12 August 2007

Sunday wrap-up

First bit

Your comments have been remarkable so far! This past week of writing-reading-researching-responding consumed far more of my time than I had anticipated. I also enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I went from nervous and excited to just excited. I have a list several dozen items deep for upcoming posts. If I’m composing four to five times per week, that will easily take me through September. Despite the fact that I’ve got plenty to write about, don’t hesitate to request subjects.

I’m going to attempt to post once per day, Sunday through Thursday. I’ll be replying to comments wherever (I think I need to) + (I think I have time to) = (true). If I don’t reply to a post that you think I should within a few days, feel free to alert me to my oversight.

Does anyone have any strong feelings about edits to existing posts? I figure that if I make a change within an hour of posting I'm under no obligation to notify anyone. Anything beyond that, I thought I'd add a notation such as "Updated at [time]." Should I indicate where I have somehow added, subtracted, or otherwise modified text?

Second bit

Apparently, I need to be a bit less coy. I made a lot of progress forward in setting up this company before ever starting this blog. The company is already named, articles of incorporation are loosely drafted, many sections of the operating agreement are at least identified if not described in detail. I don’t have a business plan, but it’s not like I haven’t written them before. I’ve started looking into the tempest of licenses, taxes, benefits, funding, et al.

To some degree, I’m being intentionally coy. I want to understand what’s at the root of a good company, not just a given specific good company (like a USAA, REI, Motley Fool, pre-IPO Google, or Gore Industries) that I might be able to start up right now.

Intersection of business practices, visually represented by cell division maybe or possibly a stylized MetroidThe work I’m trying to squeeze out of this blog is sussing out where the overlap is between what I want [image: the pink circle] out of a company, what you want [image: the blue circle] out of a company, and what is unavoidably required [image: dark purple oval] in having a company at all. What nobody cares about gets chucked. What folks specifically want to avoid gets guarded against. What everybody seems to want [image: both purple figures] gets more thorough investigation and then undergoes translation into business practices or corporate structures [image: interrobang icon]. The tough part will be accommodating whatever irreducible delta [jargon] is leftover – what only some people want, what only most people will tolerate, what I have to give up in order to get something more important.

I don’t know yet how much detail I’ll have to go down to in order to get what I’m after. I don’t know yet where the guess/know threshold is either. Do I need to feel like I’m 50% sure? Do I think Machiavelli is wrong and I can beat that threshold? I also don’t know how formal I’ll have to make this effort. Any part with paperwork has at least some formality built in. But will I need to make personas? Build an experience tree? Perform other analysis/synthesis exercises? I don’t know the answer to that at all. And I’m about to find out.

Updated on 13 August 2007 to include the image, add a few image descriptors inline in the text, and fancy up the jargon aside as a non-linking anchor tag.


A is A said...

I'm off to play volleyball in moments, so I'll make this brief and add more later. This post brought to mind a book I read in my MBA program called Good to Great by Jim Collins. It's a fairly pervasive management book, but if you haven't read it, I recomment you add it to your reading list. It doesn't necessarily solve the problem of Good, but I believe it concepts about becoming a great company can enable Good. Collins also wrote a book called Built to Last which I've also heard many good things about, but based on the design and purpose of each book, I think Good to Great would be a better place to start.

A is A said...

Still need to edit my posts first. If I tell myself that enough times, eventually it will become true. :-)

Joel413 said...

It seems like you want us to tell you what we want, so that you can compare it to what you want so that we can find parts that we agree on, and thus spontaneously create an Interabang.

If that's so, here's is a quickfire list of what would be my perfect job:
* Flex-scheduling - Where there is a certain amount of flexibility in when I have to be at work and a certain responsoibility to be at work when people expect me to be at work. That being said, If I don't work "8-hours" every single day, but my work gets done and the quality is meets or exceeds what is expected, then why does it matter if I take 1-hour or 75 minutes for lunch. Or what if I leave 15 minutes before 4:30 so that I can get to the appropriate mass transit to get me home at a time to see my family when they are in a conscious wakeful state.

* Open Communication - I want the ability to have a conversation with anyone on my team at any level of the "corporate hierarchy" and I want the communication to be able to go both ways. Honesty and openness make for a more productive environment (I personally think anyway)

* Fair Pay - Am I getting paid what I am worth to the company, or what it would cost to replace me. Is what I am being paid resonable to what other people in the field are making, or what someone doing something like what I am doing is being paid. Granted there are different levels of this. If I am working in Acadamia (as I am) I have a different expectation than if I am working in the private, public, or non-profit sector.

* Respect and recognition - It doesn't hurt to be reminded every once in a while

* Clear directives with room for innovation - What is our goal, and what are the parameters with which that goal can be achieved. If you want me to do something a specific way TabA in SlotA, then I'll do that. If you want a paper airplane inat will do X, Y, & Z at this cost in this time frame. Great, let me do that, and communicate if you want to move the target.

* Comfortable Work environment - Does this mean DisneyLand? No. Does it mean a concrete bunker 30 feet underground? Maybe with the right lighting and decoration ;) And is the atmosphere of the co-workers open and stimulating. Is there the right mix of work-ethic and social interaction. I don't necessarily want to be everyone's best friend, but there is something to be said about the social interaction with co-workers.

This is just a few of the things that would make an ideal situation for me. I could provide more or specifics in a certain direction if you guide me a bit more to what you want.

EGV said...

Mike (a is a) –

I've got Good to Great on my list. Oy, I need another day a week just for research.

I think that you really are limited to creating opportunity. You can't force someone to be good or force a company to be ethical. You can create a set of (essntially neutral) structures that, ideally, make it both easy and rewarding to stay on the up-and-up.

Joel –

Many thanks for that. At least over the course of the next several months, that is exactly, if broadly, what I’m asking. Of course, I will try to help focus this so that you don’t have to guess at what I’m fishing for.

Here’s my knee-jerk reaction and then a line-for line quickfire response. I find the paternalist governing of employees distasteful at every level. It’s a pain in the butt to have to micromanage and to be micromanaged. I don’t want to hire, work with, or work for anyone who is not a credible and responsible person. So I think that you will find that I am sympathetic if not empathetic to your list.
* Flexible schedules – Though it doesn’t, it should go without saying that unless the job you’re doing requires specific spatial and temporal commitments, then you should be permitted to do it where and when you like, provided you can reasonably get the job done.
* Open communication – I agree. Where do you see the line that cautions against too much openness or honesty (or do you see one at all)?
* Fair pay – There is often a large window of comparative pay. Happiness with pay is often measured in direct relation to your immediate peers, not your industry-wide peers. Assuming that you are working with a group of excellent performers, do you see an impact at where they get set on that bell curve? What if your role is worth less year on end – can you stomach taking a pay cut that reflects that industry depression?
* Respect and recognition – Absolutely required, and must also be meted out with honesty and a description of the related impact.
* Clear directives with room for innovation – This is a basic tenet of good management. There are some processes and positions that do require a heavy degree of restriction on innovation, but there should at least be a clear forum for new ideas to receive a hearing.
* Comfortable work environment – I don’t get why corporations are so lazy about letting their offices become hollowing and soul-numbing. It’s not like there isn’t tons of research out there showing that the place you work has an enormous impact on how productive and fulfilled you are in your work. Do you have a view on how this works from a home office? How much should a company step into your home? What resources might you want to see provided? In the HQ office, do you see alcohol as a mandatory element of social interaction?

Rest assured, I will be covering all this stuff in normal posts.

Joel413 said...

I'm not quite sure where to repsond as you've already addressed one of these issues in your newest post, so I'll comment on responsibility and communication in that section.

And just for clarification, I generally am responding off the cuff and stream of consciousness. I should allow some of this to percolate before posting, but then I might miss something.

Open Communication - As you are aware, I am not afraid to talk. And I may do too good a job of keeping people informed or "up to date" on things as they go along. I have a feeling that stems from 1) My like of oral communication and 2) My first boss' micromanagement whom it seemed wanted to know when I opened and closed applications on my computer.

Is there a line where there is too much openess and honesty? There might be, but I think that's more of a comfort level between people. My officemate and I try and respect eachothers privacy and will usually ask eachother if they care to hear about something, or guage mood. So, yes there is a line, but it's one that needs to be established through interpersonal communication. (More in the other forum)

* Fair Pay - That was the one where my thoughts were going in several directions at the same time. This leads me to a conversation I had on the train this morning: We were discussing where loyalty to work ends. There are certain things I will do under the guise of loyalty to work beause you pay me to be there. One rider suggested that living in Covington and going to a BBQ in Woodinville at 6pm on a Saturday evening was not within her sphere of loyalty to the company. But if there was an event during work hours when she is required to be there, then she was for it. I think a lot of that loyalty also depends on the overall atmosphere of the company and if you feel that it's "work" to go to these functions.

Anyway, focuson the question asked: Great performers and a bell curve.. I get that at my current employer, each year our department is given a set amount of money to be divided up for raises, some departments will take that and split it amungst its members evenly, my director does not, and sometimes I get a piece of it and sometimes I do not... this year I expect not because I don't feel that I've done anything or expanded my skillset to warrant an increase. As far as taking a pay cut to reflect an industry depression, I have not yet in my career had to face this and I am not sure how I would react or feel. I did take a significant pay cut when I moved back to Seattle a few years ago, but that also aligned with my taking a step back in career progression. Monitarily I am now making more than I did before I moved back and I expect that once I complete Grad School to move into a new sector of pay. However, if I was in a position that could see compensation fluctuate up or down, I would have to adjust my personal financial regimen to prepare for reduction of pay, so that A change in pay would not drastically cause a change in lifestyle (if possible)

* Home Office - There is a reason I do not telecommute or work in a home office. There is also a reason I try and avoid online classes and correspondence or self-taught learning. I get distracted. That being said, If I had a dedicated separate space to work at home I would expect certain support from work for that space:
- Computer Hardware sufficent to do my work, and the software necessary to do so. (whether supplied by the company or reimbursed is unimportant)
- Sufficient data connection to be able to transfer files between coworkers and/or a central network. I feel the closer to making the home office appear to be just another office in the HQ as far as data connection is concerned is important. A Home worker should be afforded the same working conditions relative to communication and computing needs as everyone else.

- Phone - With the advent and maturity of VOIP it is possible to have a work phone/extension/etc at home. If Bob at HQ wants to call me, dial my extension 1-5809 and he gets me at the home office (or my laptop, at the starbucks if that's where I happen to be) With integrated messaging email/VoiceMail/faxes can all come into one client.

- Beyond that a home office is the responsibility of the worker. If you want dim lighting, a maple decor and an ergometric chair for $950.. have at it. I'll just sit here on my $20 yoga-ball.

Alcohol != Social Interaction

At my first "real job" after college we had a mini-fridge for those "late nights" Now, when social interaction is at a smoke-free Washington Bar, I have no problem stating, "I have to get behind the wheel of a car. Would you like for me to drive you home? Coke Please." This way I can still be social and interactive, and when people are moving onto Beer #2 or #3 or whatever,I can excuse myself and go.

A is A said...

Allow me to comment on a few of Joel's ideas:

Flex-scheduling: I second this as very important to me. I love to work and be productive. But more importantly, I love to do it at any hour that suits my fancy. :-)

Open Communication: The purposes here are trust and empowerment. Trust is an interpersonal issue and one that is guided by relationship-building. There are no hard lines for this based on differences between people. Empowerment does not require complete openness, which can be inefficient. Rather, empowerment requires complete openness about all issues and variables that may affect the task at hand. To me, that part is the ideal.

Fair Pay - definitely, but this is wholly subjective. Even if there is a reasonable salary range within which specific job descriptions fall, so much varies based on a person's needs, desires, and situation. Simply put, fair negotiation is the most important thing here and it can be done on an individual basis. I don't object to full and absolute transparency when it comes to compensation and incentives, but I don't see it as necessary. As for the pay cut, if clear data is shown on the industry and/or business struggles, no problem. I understand and respect the symbiotic relationship between owners/managers/employees.

Respect and recognition - a bonus, in my opinion. If I can see the results of my work, then I am self-satisfied. As long as work is not ignored, or condescended to, I feel no need for awards. They are a nice piece of communication, but I often feel a tinge of embarassment simply for doing what I feel is my job.

Clear directives with room... - This is useful. No additions to what has already been said. To me, the directives simply need to be clear enough to enforce accountability. This has been a thorny problem in my past experience.

Work environment - to me, flex scheduling and home offices resolve much of this issue. Freedom to decorate one's workspace somewhat would also contribute positively. For me, I just need the freedom to select my own music and/or newscasts, etc. I do believe green workspaces have an underestimated impact on worker health and productivity, but this is only an issue if people spend most of their work time in a central location. I do think social interaction is vital for business, but I don't think this requires all workers to be constantly in the same location.

To answer the other questions: the company should not step into one's home without invitation, aside from setting remote intranet/file access guidelines. This does not preclude business being done at or from home, but it should be consensual. As for resources, technology is the only thing I can think of that should be offered if necessary. Alcohol is never mandatory for social interaction, though I don't feel a need to restrict it. I have at least one case study from biz law that addresses this issue from a liability perspective. I'll try to track it down for next time I see you.

A is A said...

Final addendum:

I concur with Joel's comments on technology from the home. Also, I understand distractions, but if that happens to me, I simply change venues. I hit a coffee shop, a library, or a campus where I can work. If I have taken the responsibility to work from home, then that's on my shoulders.

Also, a complete tangent: I'm not fully mobile yet, but my ankle's in good enough shape that I can get out and about and be productive. Thank goodness.