The news cycle has quickly settled back into the news of the day with a declining stock market and outrageous acts of Presidential candidates. The early part of last week was dominated by a New York Times article that took us Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. The article gave accounts of mostly former employees and their take on a seemingly abusive culture that was rampant within the company. CEO Jeff Bezos fired back quickly that the company outlined in the article didn’t represent the values of the company he founded and such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated.
Sadly the conversation has fallen off, but there are a number of take-aways for those in the workforce:
- If a company has over 1,000 people, you are virtually guaranteed to find folks dissatisfied with their job. It could be the hours, the lack of resources, or something else that they perceive to be going on. Whether any of those are the reality or not is debatable – but you can’t have a debate over a person’s feelings.
- The management closest to you will set the stage for you to be happy or not. The CEO and senior leadership set the tone and strategy for the company. In a large organization, it takes a large number of leaders broken down into product or division groups to staff, obtain resources, and execute against those strategies. How well they are able to secure resources (people, money, office space, etc.) to carry out the mission sets the base environment for their staff to operate in.
- Every employee is different. What motivates one individual will not necessarily motivate the next. Some are motivated by money, others by working on cutting edge technology and still others by getting recognized at the highest levels. Leaders, managers and even team leads with no HR responsibility need to understand what motivates each person reporting to them and set appropriate mechanisms in place to get the most value from each individual.
Number 3 is one I have pondered quite a bit as of late – the world we are in is changing. The workforce is seeing the first millenials take root, and the world they grew up in was much different than past generations. The 2015 Deloitte Millenial Survey found a majority of this group worldwide was looking for “a sense of purpose” when they joined their current employer. If you are working to cure cancer or feed the hungry this is easy to offer, but the line becomes blurred when you try to apply it to functions like corporate IT or finance.
Leadership styles will have to evolve just as cultures have. Additionally, newer companies that are seemingly busting at the seams with growth will need to keep in mind one question – “How do you keep the company off the front page of the New York Times because of bad publicity?”
Last week I looked at the topic of encouraging innovation, with a focus from a leadership position. The truth is that each of us within a corporate team can bring about innovative change, and this is the notion behind intrapreneurship. Braden Kelley, in his recent article “Innovation: A Team Sport,” highlighted a problem that exists that isn’t often talked about – the fact that team members are often looked at as interchangeable. The truth is, everyone is different in their skills, capabilities and desires. And it is these differences that typically make teams stronger. Just look at The Avengers!
Your teammates on your school projects or in your day jobs are just as different from you as Thor is from The Hulk. Take one away and the team is not as strong. But the spreadsheets where headcount decisions are made do not show that. In fact, you can plop a new human in Excel’s C28 for half the cost if you go 1/4 of the way around the world to hire them. Never mind that the communication costs will be twice as much. You see, humans are not commodities like gold and money. They are valuable stocks with different capabilities and potentials. As a teammate or manager, you must leverage these different capabilities to move ahead.
That, my friends, is the beauty of intrapreneurship. An entrepreneur gambles his life savings on an idea attached to a hope or a dream. The intrapreneur rides on that wave with the resources at his/her disposal and tries to take them all to new heights. No one is asking you to invent the next light bulb. But given the resources you have, what novel approach to combining them will create something new and valuable?
I recently read Gartner’s report, “New CIO Responsibilities in a Digital Business World“, and was intrigued by their encouragement to nourish the “three subcultures within IT”. They defined these subcultures as:
- Operator (linear IT) — focused on keeping things running and improving, based on defined requirements where the priority is stability and reliability
- Innovator (nonlinear IT) — focused on creating new business value and capabilities where the need for speed, innovation and exploring fuzzy requirements are valued
- Guardian (leadership) — focused on ensuring the long-term success of the business, staying industrial strength while being ready for the future, balancing innovation with risk, ensuring a strategic long-term focus and investing in the capabilities required for the future
The standout in this list is the call out of “innovator” as a group that is focused on exploring the areas where a lot of ambiguity exists and is valued. Innovation is getting a lot of play in the IT field, but it is also getting stifled by the frameworks for risk reduction that IT values so much. Old school and new school companies alike including AT&T, Adobe, and LinkedIN are establishing new organizational models to encourage innovation via both financial empowerment and political empowerment. This suggests that innovation is not possible at the rate desired within the other two subcultures, operations and leadership.
Like many problems in this space, I believe it is a problem of structure. I also believe there are many structures that would succeed that do not result in a completely external group being formed. Google and other companies made famous in the last decade their application of 20% time — that is, 1/5 of the work week is designated to personally identified projects and the other 4 are dedicated to the initiatives that have been assigned. The problem here is that if you are within an operations group, much of your time is dictated by external forces, not planned project work. The line is further blurred when you look at DevOps groups that are responsible for new development as well as ongoing operational support.
There is not a one-size-fits-all response to encourage innovation. Organizations are going to have to look at their internal structures, their industry, and all the forces being placed on those walls to determine how best to respond. But they must not overlook their existing talent, and should find ways to include them in the innovation process (ideation, gate reviews, etc.) even if they cannot be dedicated full time. At the same time, the existing talent must be open to new ideas, products and methods that may run counter to “the way we’ve always done things.”
This month hasn’t been the worst ever, but it has been trying. I came down with the flu-like-crud on December 1st. This rendered my attempts to train futile. I think I’ve logged a single, solitary run this month. It took 3 weeks to recover. I had hoped that during this time my shoulder would recover. I injured it back at the end of October, and I’m not really sure HOW. Sadly it did not improve.
I went to the doctor today and the good news is that the x-rays and examination did not prove to be remarkable. The bad news is that it still hurts! The doc gave me a cortisone shot along with prescriptions for an anti-inflammatory and physical therapy. I start the medication today and will go to PT on Monday. Hopefully this course of action will yield results where my previous plan of limiting use did not. My next IM is not that far out in the future!
This past week was what I fondly referred to as “The Farewell Tour” for me at HP. I was only there 14 months before being lured back to my former employer, but during that time I had become well entrenched. It’s humbling to realize the number of people that I had a positive impact on – and in return that had a positive impact on me.
What I came to realize was that this farewell tour was an important part of the process, and I actually found it fairly well documented on the HP Alumni site. They provide a handy “ASAP checklist” for you to follow once you realize that you are leaving the company. Tip # 5 says to:
Do your own simple lunch the week after even if there is an official lunch. You can even invite people who are already gone. A bona fide celebration is an important part of the emotional transition process. Leaving a job – even if eagerly and happily – has an impact of almost the same magnitude as a death in the family. Don’t skip this part of working through the emotional steps.
That really is great advice. In a healthy workplace, losing a team member has a big impact. Folks are happy that they are getting the opportunity, but also feel the void that person is leaving. Saying thanks and goodbye is very important.