17 January 2008

A comment on comments

I don't know that I've made this explicit. If not I should. And if I have, it bears repeating. I read every comment. They can't escape my notice due to the way I have my blog event notifications set up. I read your comments and I almost always reply. It might take me as long as a couple weeks. But especially if you have a question or a juicy statement, I will post a response in the comments.

16 January 2008

On the bench

I initially wanted to write a post about liveblogging a sales meeting at Microsoft. We had about ten Mantis folks in the room, including a principle and all four directors. Our sales manager for this client couldn’t be there in person and I’m one of the few people around comfortable speaking unvarnished truth. I can also read people well and type quickly, so she asked me to provide running commentary in IM. It’s the first time I’ve liveblogged and it actually made a difference, giving her the opportunity to step in and save the day (at least) once, in a way that she wouldn’t have known to do since she couldn’t see her clients. But, as it turns out, both of us had prudently disabled the history feature of our respective IM applications. So no record exists. This is probably for the best as I had some unfiltered and unflattering things to say about both our team and the client.

Instead, I’ll talk about being on the bench. I’ve groused before about being overcommitted. But I face the opposite problem at the moment, so it’s been weighing heavily on my mind.

Due to the poor integration of the product design discipline into my current employer’s processes, I occasionally find myself unoccupied. I usually give it a few days – catch up on old or low priority tasks, do some casual research, detox from whatever large project I’ve just wrapped. Then I let the Powers That Be know that I have a clear calendar. My calendar fills back up and the cycle repeats.

Not lately. For a number of unsatisfying reasons (organizational reshuffling, miscommunication, negligent oversight, politics, crazy internal policy), I have not had a major assignment since… November. My primary role has been to support business development at Microsoft. I’d be concerned for my future (see the list below), but that is a non-issue*. In any case, being on the bench can lead to reduced visibility. Poor visibility in this instance promotes a vicious cycle in how to apply you, getting you off the bench. The longer you remain out of circulation, the more likely the following sorts of things are to happen.
  • Your intermittent work, no matter how well done, cannot be fully recognized for merit. Promotions and raises will be difficult to negotiate.
  • For the executives, the shine comes off your field. You are offered/forced to take a different job or get laid off. Sometimes, rather than lay you off, the work conditions are made unbearable – not hostile, just so happiness-wrecking that staying causes you continuous and ever increasing pain. If intentional, this is one of the most contemptible managerial ploys to get you to quit. If unintentional, you never had a future there anyhow and you'd be a fool to stay.
  • The managers/executives get distracted by something shiny. You languish unseen and unheard in a company backwater. For some, this is a hugely sexy prospect: a fat check for almost no work! For me, I go stir crazy, my schedule collapses, I wax acerbic, I vanish from the office, after a while I update my resume and find a position with a rival.
  • Since you are between major projects, you do short stints of work that are frequently given away to clients for free. For the record, something that is free has no value.
  • You are inappropriately assigned to projects just to get you back on the books as a revenue generating employee. Supposedly huge tasks are accomplished quickly. Supposedly trivial tasks drag on for weeks or months. Your work load becomes unpredictable, unmanageable, or both.
  • You are denied sufficient resources for training. If you want to remain professionally competitive, you can pay for it yourself or skill up on your own time – probably both.
  • You are shuffled through a procession of new bosses or boss surrogates.
  • The temptation to quit quietly increases until a magic happens or you quit.
You can˚˚ plan for your employees to go on and off the bench. It’s a great opportunity to schedule vacation, internal projects, training, mentorship – any number of possibilities. I rarely see this sort of planning or action. I'm told it is viewed as expensive. I can't see how it is more expensive than the alternative: badly benched or overcommitted staff.

* Either a miracle will occur and my discipline will suddenly have a career arc that puts me in line for a directorship in short order or I’ll walk myself to the door long before recognizing that they’ll never get their me-related ducks in a row and lay me off.
˚˚ read: must

09 January 2008


Should I write up my recent travels to China and Hong Kong here?

Some of it is business related, some not so. At the very least, I will eventually write one (purely business related) entry if there is minimal interest in anything more.

06 January 2008

No new year's resolutions

I couldn’t precisely say why I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I suspect that it has something to do with my preoccupation with notions such as: If it takes an artificial prime mover for you to achieve a goal, you probably can’t achieve it anyway. I make (or fail to make) changes once I figure out how to fix the thing I noticed was broken. I spent too much money on coffee for two years running. Part of that was priding myself on the superficial and genuine fact that I had never made a cup of coffee in my life. Until this week, that is¹. I don’t need a resolution for that. I just need resolve.

So no resolutions for me. But I do love my lists and guiding principles. So I have a set of guidelines inspired in part by Gretchen Rubin’s “Twelve Commandments” at The Happiness Project. My guidelines are broader in scope than happiness-promotion, but they are essentially the same in practice.
  • Relax, be sociable
  • Risk it
  • Indulge in healthy pleasures
  • Language or music, every day
  • Do what ought be done, do it now
The list used to be longer. But once a guideline becomes habit, I drop it. I’d like to think that by attending to this list I’m actually accomplishing more self-improvement than I otherwise would with standalone annual resolutions.

My casual [Okay, they’re not casual at all – I calculate, I consider and reconsider, and I measure.] personal goals have little to do with business. But they do inform how I move through my all of my life, so they necessary bump into my business life. In fact, I actually have a much easier time fulfilling my principles for growth at work.

Relax, be sociable. Though I have strict rules about conduct while on the clock, my job is unavoidably social and while it’s stressful, it’s usually an easy kind of stress for me to push through. Risk it. I get paid in no small part to identify, disarm, and take worthwhile risks. Indulge in healthy pleasures. I generally plan the pace of my work so that I take breaks, eat well on the job by prepping lunches in advance, and I bike commute whenever possible. Language or music, every day. Most of my hard drive at work is pressed into the service of storing music. And I have the delightful obligation of working with language. Do what ought be done, do it now. Unless it’s a make-work task [hello, hours reporting] I can find a way to dodge, I don’t generally get the luxury of waiting for long to accomplish any given task.

Actually, if I fail at those five points at work, I’m pretty well screwed.


¹ Geoff was kind enough to teach me how to use my French press and Jake was kind enough to pick me up excellent beans from Batdorf & Bronson.