case
  • Use visuals and charts
  • The informal nature of their language, e.g., they use the word “stuff” frequently
  • Their citations, e.g., citing themselves (I always love a good “Source: Me!”) and citing “Google Images”

These things, in my view, are neither good or bad: I’m more interested in the study of the rhetoric which I find fascinating for investment banker documents/presentations like this.

Not only that, it’s a classic “Word doc accidentally printed in landscape.” The investment community can’t help themselves.

As another note, no need to be such a parenthetical dick, below, to prove the point of a poor M&A history, just let the outcomes speak for themselves, not the people who do them.

img_4051

They actually do a better job in the very next slide, but that kind to pettiness doesn’t really help their argument. (Their argument is: she’s acquiring her friends.)

This is a type of reverse halo effect: we assume that tree standing goofiness has something to do with the business: an ad hominem attack. But, I think most billionaires probably have picture of themselves in trees, wearing those silly glove shoes, roasting their own coffee, only eating meat they kill themselves, or any number of other affectations that have nothing to do with profit-making, good or bad.