Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Should I allow a team work-from-home day?

Posted in analysis, botch, business, Employment, fail by commorancy on February 13, 2020

mai-tai-beachI worked at a company which, at the team leader level, endorsed a once-a-week work-from-home day. I can now definitively state, “No, you shouldn’t allow or offer full team work from home days.” Let’s explore why.

Day Off?

The biggest reason not to allow such a work-from-home day is that it is typically treated as a “day off”. This is even true of the managerial staff. At the business where I worked and on this specific day, after we had our “morning teem meeting”, everyone went their separate ways doing whatever they pleased… and it was usually not work related.

This becomes a very difficult situation for those who are consigned to pager duty for that week. When you need to get in touch with someone to resolve a problem, it can become nearly impossible to reach them while during office hours on “work from home” day.

Work from home days should be limited to individuals rather than teams, assuming you wish to allow this perk at all. For example, allow an individual to choose a work from home day and allow that single individual to work from home on that day. That leaves the rest of the team in the office performing their daily routines. This allows for timely problem resolution in almost every case. Even then, if the team member who is at home is needed, they can typically be reached. It also allows other teams to get in touch with your team should the need arise.

Rant

The biggest problem I personally experienced with a “work from home” perk day was that I had no choice in it. If I showed up in the office on the work-from-home day, no one was there. The desks were all empty. Even if I were at the office, I still had the same problem. car-drivingEveryone else was running around in their cars or doing something other than work. This meant that even after spending a long time locating a co-worker, trying to get someone’s mind wrapped around a work problem might take ages longer than normal.

Their thoughts were on driving their car or picking up groceries or ferrying their kids or whatever their assumed “day off” tasks entailed. Their minds were clearly not focused on work. This meant that waiting for people to get back in front of their computers and get into the correct mindset might take an hour or longer. That’s an hour that a problem is not getting resolved. It’s an hour that’s causing delays because they are not doing what they are being paid to do.

This is a big work ethic problem. If I’m handling the pager and I’m expected to resolve problems, some of which I have no first hand knowledge how to resolve, I’ll need someone else’s involvement to help me understand the system that’s broken. Yet, the person with the expertise is out running around instead of working at the their computer at home (where they are supposed to be).

Knowledge Transfer

Some of this might be considered a documentation problem or a knowledge transfer problem. I agree, it is. But, there are many, many companies where selective staff choose to keep their knowledge close to the vest rather than documenting it. This is usually a sign of job security… that this person believes that if they openly document what they are doing, that they will have no value to the company.

This situation is particularly a problem if the person also happens to be the team leader. As a subordinate, I’m not tasked to manage a manager. Though, I can strongly urge them to document. However, that’s not the working relationship. I can ask, but they don’t have to comply. In many cases, they don’t and won’t comply. This leaves me back at square one. I’ll need their help to resolve the problem… every time until I can reverse engineer what they know. What they know about the systems is in their brain and in no one else’s. Until I spend hours reverse engineering that system to understand what they know, I’ll always need their help. That’s job security.

Worse, many times, these folks have PGP locked all of the doors. This means that even were I to try and reverse engineer what they did, I can’t even resolve the problem because I’m led to a PGP locked door. This means that they hold the literal key and they must be the one to open it. For this reason, teams must be in the same office together through the work day… rather than separated across city distances at various dwellings. Businesses rent office spaces for a reason. By having a team “work from home”, it means that the office rental space isn’t being used and the monthly rental money is being, at least on that day, wasted.

Work from Home

I will, however, state that work from home CAN work, if it’s implemented properly. A manager can allow one of their subordinates to work from home IF they are properly monitored. Monitoring means keeping in contact with the person via chat servers, email and pagers. Communication is your friend. That doesn’t mean pestering the person, but it does mean regularly staying in touch when the need arises. Clearly, if there is no need of this person, then let them work in silence. But, pinging them occasionally via email, chat or messaging will give you (as a manager) a sense that the person is at home in front of their computer doing work, not running around in their car taking care of non-work business. At the same time, there’s the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. If a person is out of the office, the optics from other staff might cause issues. Allowing one person to work from home means they’ve gotten a perk no one else may be getting. Offering this to one person means offering it to all staff.

Working from home is, however, a double edged sword. While on the receiving end, I did find the freedom itself is nice enough and not having to spend for the gas and wear and tear on my vehicle is cool. The difficulty is that when the team isn’t together, it kills a work day where things could have gotten done. That forces doubling up on work the following day when we all, again, meet in the office. Doubling up on work is difficult at the best of times, but moreso if that day happens to be Friday.

Teams should work together every day, each week. They should work on projects together, manage the business together and functionally be a team IN the office. You can’t be a team when the team isn’t together.

HR Advice

If a manager or executive approaches you about having a team “work from home” day, you should seriously discuss these downsides with them. The biggest problem is that it kills productivity between team members.

For example, we had our team “work from home” day on Thursday. In fact, it was the worst of all possible days to offer this. It’s the day before Friday… the day when everyone has mostly “checked out”. Friday is one of the worst days for productivity because people are concerned with the bar or a party or the weekend. Their minds are not on the work day at hand. Their minds are on the end of the day and the weekend.

By having the team “work from home” day set to Thursday, this means that it will effectively be a 3 day work week. There is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which supports solid team efforts. Then there’s a break on Thursday which means a huge loss of productivity for the final two work days of the week. Some people may even schedule Friday off which effectively offers a 4 day weekend breaking productivity even further.

If a manager or leader is thinking of a setting up “work from home” day, the only two days where it’s feasible is Tuesday or Wednesday. I wouldn’t allow any other days… definitely not Friday or Monday and definitely not Thursday. I also wouldn’t allow a work from home day every week. That’s too frequent.

Working from Home

Don’t get me wrong, being able to work from home is nice on the surface, but it’s horrible for business logistics. You hired your team to be in your rented office space and work together as a team. Having that team work from home can be difficult to keep track of people… particularly when other teams need access to these staff members. Other teams must put requests on hold when a full team is out of the office.

In fact, it’s almost unheard of to allow an entire team out of the office for a single day, let alone every single week. Business must be conducted every day, not just the days when people feel inclined to show up.

The difficulty, however, comes when a VP or executive proposes a “work from home” effort. While I understand there might be a personal issue requiring this VP to be at home on a specific day, he could have simply set up his own personal work from home day solely for himself. Keep the rest of the team in the office. Instead, he endorsed an entire team work from home day… a mistake.

Personally, that (and a number of other problems surrounding this person and another manager) didn’t work for me and I had to leave that job. Jobs are already difficult enough without throwing in these unnecessary wrenches. I felt the team didn’t get enough done throughout the week, partly because of this incorrectly placed “work from home” day, but also because of sheer lack of team bonding. The manager over the team really did nothing to attempt to bond the team together… instead leaving us to our own devices. This is a separate problem, just like the knowledge transfer issue above, but it definitely compounded with the work from home issue to create a large set of problems which made working for this company much more difficult than it should have been.

Team Bonding

athletesLet’s talk about team bonding for a moment. Every work team is effectively “thrown together”. It’s a bunch of people who don’t know one another initially, but must find common ground to get work done as a team. To that end, the team must have the occasional get together to allow some time away from work to talk and mingle, but that time can also be used by managers to discuss how overall work efforts are progressing.

Team outings need to offer, first, a work related meeting that discusses ongoing metrics that affect the team. If the team is in charge of keeping the servers functioning, then the meeting should discuss these efforts. If there are efforts to secure the servers, then it should discuss the security efforts. Whatever projects are currently underway, these should also be discussed so that all team members are aware of who is doing what projects and who might be needed to help these projects succeed.

Then, after the formalities of work related discussions end, the team will be free to mingle, talk and eat dinner or play video games or whatever fun team bonding activities have been scheduled. At the office, there’s limited time to bond with your co-workers other than at lunch. Having out of the office team bonding events is important to make give the team time to talk about things other than work.

When a workplace offers “work from home”, this activity completely disrupts the ability of co-worker bonding in the workplace. Without a monthly or quarterly team bonding event, there’s no way for co-workers to functionally bond… leaving a scattered team.

Team bonding is important to ensure that work efforts proceed efficiently and normally. Otherwise, you get conflict between team members who refuse to work with one another because each person thinks that their project is the most important… when all projects are important, but no more important than the next person’s project. Still, the projects are all for the benefit of the employer, thus it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure the staff manage the priorities of those projects accordingly.

Team Perks

As a team leader, consider the perks you offer your team carefully. Don’t choose perks like “work from home” because eventually (yes, even you) will abuse it. But, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that a work from home day sacrifices productivity for that and the following day. Be careful when choosing perks that sacrifice two or more days of team productivity. If you plan to allow a work from home perk, choose to allow it for a one-on-one basis so that you can control who is out of the office when.

By making this change, you be in better control over when key people are in and out of the office. Full team “work from home” days should not be permitted or offered. If you currently support such a one-day-a-week perk, you should rethink this stance.

If you are a manager over a team that already has a once-a-week work from home day, you should stop this perk immediately! Be careful to offer a compensating perk once you get rid of this one, such as individual work from home days which are scheduled well in advance. Or, alternatively, allow team members to arrive late, leave early or have flex shifts on specific days as long as their in-office hours offer a minimum of 3-4 hours of overlap with other team members. With such a retooling of this perk, the team will work together in the office every day, offering much more weekly productivity and provide better team bonding.

If this article helped your situation, please leave a comment below letting me know how you managed your work situation.

↩︎

 

Should I wear fragrance to work?

Posted in Employment, tips, workplace by commorancy on December 10, 2019

perfume-bottle-c.jpgThe answer to this question is a definitive, “No!” Male or Female… No. Let’s explore.

Why do we wear fragrance?

To begin to answer this question, we need to understand the reason behind why fragrances (cologne’s and perfumes) were invented. While most people seem to think that fragrance was originally designed to make you “smell pleasant”, its intent goes much deeper than that. You may even be surprised by what you find.

Fragrance was invented and is presently designed to “make us seem more attractive”. Having our bodies odoriferously “smell pleasant” is only but a small part of the reason to wear a fragrance. The bigger reason is to attract a mate.

This article is intended towards those working in a professional office setting versus working in retail or at a food establishment, though not wearing fragrance at any place of employment is important. Also note that most intelligent people fully understand the connotations of wearing fragrance in public. Thus, wearing fragrance at the office might actually be sending the wrong signals to those around you, particularly your boss. By wearing a fragrance, these bright folks realize that you may be less serious about your work than you are about conducting your own personal affairs at the office. Wearing fragrance can set the wrong tone about your level of professionalism… this is particularly true when wearing certain popular immature scents.

Mate Attraction vs Professional Work Ethics

Most people work to make a living, not attract a mate. In fact, if you’re getting a job solely for the reason of attracting a mate, you’ve clearly got the wrong idea about working in the professional world. When you get a job, you do so to perform a skill or function that that business needs. The business itself doesn’t care about your own personal business while you are on the clock. They want you focused on their business at hand, not smelling pretty.

Wearing fragrance is actually counter to getting your professional work done. It can even cause office distractions which can lead to loss of productivity by others. Let’s understand a few more reasons why wearing fragrance can be a problem in the workplace.

Distraction

When you wear a fragrance, not everyone will enjoy the smell of it. Some will, many won’t. Fragrance is a subjective experience. I’d personally say the odds of running into someone who dislikes your fragrance is likely at least 50%. That means that a large percentage of your co-workers won’t like the scent you are wearing (male or female). Yes, that could even include your boss. Some may even be allergic.

Wearing a fragrance that your co-workers don’t like won’t win you brownie points at work. In fact, you might even get a note from HR for complaints, if you’re really unlucky. If it’s just about a distasteful scent, most people won’t say anything, but they may avoid interacting with you… and that can be bad for professional business. It can even be bad for your own work goals if you need those people to help you get projects completed.

Cleaning Products

Many cleaning products contain scents and chemicals that linger and may be overly strong, potentially triggering allergies or asthma. If you clean your desk with cleaning wipes, you may unknowingly unleash a fragrance / chemical storm into the office around your desk. Be cautious when purchasing cleaning solutions to wipe down your desk. Ensure such cleaning products are fragrance free and environmentally friendly. Even if you don’t wear fragrance yourself, you may still be contributing to workplace air pollution by using cleaning products containing fragrances on your desk surfaces. Such products include Lysol and 409 brand disinfecting wipes and sprays. Seek unscented versions and use them sparingly if they have even the slightest hint of chemical odor.

Additionally, you should walk any soiled wipes or towels into your office’s kitchen or restroom to dispose of your stinky trash in the receptacle there. Do not dispose of stinky trash in the trash bin located under your desk. Cleaning product odors will linger and emanate for quite some time from your trash bin. Most office building restrooms enclose smells within the restroom behind closed doors. Many office spaces also have enclosed kitchens with doors, thus enclosing any such odors in the kitchen. Many kitchens and restrooms also have separate ventilation systems to eject odors from the building. While restroom separation is a given, many offices design their kitchen spaces away from work areas, thus keeping kitchen odors out of workspace areas. Take advantage of this kitchen and restroom separation and dispose of all stinky trash in your kitchen or restroom receptacle, not under your desk.

Allergies

Here’s the much bigger problem for fragrances at work. Because many office buildings have limited or closed ventilation systems, your fragrance has no where to really go once in the air. If it’s sucked into the ventilation system, it may simply be recirculated around the office. This means that not only do the people near you have to smell your fragrance, so will potentially many other people around the building. For allergy sufferers, you don’t actually have to smell a fragrance to be affected by it. Even small amounts that are undetectable by the nose can still trigger allergic reactions.

Because fragrances can trigger allergies and even asthma, you should be cautious when deciding to spray on that mist before heading into the office. In fact, you should always think twice.

Soaps and Hand Lotion

Soaps contain fragrances and impart a small bit of that fragrance onto our person when using those products. However, these fragrances are almost always nearly washed away during our morning shower or bath. These fragrances rarely linger and probably can’t even be detected. There is no concern about fragrances on soaps. Hand lotions, on the other hand, can offer as strong fragrances as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious with using these at work. If it’s unscented, this is best. Most regular hand lotions (not tied to a line of fragrances) are usually fine for use at work. These have light, fresh fragrances that dissipate quickly and disappear.

Hand lotions sold as part of and are based on your cologne or perfume, however, should be avoided at work. These lotions typically offer similar long lasting benefits as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious when using these. If in doubt about the strength of your hand lotion’s scent, always choose unscented instead.

Refreshing At Work

If you feel you must wear a scent at work, do not refresh the scent in the restroom or in your car while at the office. Wear it once and do not refresh it the entire day. I can guarantee you that your office co-workers will hate it when you walk in smelling as if you had spilled the entire bottle on your person… again. Those with allergies will likely be forced to leave the area.

Secret Smokers

If you’re a secret smoker and you don’t want your office staff to know that you smoke, you should do it outside in open air. This way, the cigarette smell won’t infest your clothes. Don’t try to mask cigarette odors by spilling your fragrance on your clothes. It doesn’t work. Not only will the refreshing of the cologne annoy a lot of people, the cigarette smoke smell will still be there. Yes, we can smell it.

If you want to remain a closet smoker, you might have to do it in such a way so that your clothes don’t reek. Fragrance won’t help this situation and might actually make your job situation worse.

If you’re smoking something other than cigarettes (like Mary J or crack), you might want to think twice while doing that on breaks at the office. Eventually, you will either be caught or the heavy fragrance scent in combination with your behaviors will give you away.

If you’re really concerned over the smell of smoke lingering on your person, you may want to consider switching to vaping. I know that vaping has recently come under fire for deaths related to cannabidiol (CBD) use. Don’t use CBD… and especially, don’t use black market CBD formulations which may contain dangerous substances. You shouldn’t be using CBD at the office, anyway. Instead, choose a reputable brand of vaping oil that contains the same amount of nicotine as in a cigarette. Vaping doesn’t impart the cigarette burning smell onto your clothing. Alternatively, you could also opt to wear a NicoDerm nicotine patch while at the office or by using Nicorette gum. These are alternatives that don’t impart cigarette smoke smell or the need to mask that odor with fragrance. Patches can be hidden under clothing and gum can be chewed without anyone questioning it.

I don’t recommend the use of smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco or snuff as these tend to stain teeth and give you away even without smelling of smoke. These products also impart a smell on you that’s separate from smoke, but still distinctly smells of tobacco.

Cologne or Perfume as a Gift?

If you receive the gift of fragrance from your boss or an executive of the company, this complicates matters. To solve this complication, wear the fragrance once or twice, making sure you pass by the person who gave you the fragrance. You might even stop and thank them for it. This shows you wear it and like it. This assumes you actually like the fragrance. If you don’t like the fragrance, don’t wear it. Once or twice is enough to show them you enjoy their gift. After that, don’t wear it in the office. If they ask you why you aren’t wearing it, explain that you prefer not to wear fragrances while at work, but assure them that you do wear it when out of the office.

If you’re the type who likes to give fragrances as gifts to co-workers or subordinates, please rethink that gift. Instead, choose a scarf, nice pen or some other non-scented item that might be useful at the office. Gifting fragrance to another employee puts them on the spot to wear it around you and in the office. Don’t put another employee on the spot like this. Gifting fragrances is also a touchy subject. You may gift them a fragrance they can’t actually wear. Some fragrances don’t work with certain body chemistry. Choose a different gift item that doesn’t involve fragrance.

The Subjective Nature of Fragrance

It’s also very important to understand that the pleasantness or unpleasantness of a scent is in the eye of the beholder (or more specifically, in the nose). What that means is that while you may find a scent pleasing, those around you may not. Because of the subjective nature of scents and because scents are worn on the body, it’s actually very difficult to tell someone their fragrance smells bad. It’s usually taken as a personal insult by the fragrance wearer. It’s not that we’re insulting you, we’re telling you that the fragrance you’re wearing smells bad. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the scent. Yet, most fragrance wearers can’t make that distinction and, instead, take it as a personal attack. If someone in your workplace tells you your fragrance smells bad, you need to reconsider using that fragrance in the future. That’s all we’re saying. In fact, it should give you pause to reconsider wearing fragrance at all, but especially not in the office.

You can keep a bottle in your purse and put it on immediately after your shift is over. That’s fine. But, don’t wear any while at the office to avoid a myriad of problems, the least of which being told that your fragrance sucks.

Application

Many people don’t fundamentally understand how to apply cologne or perfume. You don’t apply the scent all over your body. You apply it to two spots on your inner wrist pulse point next to the hand. You then apply it in one more spot on your skin, perhaps behind the ears or on your lower neck / top of the chest. That’s it. Perfumes and colognes are strong. You don’t need much to make a point.

They will wear down over time, yes. Some wear down faster than others, but you don’t need to wear much at all. If you’re intending to wear fragrance at the office (hint: don’t), these three spots are enough. Don’t put it on your clothing at all. It will never wear off of your clothing and it will remain too pungent. Clothing, no. Limited skin application, fine.

This, of course, is how you apply fragrance. This section doesn’t intend to imply you should wear fragrance to the office. No. This is simply how to apply it. You still shouldn’t wear any fragrance into the office when in a professional office building setting. Wearing no fragrance at all is your best choice for staying out of trouble. Let your soap’s fragrance be the only fragrance that you wear.

HR Complaints

If enough people in your office truly don’t like the scent you’ve chosen, they will complain to HR. At some point, you will be confronted by someone on the HR team or your manager regarding this matter. That’s inevitable.

By wearing heavy scents, you may actually be forcing your company to rewrite its employee handbook. As more and more staff abuse wearing heavy fragrances while at the office, complaints will eventually force HR to retaliate by creating a no-scent policy while in the office. Because offices are communal places, we all must work together in relative harmony. If one person seeks to defy that harmony by wearing an obnoxious, overpowering scent, expect to hear about it… regardless of your personal reasons for wearing it.

Finally, you shouldn’t attempt to attract mates while performing your work at the office. Your off time and after hours can be spent in pursuit of a partner, but when at the office, your time should be spent using your hired skill to solve business problems, not distracting others around you by wearing abhorrent fragrances.

Fragrance Free Workplace Policy

If you work for a Human Resources team or a Facilities team at your employer, please consider implementing a Fragrance Free Workplace policy at your place of business. You can’t control a leased building’s ventilation system, but you can control the air quality from your employees and visitors. There’s no need to complicate your hiring and retention process by allowing employees to wear fragrances at the office. If you need an example of how to write such a policy, please check out this Fragrance Free Workplace template from the American Lung Association.

To close this article, let me talk for a moment about sharing. If you work around a fragrance wearer and you have been suffering from a horrible scent or allergies from that fragrance, I feel your pain. That’s why I decided to write this article. I’ve been there, done that. This author gives permission to share this article with any co-worker to give them a strong hint and discuss why wearing fragrance isn’t appropriate at the office. If you work in an HR team, you also have this author’s permission to freely share a link to this article or to link back to this article when writing internal correspondence for your employees.

↩︎

Careful what you say

Posted in botch, Employment, tips by commorancy on May 26, 2019

angryguy2This story is about a co-worker at a previous job. I won’t name any real names or the company or describe him in detail, but I will explain the situation, which is most important for this article. Let’s explore.

Flowery Explicit Language

I’ve worked at various Internet companies and occasionally I run into co-workers who choose to use flowery explicit language while at work. In most cases, that language is a form of expression, usually reserved for exasperating circumstances. You know, when something goes wrong and you might yell, “shit”.

Well, a particular co-worker, let’s call him ‘J’, used this language casually and at all times. I thought it a bit odd, because I’d never met someone who did it so often and so casually in a professional workplace, particularly as loudly as he did it.

Before I go any further, I’ll explain that J wasn’t a native English speaker. He also wasn’t American. I had personally attributed his tactlessness, loudness and language to his personal nature (read: upbringing). With that said, I’ve met many people of J’s nationality and many of this nationality worked at this particular company. By and large, most of the people I’ve met of his nationality were cool and collected. They didn’t use such language at all (or very, very rarely). However, J had a mouth on him like you might expect on, well let’s just say on someone “low class”. It was particularly surprising to hear this language from someone in his situation (no green card, needing sponsorship, here on a work visa) and position. His language was always a bit like “Throwing caution to the wind”, in other words, risky. I always felt that he should have been a bit more cautious considering his personal work circumstance and that the workplace staff didn’t often use this kind of language. It was an odd mix for J, but apparently he was set in his ways.

I even politely commented that he should reserve these colorful expressions to more appropriate times rather than using them all of the time. I even told him he should be careful when using these expressions around the office as it’s likely to get him into trouble… and so begins this story.

Reading Your Environment

I’ll take a brief detour before continuing on with my story. When you hire onto a workplace, you should always go into observation mode for at least a couple of weeks. This observation period allows you to “read” your environment and understand what is considered acceptable and what isn’t. You don’t come in with mouth ablazin’ shooting off all manner of colorful expressions. Instead, you learn to read the staff, the behaviors and the acceptability of that kind of expression.

Some businesses have managers who are very verbally expressive with expletives. Some businesses do not. Reading the environment is the only way to determine if such behavior is considered ‘normal’ at that place of business. In general, it’s not typically considered professional or acceptable language and you should always choose not to use colorful expressions at all. However, if you find your manager uses them at times, then it’s not off to use them yourself if you’re so inclined. Your manager probably won’t even care if he/she also uses expletives.

Unfortunately, certain employees don’t understand this concept of “reading your environment” when they begin new employment. J was one of these folks and remained completely oblivious. Let’s continue with this story…

Executive Bailout

Our company had had a particularly successful last 18 months. However, all good things must come to an end, and so it did. First, the CEO announces his departure. Then, a number of other executives also announce their departures. An interim CEO is named and he takes over as CEO immediately after the other CEO announces.

My team was led by an executive VP who, at the time, had been simply going through the motions for the last 12-18 months. At first, this executive was highly motivated, on-board, and extremely engaged with everything and everyone. By the last 18 months, he had more or less checked-out. He no longer kept up with the day-to-day operations, he didn’t really much care how the department operated (other than not wanting to see it melt down, of course) and he no longer took an interest in the team. He was simply disengaged and “going through the motions”. I saw it and so did everyone else. So, it wasn’t a surprise what happened next.

Mandatory Meeting

We were called, as a department, to a large open presenting space in the lobby of our company’s building. At the time, we had no idea as to the reason for this impromptu “all hands” meeting, but I had my suspicions as to what was coming as we had had many of these in the last few weeks. I didn’t make any snap judgements as we had also had some of these meetings that simply ended up new product announcements, rah-rah sessions or other random weird (and unnecessary) company “all hands” announcements.

As I showed up a bit early, I was able to get a seat. Unfortunately, not so with everyone who showed up later. In fact, by the time the presentation started, it was standing room only and many were standing around the entire perimeter of the room, including in front of the two main double doors. For an impromptu meeting, it was really the only large-ish space the company had and it was well overfilled.

Anyway, the room fell silent and the executive who was disengaged took the stage and began explaining that he would be departing. No surprise there. After a few rah-rah type statements from him to try and keep the team motivated, the interim CEO took the stage, announced this now-departing executive’s replacement and began well wishing and additional rah-rah messages.

After it is all over (about 15 minutes later), we exit the room and head back to our desks to continue with our day on that news. The meeting had convened early, around 9AM… so we had a full day of work ahead on that “exciting” news. On the way back to our desks, I spoke with J in the elevator. We had a quick conversation about this executive’s departure and he was, as usual, using his standard flowery expressions in the elevator. Since we all knew one another, nothing here was a surprise. I even had a few more conversations with J before the end of the day about meeting up tomorrow and at this week’s wine event. At this point, nothing seemed out of the ordinary (other than this latest executive’s departure news).

Surprising News

On the following day, I noticed that J was no where to be found. He wasn’t at his desk. I needed to talk to him about a project we had both been working on. Because my direct boss was also his boss, I asked my boss where he was. I was told he was no longer with the company. That was a surprise much more than the disengaged executive’s departure.

I was a little bit in shock. My boss offered no additional explanation other than he was no longer with the company. It was an abrupt change that I didn’t see coming… at least, not at that moment. Usually when staff are let go, there’s a process… typically involving a probationary period. I didn’t think that J was currently on any kind of probation or performance plan. Even though he did rub a lot of people the wrong way, it didn’t really much seem to affect his job. At least, the people in my department were tolerant of his behavior, and had grown accustomed to it. It was definitely a surprise at his departure.

In fact, my boss actually seemed surprised at the news when he told me. His voice and words implied to me that he had nothing to do with J’s departure. In other words, my boss’s tone and words told me he hadn’t fired J. Instead, something else had happened. This is where things get interesting…

The Full Story

We had a regularly scheduled after-hours wine event once every couple weeks where we could unwind, meet people from other departments, drink a little wine, snack and, of course, chat. This wine event was already scheduled a day or two after this disengaged executive departure announcement. This executive even attended briefly. In addition to consuming choice wines, obviously, we’d chat about whatever was on our minds (i.e., company gossip). As the wine took effect, so did the venting. Sometimes the conversation was about the office. Sometimes it was about world events. Today, we chatted about all of the departures, including J’s.

At this wine event, even though my boss had been extremely tight lipped, the beans were spilled as to exactly what happened with J by an attendee (not my boss). Here’s how the story went…

Let’s go back in time to the presentation…. As I was comfortably sitting in my seat awaiting the presentation to begin (probably working on my laptop), J was standing by the entry doors. He was apparently holding onto one of the door handles. The presentation starts and the disengaged executive begins his departure announcement.

At this point, someone opens the main entry doors where J is standing and holds the door open. Because there was some commotion outside in the echo-filled lobby preventing him from hearing the presentation, J, who gets irritated and triggered way too easily, chimes in and says, “Close the f*cking door, dumb*ss!” (or something very similar) rather loudly and without looking. He might have even said something more demeaning to the person, but this is what I had heard that he said.

Needless to say, the person holding the door open was none other than the brand spankin’ new interim CEO himself. At the time, the then CEO ignores the comment, enters the room, walks to the front and begins his speech. He finishes up and exits through the side door as if nothing happened.

Here’s where things get interesting. Immediately following the announcement, the CEO (and this is according to those at the wine event) walked over the HR to first identify J and then he requests J’s termination. J was gone the following day.

My boss told me none of this. Whether he knew the details, I have no idea. He wasn’t the one who told the story. This was from another person at this wine event who apparently had close ties to the HR person.

After speaking with J later, I had come to find J had no idea what went on or why he was fired. According to J, one day he was there, the next day he was gone. He doesn’t get it. Either he’s thick and can’t recall what he says or he’s feigning ignorance at what he did. I’ve spoken with J several times, even meeting at a restaurant for dinner, and he still doesn’t seem to get it. In fact, I’ve disclosed none of the details to him for fear he’d go do something stupid. He’s not only abrupt with his language, but he’s also a bit of a hothead with a temper. It’s also not really my place to tell him as I didn’t actually witness the event. I was sitting in my seat not watching the rest of the room. I’m getting this information from a third party. However, it does make perfect sense based on J’s personality.

The moral of this story is, if you’re at work, always use professional language at all times and …

Careful What You Say

If you’re thinking of using flowery explicit language (or you do already) at work, here’s an example where it can easily backfire. Everyone gets frustrated when things don’t go as planned. That’s to be expected.. and even a flowery phrase or two directed at the situation might even be expected, if not warranted. However, you should never direct flowery explicit expressions at anyone at your workplace, especially if you can’t see the person. You never know just whom you might have insulted.

↩︎

Gaslighting in the Workplace

Posted in advice, Employment, workplace by commorancy on April 10, 2019

Gaslighting is nothing new, but is a term that may be new to some. However, when it appears in the workplace, particularly from a boss, it can lead to exceedingly difficult workplace situations. Let’s explore.

Gaslighting and How To Recognize It!

Gaslighting is when a co-worker or boss says something on Monday and then says, “I never said that” on Tuesday. Effectively, it’s lying. Its saying one thing (or even making a promise), then claiming that thing was never said.

What’s the purpose of this behavior? To attempt to make you, the receiver, believe what they want you to believe and to avoid the ramifications of whatever it is they said earlier. Some claim it’s a form of manipulation or that it is used as control tactic to confuse. I personally believe it’s a way for that person to get out of trouble or avoid being held to a promise. It’s a self-centered way of thinking. While it might be used for manipulation purposes, I believe it’s more self-serving than it is to control another person. However, this behavior can be either intentional or inadvertent due to a medical condition. Either way, it’s a problem for you, the receiver.

Co-workers and Gaslighting

If you’re working with a gaslighting co-worker (non-management peer), the situation can be a bit more simple to handle. Simply request that you don’t work with that person. Most companies are willing to separate folks with personality conflicts to avoid HR issues, so request it. However, be sure to explain to your Human Resources team member that the person is gaslighting you regularly. Make sure they understand the severity of gaslighting (a form of lying) in the workplace and that it has no business in a professional working relationship. Lying in any form is an unacceptable practice, particularly when it comes from folks in positions of trust. It also brings in the issues of business ethics against this person.

Lying and trust are exact opposites. If the person is willing to lie to colleagues, what are they willing to do with clients? Point this out. However, if you do point this out to HR, be aware that they can confront that person about this behavior which might lead them back to you. This person, if charming and charismatic enough, may be able to lie their way out of it. So, you should be cautious and exercise your best judgement when considering reporting a person, particularly if the person is pathological.

Bosses and Gaslighting

Unfortunately, if the gaslighting is coming from your boss or your boss’s boss, it’s a whole lot more difficult to manage. You can’t exactly ask to be moved away from your boss without a whole lot of other difficulties. In fact, many times, there is only one boss who handles your type of position within the company. If you find it is your boss who pathologically gaslights you, you may need to consider moving on from that company as there may be no other choice if you wish to continue working in your chosen career.

Gaslighting and Toxicity

Any form of unethical behavior against another employee should immediately be a huge red flag for you. If you can spot this early, you can make your employment decision quickly. If, for example, you can spot a toxic situation within the first 1-3 months, you can justify to a new prospective employer that the job role wasn’t what was promised and you left of your own accord during the probation period. That’s true. Toxicity in the workplace never makes for a positive working environment. Part of the job is not only what you do for the company, but how others interact with you within that environment. If one doesn’t meet the other and it’s found to be a toxic workplace, then the job role did not meet an acceptable criteria for employment. This means that the job role wasn’t what was promised. It’s not just about what you do, it’s about the interactions with others within the environment.

Any workplace with toxic co-workers is never a positive place of employment and, thus, not what was promised in the interview and on the job description. The problem with toxicity in the workplace is that it’s not easy to spot quickly. It can take several months for it to manifest. Sometimes, it will only manifest after staff change roles. If you walk into a company with high turnover, you might find the first couple of months to be perfectly fine until a new manager is hired.

Interview Flags

You should also take cues from your on-site interview. Many interviews offer telltale signs of toxicity. It may not even be from the people in the room. It may be from the receptionist that you meet when you arrive. Listen carefully to conversations when you’re sitting in a lobby or interview room waiting for the next interviewer. If the environment is chaotic or the interviewers are disenchanted with their job role, walk away. You can even ask pointed, but subtle questions in the interview to the interviewer. For example:

  • “How long have you been with the company?” — Short stint? They can’t tell you enough about the company.
  • “Do you like your job?” — This should open the door for venting.
  • “Is there anything you might change about what you are doing?” — This will further open the door for venting.
  • “How long has this position been open?” — Jobs that have been open a long time may signal problems.

These are examples of pointed questions trying to draw out disenchantment from the employee. Employees who always remain positive about their work conditions and the workplace likely means the company is worth considering. Employees who vent and turn negative quickly likely indicates disenchantment with their position. You might want to reconsider. However, even questions like this aren’t definitive. If the employer directs their interviewers to remain positive no matter what, you won’t know about this policy until much later. Always be cautious in the interview room… but definitely use your question time to draw out possible disenchantment as discretely as possible. If an employee wants to vent about the conditions, let them. It’s a sure fire sign you probably don’t want to work there.

Once employed, your next stop might be…

HR Complaints

You may think that taking your complaint to the HR team is the best idea, particularly if it’s your boss who is gaslighting you. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. The HR team works for the management team and this includes working for your boss. This means that your boss actually has more power with the HR team than you do as a non-management employee. Complaining to the HR team could also bring your boss’s wrath down upon you. In fact, the HR team may become complicit in your boss’s gaslighting (and unsavory) tactics, which may seem like both your boss and the HR team are ganging up against you. That view wouldn’t exactly be wrong.

If your boss is willing to lie to you, he or she is willing to lie to others, including the HR team. There’s ultimately no end to this person’s deceptive ways. This means that reporting your boss to HR could actually backfire on you. It could get you written up, placed on probation, have disciplinary action levied against you up to and including termination. There’s no end to what your boss could do to you if you report their behavior to HR. The HR team will backup your boss, not you.

If your boss or any management team member is gaslighting you, you should avoid complaining to HR. The only time you should make your way to HR is if it’s coming from a co-worker peer who is not in management. Non-management coworkers are the only people where HR doesn’t have a conflict of interest. For these folks, report away.

For management gaslighters, you’ll need to consider other options… such as employment elsewhere or a change in position (move to a different boss, preferably not under the same chain of command) or possibly legal action if the behavior is illegal.

Evaluating Management Power

If you do decide to complain to HR over a management team member, you need to consider that person’s power and support within the organization. Many of these gaslighters are not only gaslighting their own staff, they’re two-faced with their bosses. The problem is getting these people caught in their own web of lies and deceit. That can be a tall order as two-faced individuals attempt to establish strong trust with their bosses. Many times they succeed which can make it extremely difficult to break down that trust.

Unfortunately, many managers who are willing to gaslight you are also willing to do whatever it takes to point the blame elsewhere, perhaps even towards you. For example, I’ve had bosses who made dire mistakes and cost the company downtime and money regularly (at least once a week). Yet, when they end up in their weekly management meetings, the blame runs downhill. Their trust runs deep, so their bosses continue to believe their lies. Meaning, lies and deception keeps this manager employed with his underlings getting the blame (getting a few of them fired). That, or he lied and claimed it was a system error or blamed the crash on the developers or software.

This manager should have been fired at least 6-8 times over, yet each time he managed to worm his way out of the situation by either pointing blame at others or claiming system problems. I know full well it was his fat fingers that pulled the trigger and caused the outage (I saw the logs), yet this information never got to his manager in a way that required him to terminate this employee. He was considered “too valuable”. In fact, he wasn’t valuable at all. He was a severe liability to the company. Not only did he cause regular system outages, he was an HR nightmare making not only inappropriate comments in the workplace, he was completely tactless and had no people skills at all. He was definitely one of those folks who should have been considered dangerous, yet he was in a management position. He was even promoted several times!

What can you do about gaslighting?

This is a difficult question to answer. Depending on the situation, you have several options:

  1. If it’s coming from a non-management co-worker, report them to HR and your manager and ask to avoid contact with this person.
  2. If it’s coming from a management team member to whom you report, you have few options other than to quit and move on.
  3. If it’s coming from a lower management team member to whom you DO NOT report, report them to your immediate manager. Depending on your manager, this may go nowhere. Management typically supports other management regardless of how egregious another management member’s behavior.
  4. If it’s coming from an upper management or a company executive to whom you DO NOT report, again, you have few options. Reporting upper management or executive behavior is almost impossible to see action done. Though, you might be able to report the behavior to the Board of Directors if it’s egregious enough. Like the HR team, the Board of Directors is there to support the management team.. no matter their behaviors. If you choose to report, you’re likely to get no response from the Board of Directors as they’re likely not willing to confront that executive.

There may be other scenarios not listed here, so you’ll need to use your own best judgement whether or not to report the situation.

Company Therapists

You might be thinking you should use one of the company counselors to vent your frustrations. The trouble is, it’s possible that the counselor is obligated to report all findings to the HR team. If you wish to vent to a licensed therapist or psychiatric professional, do so you on your own dime. Choose your own therapist. Don’t use the company’s counselor hotline that’s part of the company perk system. You might find that your conversations have ended up in your personnel file.

Toxic / Hostile Workplace

If the corporate culture is such that it endorses gaslighting (and other inappropriate behaviors) and the company chooses to do nothing about it, then this is probably an ingrained corporate culture. You should consider this a severely toxic and unhealthy workplace. Depending on how you’re treated, it might even be considered hostile. The only choice you have is to exit this job and find another. Toxic corporate culture is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, there is no one you can turn to in an organization when the corporate culture is this level of toxic, particularly at the upper management level. When the CEO, CFO, CTO and such executives know, don’t care and do nothing to rectify a toxic workplace, this is definitely the signal that you need to move on. You can’t change a toxic corporate culture, you can only get away from it.

Toxic workplaces may be difficult to recognize until you’ve been in the position for at least six months. This is one of those situations where you don’t want to leave the position at the 5 month mark because it will hurt your resume. It also means you’ll need to stick with your employment at this toxic company for at least 7 more months to reach the 1 year mark. Hopping to a new job at the 1 year mark is at least better (and more explainable) on a resume than hopping at 5 months.

This situation can be difficult, particularly if the job environment is highly toxic. Just try to make the best of the situation until you can reach your 1 year anniversary. If the situation is far too problematic to bare and the behavior is not only egregious, but illegal, you should contact a lawyer and consider…

Legal Action

The HR team’s number 1 job is to avoid employment related legal actions at all costs. This means that should you file a lawsuit against your company as a hostile workplace, you’ll be up against your HR team, the company’s legal team and the company’s executives. If you’re still employed when you file such an action, you might want to consider moving on quickly. The HR team (and your boss) will make your life a living hell during and after a lawsuit.

In other words, you shouldn’t consider legal action against a current employer for employment violations. Instead, you should plan to leave the company immediately before you file your lawsuit.

Filing a lawsuit against a former employer will counter HR issues you might encounter while still employed, but be very careful here as well. Any lawsuits against employers can become known by your current employer and mark you as a legal risk. If you’re willing to file a lawsuit against one employer, your current employer’s HR team could then see you as a lawsuit risk. Make sure you fully understand these risks before going up against a former employer for employment violations.

Gaslighting itself isn’t necessarily something that can justify a lawsuit on its own. If it’s part of a pervasive corporate culture endorsed at all levels of management, it could be considered a hostile workplace. In this case, you may have legal recourse against your employer, depending on what they may have done and how pervasive the behavior while employed. You’ll want to educate yourself regarding what is and isn’t a hostile workplace before considering such a lawsuit against an employer. You should also consult with a lawyer for your specific situation. Even then, if you do find that it is considered hostile, you’ll still want to consider such a lawsuit carefully. If your litigation finds its way back to your current employer, you may find yourself in an untenable situation with your current job.

Basically, if you do file a lawsuit against a previous employer, you should keep that information as private as humanly possible. Do not discuss the lawsuit with anyone at your current company no matter how much you may want to. If you have mutual friends between both companies, this may not be possible. Consider this situation carefully before filing such a lawsuit. Note that you may not even know that mutual friends exist until your litigation information is disclosed to your current employer’s HR team.

As with most industries, HR staff members comprise a reasonably small circle of individuals even in large metroplexes. There’s a high probability that at least one person knows another person between two large corporations, particularly if they’re in the same line of business. Always be cautious and never discuss any pending litigation except with your lawyer.

Corporate Culture

Unfortunately, corporate cultures are laid in stone by the founders and the current management team. Sometimes corporate cultures, while seeming to be positive and well meaning, can easily turn sour by corporate corruption. Again, you won’t know the exact extent of your company’s corporate culture until you’ve been working at a company for at least 5 months. Sometimes it takes much longer. Sometimes it requires listening carefully to your CEO’s comments at internal company meetings.

Gaslighting is one of those things that shouldn’t ever be endorsed as part of corporate culture, but it is a behavior that can be misconstrued by pathological individuals based on corporate ideals and is also shaped by management team meetings. These are management meetings where the upper management meets with key individuals to evaluate their weekly contributions to and assess performance for the company. Many times, the face the CEO puts on shows a cheery and charismatic attitude when in public. When behind closed doors, this same CEO becomes a vulture, picking and cutting at each manager’s weaknesses systematically and ruthlessly… many times using rude, crude, crass, yet flowery, condescending language. They might make inappropriate sexual comments. They might even gaslight.

As a result, these bosses who are regularly subjected to these kinds of hostile C-Team interactions can learn that this is the way they also should manage their own teams, particularly managers who don’t have good people skills and who must lead by example. Yet, they know that such flowery, condescending language would get them in hot water with HR and employment law, so they adopt other compensating mechanisms such as gaslighting and outright lying… behaviors that aren’t easily caught or reported, behaviors that can be easily dismissed as innocuous.

As a result, rough and rugged CEOs who lead using a whip-and-chain approach teach their underlings the value of whips and chains instead of managing by positive examples. This can lead borderline personalities to interpret this whip-and-chain approach as the corporate culture to adopt when managing their own staff.

While this explains the root cause behind some manager’s reasons to gaslight, it can never excuse this behavior. In fact, nothing excuses unprofessional behavior. Unfortunately, far too many bosses are promoted beyond their capacity to lead. These managers may be knowledgeable in their own job skills, but many managers have no training in management and have no people skills at all. Instead of learning by training (because many companies don’t offer such people training), they must learn by example. They turn to the CEO to show them the “example”, even if that example is entirely misguided.

Unfortunately, far too many companies do not value people skills as part of their management team’s qualifications. Instead, they look for people who can kiss butts appropriately and deliver results, regardless of what that takes. Meaning, if gaslighting is the means by which that manager delivers results, then the upper management is perfectly happy to look the other way using “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies. I agree, it’s a horrible practice… but there it is.

Overall

As a non-management team member, your options are limited if you find your manager is gaslighting you. On other other hand, if you find a peer regularly gaslighting you to get ahead, you should report this pathological behavior to both your manager and your HR team. If you perform peer evaluations of those individuals, then you should report this behavior on those peer evaluations.

If the behavior goes beyond a single person and extends pervasively to the organization as a whole, then this is a corporate culture toxicity. It may also signal a hostile workplace situation. At that point, you may want to consider a new job and, if the behavior is particularly egregious (and illegal) across the company, file a hostile workplace lawsuit against that employer. Personally, if a company is toxic, I leave and let them wallow in their own filth. I then write a scathing review on Glassdoor and leave it at that. Filing lawsuits are costly and even if successful, don’t always fix the root cause of corporate toxicity, let alone gaslighting… which isn’t even considered a problem needing resolution by most companies. Even if you win a lawsuit, you won’t necessarily make that company a better place. Consider lawsuits as a strategy only if you’re trying to get money out of that company you feel has wronged you.

↩︎

Software Engineering and Architecture

Posted in botch, business, Employment by commorancy on October 21, 2018

ExcellenceHere’s a subject of which I’m all too familiar and is in need of commentary. Since my profession is technical in nature, I’ve definitely run into various issues regarding software engineering, systems architecture and operations. Let’s Explore.

Software Engineering as a Profession

One thing that software engineers like is to be able to develop their code on their local laptops and computers. That’s great for rapid development, but it causes many problems later, particularly when it comes to security, deployment, systems architecture and operations.

For a systems engineer / devops engineer, the problem arises when that code needs to be productionalized. This is fundamentally a problem with pretty much any newly designed software system.

Having come from from a background of systems administration, systems engineering and devops, there are lots to be considered when wanting to deploy freshly designed code.

Designing in a Bubble

I’ve worked in many companies where development occurs offline on a notebook or desktop computer. The software engineer has built out a workable environment on their local system. The problem is, this local eneironment doesn’t take into account certain constraints which may be in place in a production environment such as internal firewalls, ACLs, web caching systems, software version differences, lack of compilers and other such security or software constraints.

What this means is that far too many times, deploying the code for the first time is fraught with problems. Specifically, problems that were not encountered on the engineer’s notebook… and problems that sometimes fail extremely bad. In fact, many of these failures are sometimes silent (the worst kind), where everything looks like it’s functioning normally, but the code is sending its data into a black hole and nothing is actually working.

This is the fundamental problem with designing in a bubble without any constraints.

I understand that building something new is fun and challenging, but not taking into account the constraints the software will be under when finally deployed is naive at best and reckless at the very worse. It also makes life as a systems engineer / devops engineer a living hell for several months until all of these little failures are sewn shut.

It’s like receiving a garment that looks complete, but on inspection, you find a bunch of holes all over that all need to be fixed before it can be worn.

Engineering as a Team

To me, this is situation means that software engineer is not a team player. They might be playing on the engineering team, but they’re not playing on the company team. Part of software design is designing for the full use case of the software, including not only code authoring, but systems deployment.

If systems deployment isn’t your specialty as a software engineer, then bring in a systems engineer and/or devops engineer to help guide your code during the development phase. Designing without taking the full scope of that software release into consideration means you didn’t earn your salary and you’re not a very good software engineer.

Yet, Silicon Valley is willing to pay “Principal Engineers” top dollar for these folks failing to do their jobs.

Building and Rebuilding

It’s an entirely a waste of time to get to the end of a software development cycle and claim “code complete” when that code is nowhere near complete. I’ve had so many situations where software engineers toss their code to us as complete and expect the systems engineer to magically make it all work.

It doesn’t work that way. Code works when it’s written in combination with understanding of the architecture where it will be deployed. Only then can the code be 100% complete because only then will it deploy and function without problems. Until that point is reached, it cannot be considered “code complete”.

Docker and Containers

More and more, systems engineers want to get out of the long drawn out business of integrating square code into a round production hole, eventually after much time has passed, molding the code into that round hole is possible. This usually takes months. Months that could have been avoided if the software engineer had designed the code in an environment where the production constraints exist.

That’s part of the reason for containers like Docker. When a container like Docker is used, the whole container can then be deployed without thought to square pegs in round holes. Instead, whatever flaws are in the Docker container are there for all to see because the developer put it there.

In other words, the middle folks who take code from engineering and mold it onto production gear don’t relish the thought of ironing out hundreds of glitchy problems until it seamlessly all works. Sure, it’s a job, but at some level it’s also a bit janitorial, wasteful and a unnecessary.

Planning

Part of the reason for these problems is the delineation between the engineering teams and the production operations teams. Because many organizations separate these two functional teams, it forces the above problem. Instead, these two teams should be merged into one and work together from project and code inception.

When a new project needs code to be built that will eventually be deployed, the production team should be there to move the software architecture onto the right path and be able to choose the correct path for that code all throughout its design and building phases. In fact, every company should mandate that its software engineers be a client of operations team. Meaning, they’re writing code for operations, not the customer (even though the features eventually benefit the customer).

The point here is that the code’s functionality is designed for the customer, but the deploying and running that code is entirely for the operations team. Yet, so many software engineers don’t even give a single thought to how much the operations team will be required support that code going forward.

Operational Support

For every component needed to support a specific piece of software, there needs to be a likewise knowledgeable person on the operations team to support that component. Not only do they need to understand that it exists in the environment, the need to understand its failure states, its recovery strategies, its backup strategies, its monitoring strategies and everything else in between.

This is also yet another problem that software engineers typically fail to address in their code design. Ultimately, your code isn’t just to run on your notebook for you. It must run on a set of equipment and systems that will serve perhaps millions of users. It must be written in ways that are fail safe, recoverable, redundant, scalable, monitorable, deployable and stable. These are the things that the operations team folks are concerned with and that’s what they are paid to do.

For each new code deployment, that makes the environment just that much more complex.

The Stacked Approach

This is an issue that happens over time. No software engineer wants to work on someone else’s code. Instead, it’s much easier to write something new and from scratch. It’s easy for software engineer, but it’s difficult for the operations team. As these new pieces of code get written and deployed, it drastically increases the technical debt and burden on the operations staff. Meaning, it pushes the problems off onto the operations team to continue supporting more and more and more components if none ever get rewritten or retired.

In one organization where I worked, we had such an approach to new code deployment. It made for a spider’s web mess of an environment. We had so many environments and so few operations staff to support it, the on-call staff were overwhelmed with the amount of incessant pages from so many of these components.

That’s partly because the environment was unstable, but that’s partly because it was a house of cards. You shift one card and the whole thing tumbles.

Software stacking might seem like a good strategy from an engineering perspective, but then the software engineers don’t have to first line support it. Sometimes they don’t have to support it at all. Yes, stacking makes code writing and deployment much simpler.

How many times can engineering team do this before the house of cards tumbles? Software stacking is not an ideal any software engineering team should endorse. In fact, it’s simply comes down to laziness. You’re a software engineer because writing code is hard, not because it is easy. You should always do the right thing even if it takes more time.

Burden Shifting

While this is related to software stacking, it is separate and must be discussed separately. We called this problem, “Throwing shit over the fence”. It happens a whole lot more often that one might like to realize. When designing in a bubble, it’s really easy to call “code complete” and “throw it all over the fence” as someone else’s problem.

While I understand this behavior, it has no place in any professionally run organization. Yet, I’ve seen so many engineering team managers endorse this practice. They simply want their team off of that project because “their job is done”, so they can move them onto the next project.

You can’t just throw shit over the fence and expect it all to just magically work on the production side. Worse, I’ve had software engineers actually ask my input into the use of specific software components in their software design. Then, when their project failed because that component didn’t work properly, they threw me under the bus for that choice. Nope, that not my issue. If your code doesn’t work, that’s a coding and architecture problem, not a component problem. If that open source component didn’t work in real life for other organizations, it wouldn’t be distributed around the world. If a software engineer can’t make that component work properly, that’s a coding and software design problem, not an integration or operational problem. Choosing software components should be the software engineer’s choice to use whatever is necessary to make their software system work correctly.

Operations Team

The operations team is the lifeblood of any organization. If the operations team isn’t given the tools to get their job done properly, that’s a problem with the organization as a whole. The operations team is the third hand recipient of someone else’s work. We step in and fix problems many times without any knowledge of the component or the software. We do this sometimes by deductive logic, trial and error, sometimes by documentation (if it exists) and sometimes with the help of a software engineer on the phone.

We use all available avenues at our disposal to get that software functioning. In the middle of the night the flow of information can be limited. This means longer troubleshooting times, depending on the skill level of the person triaging the situation.

Many organizations treat its operations team as a bane, as a burden, as something that shouldn’t exist, but does out of necessity. Instead of treating the operations team as second class citizens, treat this team with all of the importance that it deserves. This degrading view typically comes top down from the management team. The operations team is not a burden nor is it simply there out of necessity. It exists to keep your organization operational and functioning. It keeps customer data accessible, reliable, redundant and available. It is responsible for long term backups, storage and retrieval. It’s responsible for the security of that data and making sure spying eyes can’t get to it. It is ultimately responsible to make sure the customer experience remains at a high excellence standard.

If you recognize this problem in your organization, it’s on you to try and make change here. Operations exists because the company needs that job role. Computers don’t run themselves. They run because of dedicated personnel who make it their job and passion to make sure those computers stay online, accessible and remain 100% available.

Your company’s uptime metrics are directly impacted by the quality of your operations team staff members. These are the folks using the digital equivalent of chewing gum and shoelaces to keep the system operating. They spend many a sleepless night keeping these systems online. And, they do so without much, if any thanks. It’s all simply part of the job.

Software Engineer and Care

It’s on each and every software engineer to care about their fellow co-workers. Tossing code over the fence assuming there’s someone on the other side to catch it is insane. It’s an insanity that has run for far too long in many organizations. It’s an insanity that needs to be stopped and the trend needs to reverse.

In fact, by merging the software engineering and operations teams into one, it will stop. It will stop by merit of having the same bosses operating both teams. I’m not talking about at a VP level only. I’m talking about software engineering managers need to take on the operational burden of the components they design and build. They need to understand and handle day-to-day operations of these components. They need to wear pagers and understand just how much operational work their component is.

Only then can engineering organizations change for the positive.


As always, if you can identify with what you’ve read, I encourage you to like and leave a comment below. Please share with your friends as well.

↩︎

Rebuttal: Kelly Marie Tran’s NYT Op-Ed Piece

Posted in Employment, entertainment by commorancy on August 21, 2018

Rose and FinWhile I can’t identify with Kelly Marie Tran’s problems growing up as an Asian female as she describes in the New York Times, I definitely feel she has made some very empowering points regarding her observations. However, I also believe Ms. Tran missed some points that many Star Wars fans were trying to address within the Star Wars series. Let’s explore.

Haters Gonna Hate

It doesn’t matter much how much of a celebrity you are, you can’t please everyone. This is simply not possible. In fact, it’s not even worth trying. However, the bigger of a celebrity you become, the more of these folks will appear and attempt to make your life miserable. You can’t let them. This is why everyone needs to make a decision about social media and celebrity. I don’t know a specific number, but I’d venture to guess you’ll find at least 40% of the people at most social media sites spout some form of vitriol towards at least one or more people. Perhaps that number is even higher. While I personally believe vitriol has no place on social media, I acknowledge that it exists.

Judgmental Society

No matter who you are, you can’t let the vitriol define you.. not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on YouTube, not on any other social site. Criticism is everywhere in every form everyday. It happens when you drive your car. It happens when you eat out at restaurants. It happens when you drink at a bar. It happens when you post pictures to Instagram. Simply… it happens. Everyone around you is always judging you.

People judge you for what you wear, how you look, how you walk, how you talk, how you act, what you say, your shoes, how your hair looks, your makeup… etc. People judge other people everyday. You can’t stop it. You can’t do anything about it. But, what you can do is ignore it.

I know it’s hard, particularly if people use cruel words that you read or that you can hear. However, you can’t live your life by other people’s judgement of you. You must live for yourself, not for anyone else. If you find someone who is particularly cruel or judgmental, eliminate them from your life. You don’t need Negative Nancys and Toxic Tommys around you. Simply cut those naysayers off. That doesn’t mean killing your entire social media presence, but it does mean actively using the moderation tools given by these sites to block those who only serve to harass you.

Constructive Criticism vs Prejudice

In any profession where you must perform, act, sing or even create visual art, your work will be criticized. Some people will like your work, some won’t. Many will be vocal about that criticism. As I said, you can’t please everyone. Criticism is the unpleasant part of the performing and visual arts. But, it doesn’t have to define you. When reading criticism, you must always review that criticism objectively. If you don’t, you’ll always assume that everything is a personal attack. Step back and see it for what it is, someone else’s problem. Not yours.

Someone who is looking at your work isn’t necessarily judging you personally, even if it may seem that way. If you put your acting skills up onto a silver screen, people will judge that work in the context of that entertainment. As I said, some will like it, some won’t. If you’re an actor and you don’t understand this concept, then you probably chose the wrong profession. The same goes for any other performing or visual artist.

Basically, if you can’t take criticism of your work, then you should consider a profession that doesn’t require putting so much of yourself out there to be judged in harsh ways.

What this all means… it seems Ms. Tran is a little bit too sensitive to be a celebrity in today’s Hollywood. It’s a rough business to begin with. If you feel dejected every time you release a film or because fans tongue lash you, then you’re way out of your element.

Star Wars fandom and Acting Roles

What’s worse, a lot of Star Wars fans can’t seem to distinguish an actor from the role they play. Ms. Tran did the best with the material she was handed by Rian Johnson. None of the vitriol aimed at her after the film’s release is in any way justified. However, being judged and criticized is part of being an actress and part of the Hollywood business. That is something you need to accept being in the public eye.

However, if Ms. Tran is guilty of anything in this, she’s guilty of not understanding the reason behind why the Star Wars team cast her in the role. This casting reason is not her fault, but it is her fault in failing to foresee and act on the potential problems caused by her being cast in that role. She states she was the first Asian female lead in a Star Wars movie. True. Though, we need to read on to find out why she might not want to be proud of that fact here.

I can fully understand Ms. Tran’s temporary blindness of insight she might have suffered after her agent told her she got the role. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to appear in a Star Wars movie? With that said, this franchise was already off on the wrong foot with the affirmative action program enacted by The Force Awakens casting folks. It was completely foreseeable that this program would both carry forward and escalate within The Last Jedi. To no one’s surprise, it did.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Ms. Tran accepting a part in The Last Jedi… had the part been anything other than blatant attempt by the filmmakers to escalate an affirmative action program by creating a character and a role that didn’t need to exist. This is what Ms. Tran should have foreseen. This is what she should have understood about that role she accepted. This point was crystal clear to me the moment her final scene appears on the screen. This is what her gut should have told her before accepting the part. This is what her agent should have seen and explained to her. This is what she likely would have understood by reading the script in full. These were all mistakes made by her and the team around her. She was more than likely blinded by the words, Star Wars.

Film Roles can Backfire

Not every film role that an actor or actress accepts will be a success. Sometimes the filmed work never makes it into the final film. Sometimes the role is wrong for the actor. Sometimes roles occasionally end up backfiring on the actor or actress. This goes with the territory. No one can fully understand the consequences of a role they might accept until a film is released. However, an actor can usually ascertain if the filmmaker has created a part that is genuinely necessary to a film by reading the script. You can’t blindly take the word of any filmmaker, you need to read each script and understand the full role being offered.

In other words, as an actor, you shouldn’t jump into a part because it has a name like Star Wars which blinds you in excitement. You still need to do your due diligence to understand if the part fits with your personal ideals before accepting it. As an actor, you always want to be taken seriously. You don’t want yourself and your craft to become the butt of an inside joke only to become immortalized on the silver screen. You don’t want your craft to be taken advantage of by a filmmaker’s personal agenda. This is the reason that doing research about the project, even a high profile project like Star Wars, is extremely important.

In fact, this problem is not limited to the entertainment profession. You need to always research the company and the folks where you might consider working. If their company ideals don’t match with your own personal ideals, you likely won’t be happy in a job there.

Star Wars as a franchise

Rian Johnson broke away from the Star Wars mold by introducing a new lead character in the middle of an existing storyline. One might argue he introduced two of these. Yes, but kind of. Holdo was technically a dispensable secondary character. The new lead role was for a love interest to Fin, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). There’s a right way and a wrong way to introduce new lead characters into a narrative. Rian Johnson did it entirely the wrong way. Not only was the Rose Tico character’s presence entirely unnecessary for the greater narrative, Rose also served no real purpose in the side narrative. Rose’s presence, in fact, only served to distract the storytelling of the greater narrative.

That story and character problem is most definitely not the fault of Kelly Marie Tran. She didn’t have a hand in writing the character or the story to which the character is involved. That’s on Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy and Disney. No, she simply acted the part on film. Unfortunately, many fans don’t understand this fine point in filmmaking. Instead, they see Ms. Tran as the problem. She’s not the problem, she’s the victim. She even admitted that, for a time, she also saw this as her problem.

In fact, the producers were the ones who sowed the seeds of affirmative action in this franchise and they followed through with its execution. That’s a production problem, not an actor problem.

Fans need to wake up and point their vitriol at the place where it belongs, at the producers and Disney. Leave the actors alone. They did their part by acting their role. Kelly Marie Tran performed her part admirably, all things considered. Their job is done. The producers, writers and directors must take the blame for anything related to the film itself, including casting and poor story choices.

Kelly Marie Tran’s Message

While I understand and agree with much of what Kelly Marie Tran describes in her New York Times article, I also agree that Ms. Tran needs to do a bit of soul searching and determine whether being an actress in Hollywood is her best career choice.

↩︎

Workplace Crime: Should I talk to human resources?

Posted in best practices, business, Employment by commorancy on August 10, 2018

fingerprintI’m being harassed by a manager, should I talk to human resources? Let’s explore.

Sexual Assault in the Workplace

I’ll lead with this one right up front as it’s front and center news and part of the #metoo movement. While this tends to be more common for females than males, both genders can experience this problem in the workplace. What should you do if you’re groped in the workplace in an inappropriate way? The first question you’re probably asking is, “Should I contact human resources?”

The answer is a resounding, NO. Do not contact the human resources team and try to complain there first. In fact, unless you’re a manager in the organization, you should entirely avoid complaining to human resources. Why? Let’s explore deeper.

Human Resources works for Management

This is an important concept to understand about corporate business. The HR team works for the management team, not the employees. Many people have a misconception that the HR team is an advocate group for the employee. This is entirely false. The HR team members, no matter how friendly they may appear, are not and will never be an employee advocate. Only you can be your own advocate (along with any attorney you hire). Your employer’s HR team looks out for #1, which is the business itself and the management team.

If the activity you experienced is sexual misconduct and resulted in bruises, marks or injury, then visit a hospital and take photos of the injuries first. Call 911 if necessary. If situation involves rape, then you’ll need to have the hospital perform a rape kit. When you are able and out of immediate danger, you should call the police and file a police report against the person describing what happened to you and by whom within the police report. Always ensure you are out of immediate danger before contacting anyone.

Next, find a lawyer who can represent you in this matter. If the lawyer finds merit in a lawsuit against the accused (or your company), it’s up to you to decide or not to proceed with the case. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you understand the consequences and the monetary costs of pressing such legal action, particularly against managers and particularly against high paid executives and your employer.

Once you have filed both a police report and you have a lawyer, only then should you involve the human resources team and give them whatever information that your lawyer deems appropriate to give them. Remember, only your lawyer is your advocate. The human resources team represents the company’s interests, not yours. Even then, you should only contact your company’s human resources team after discussing this strategy with your lawyer.

The human resources team’s responsibility is always to find reasons to discredit you and sweep the event under the rug. Once a police report is filed and you have a lawyer, the HR team can no longer play the protect-the-company game as easily because the police are now involved. The HR team is not law enforcement, but they always want to avoid lawsuits at all costs. They exist to make sure the company’s image remains clean and friendly. If it gets publicized that staff are being sexually assaulted in their workplace, their hiring efforts will cease. No one will want to work at a company that wilfully puts employees into harm’s way while on the job. No, it is in HR’s best interest to ensure an employee making an accusation is at best discredited and at worst terminated. HR may or may not terminate the accused depending on the position held within the company and depending on the accusation and against whom.

For example, if the person being accused of sexual misconduct is a manager, director, VP or C-level exec, it’s almost certain the accusing employee will be targeted for termination. The accused will likely remain at the company. As I said, it’s important to understand that the HR team’s obligation to the company is to protect the management team and the company against lawsuits and protect the company’s image that might interfere with hiring efforts. They also don’t have to play fair to do this… which is why termination may be a very real outcome for whistleblowing such activities within a company.

Targeted for Termination

While whistleblowers have protection when working in government jobs, no such protections exist for private corporations. If you whistleblow as an employee of a private corporation, the company is well within their rights to terminate your employment with or without cause. This is particularly true if your employment is considered AT-WILL. Of course, you can also sue the company for wrongful termination. The HR team is well aware of this position as well.

To avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit, the management team will likely sideline you into a position where you cannot succeed. This will then force you to perform badly and force management to put you onto a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Because you have no way to succeed on this PIP, you’ll fail at all of the success goals while on the PIP and, at the end of the improvement period, you will be ushered to the door. This is a common strategy to get rid of troublemakers and avoid wrongful termination lawsuits. Because they followed the PIP plan to the letter and have documented it at every step, this is the company’s insurance policy against wrongful termination lawsuits.

If you whistleblow and end up on a PIP, you’re being groomed for termination. You should take this as a huge red flag to move on. Put your resume out there the day you find out you have been put on a PIP. Don’t wait. Don’t assume things will work out.

Previous Employer Lawsuits

If you quit your offending employer and find a new job, you should keep any previous employer litigation information confidential. Do not disclose this to your new employer. First, it’s not their business. Second, if they find out you’re suing a previous employer, that could become contentious with your new company. They may feel threatened that you could take legal action against them. Don’t inform them of any pending legal action.

Don’t discuss it with co-workers. Don’t discuss it with your manager. Simply, don’t discuss it. Only discuss it with your lawyer. If you need to take off work for a legal meeting with your attorney or with the case, simply tell your employer that you have a personal matter that you need to discuss with your attorney and leave it at that. If they press you on the legal matter, just explain to them that due to pending litigation, you can’t discuss the case.

Termination and Lawsuits

If you’re terminated from the offending company, you may be asked to sign legal documents stating you won’t sue the company or that you’ll agree to arbitration. Simply ignore the documents and don’t sign them. The company cannot withhold your pay as extortion for signing those documents. If they try this, this is illegal and you can sue them for withholding your earned pay. A CEO can even be personally jailed for willfully withholding your pay even if it was someone else in the organization who made that decision. Your company must pay you the hours you worked regardless of what you sign going out the door.

Also, being terminated doesn’t absolve the company from any legal wrongdoing. If you have a pending lawsuit against the company, being terminated doesn’t change the status of that pending lawsuit. You are still free to pursue any lawsuits you have open. In fact, being able to document termination in a retaliatory way may even strengthen your lawsuit.

If you signed an arbitration agreement as part of your hiring package with the company (which you should never do), then you’ll have to discuss this situation with your lawyer to find your best avenue for litigation.

Guilt, Lawsuits and your Career

If you witness or you become a part of an illegal activity in the workplace (i.e., sexual misconduct), it is on you to determine how you want to handle it. You can do nothing and let it drop or you can take it to the police. It’s your choice. Too many companies get away with far too much. If you witness or experience anything illegal while on the job, you should report it to the police and consider a lawsuit only on your attorney’s advice.

As I said above, if you attempt to go to HR first and ask them to address your concern,  you will likely find you are being accused, sidelined and treated as the criminal, not the person who performed the misconduct. Why?

The HR team and its management is hired by the CEO and executive team. The HR manager likely reports directly to the CEO or the CFO. As a result, they take marching orders from their boss. If an employee makes an allegation against a manager or above, the CEO will want to quash this as quickly and as quietly as possible without investigation. To do this, the HR team will state they are investigating, but instead they will begin watching you, the employee who made the report closely. Even the tiniest slip or mistake will be blown way out of proportion and, you, the accuser be reprimanded. This may lead to a PIP as described above or possible immediate termination.

Basically, if you reach out to the HR team for help, you may find that it is you who are now the target against the ire of the company. Unfortunately, once the executive team paints a target on the back of an employee, it’s only a matter of time before the accuser is gone.

Throw Away Employees

Unfortunately, corporate business is cutthroat about making money and ensuring that that outcome continues. CEOs and the executive team will stop at nothing to make sure business continues as usual. The executive team is not your friend at any company. They are your boss. As a boss, they will do whatever it takes to make sure their business succeeds, regardless of what that means to you.

The only employee in any organization considered important enough to keep on the payroll is the CEO. All else are expendable… and this is especially true of troublemakers. By making an accusation of sexual misconduct against anyone, you may be labeled a troublemaker in your personnel file. If your position is easily replaced, you’ll soon be gone and they’ll fill it with someone else.

For this reason, if you’re alleging sexual misconduct, you have to make sure to legally document everything including physical evidence of it. The only way to do that is contact the police. Then, hire a lawyer. Only a person whom you are paying can help you to bring justice. The HR team has no incentive to bring justice on your behalf as they are not paid by you. The HR team has every incentive to ignore you and maintain status-quo because they are paid by and take orders from management.

Illegal Activities

Such activities are not limited to sexual misconduct. It also includes embezzlement, money laundering, insider trading, cooking the books, theft, vandalism and any other willful act by an officer of the company. If you witness any of these, you should still file a police report and then talk to a lawyer.

Skip talking to the HR team as they will only cast suspicion on you, try to turn it around on you and/or target you for termination. It is their job to kill these problems as quickly and as quietly as possible using any means necessary. Being able to get rid of problems quietly is the difference between a good and a great HR team. Don’t ever think the HR team is on your side as an employee.

HR Perks and Employee Happiness

This goes hand in hand with all of the above. Unless you’re on the management team, the HR team is not your advocate. Yes, HR is there to keep the employees happy, but only on their terms. When a non-management employee brings a problem to the attention of HR, watch your back. This means, never disclose your internal company problems to an HR team member. Sure, you can be friendly and sociable and polite, but always keep the HR team at arm’s length when discussing personal or job related matters. This also means you need to know whom is married to whom in your organization. You don’t want to vent a bunch of personal issues to a co-worker only to find out they are married to the  HR manager or an HR employee at your company. Word gets around fast in HR.

As an example, if your company offers company paid counseling as a perk, you should avoid using it. Instead, you should find your own personal counselor and pay them for those services yourself. If you disclose anything to a company paid counselor which could be misconstrued as a problem for the company, the HR team may be able to obtain this information outside of any doctor-patient privilege. Because of this, this could give the HR team ammo to terminate your employment. Always be very, very cautious when using such company sponsored counseling services. When the company is paying the bill, they may have made legal arrangements to obtain information that an employee might disclose.

This information can also be kept in your employment file and potentially used against you should the need arise. Careful what you say, particularly to company paid counseling services and to random folks around the office. Because the walls have ears, even discussing this kind of stuff during lunchtime in the break room could be overheard by someone on the HR team. It’s simpler not to discuss issues of sexual misconduct at all when on your company’s property.

Cell Phones and Employment

If your company supplies you with a cell phone for business purposes, never use it for personal reasons or to discuss personal matters. Because the company owns the equipment, they can install whatever they want on the device and potentially record and listen to your conversations. Only ever discuss these kinds of matters on a phone you own and fully control.

Because many employers now allow using your own phone device for work purposes, never relinquish your phone to the IT team or install company apps or mail on your phone. For example, installing an Exchange mail connector in Apple’s Mail app on iOS allows your company to not only set up restrictions on your phone device, preventing you from using certain functions or installing certain apps, they can also modify the device to their own will… up to and including wiping your phone entirely of data. Yes, installation of the Exchange connector to a corporate Exchange mail server hands over this level of control of your device to your employer!

Never install a company Exchange connector on Apple’s Mail app. Instead, install the Outlook app and only use it. The Outlook app does not have this level of permission to control your phone that Apple’s Mail app has and, thus, cannot modify your phone or put your phone at risk of being wiped. Better, don’t use your personal phone for company business. Request the company provide you with a phone if they need that level of control over the phone device. If they refuse the request, that’s their problem. The employer can call you and text you on your device, but that’s as far as you should let them go with your personal phone. If they provide you with a company phone, then they can set it up however they wish.

Managers and HR versus Employee

Yes, the management team and HR will gang up on you. As an employee, the HR team always takes the word of a manager over the word of the employee. This is fact. There is no such thing as justice or equality in corporate business. The HR team represents the management team without question. If, for example, you accuse a manager of sexual misconduct and that manager tells HR that the accuser made it all up, that’s where the accusation ends. Worse, the manager can then retaliate against you through the HR team’s blessing. There will be no further investigation nor will your accusation receive any further review. However, your work efforts might find undue scrutiny, micromanagement and manager meddling. If you press the point, the HR team will likely begin the sidelining and termination process at the manager’s request.

Even if the HR team requests such complaints come forward, never assume that submitting your complaint to the HR team will result in any satisfactory outcome for you. It won’t. Instead, you will need to rely on the legal system to work for you. This is the reason you should make a police report as soon after the incident as possible, preferably the same day. Visit a hospital if you are injured so they can medically help you and document your injuries. Then, find a lawyer who specializes in whatever you witnessed or experienced and talk to them about your case. If you have been assaulted or raped in the workplace, you should visit the RAINN web site or call RAINN at 1-800.656.HOPE to find out what to do next.

If you choose to try to reach out to the HR team and find that it all backfires on you, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Disclaimer: None of this article is intended to be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions, you should contact an attorney near you who specializes in the crimes you have witnessed or experienced. If you are a victim of sexual assault and/or rape in the workplace, visit RAINN to find out what to do.

↩︎

What is an inclusion rider?

Posted in california, Employment, film by commorancy on March 5, 2018

As Francis McDormond spoke while accepting her Oscar, she left the audience with two final words, “inclusion rider”. What is it? Let’s explore.

Hollywood Contracts

Being a Hollywood actor, director, writer, cinematographer, producer or other cast or crew requires signing a contract with the production for employment. Contracts, as we all know, are legal agreements that you legally agree do whatever is stipulated within the contract. If you’re an actor, you’ll act. If you’re a producer, you’ll produce…. and so on.

However, there are also other items that can be added to contracts to make them sweeter, such as getting a percentage of the back end. The back end could include residuals from such things as box office sales, merchandising, video sales, rentals, etc etc. These can make whatever that person got paid even sweeter. If the production does well, that percentage of the back end could mean an even bigger paycheck. It’s always reasonable to try and negotiate percentages in productions, and while many lead actors and actresses try, getting that deal isn’t always possible. Negotiation of a back end deal is a form of rider. However, this is not the type of rider of which Francis McDormond speaks.

Affirmative Action

Before Affirmative Action began, minorities didn’t get their fair share of consideration during the hiring processes in many companies. Affirmative Action was created to ensure that employers remain equal opportunity for anyone who chooses to apply for a position. This means that an employer cannot turn away anyone for the position solely based on race, creed, color or national origin (among others). The idea is that everyone must be considered for the position equally so long as they have the necessary skills and qualifications. What does this have to do with an ‘inclusion rider’? Everything..

Inclusion Rider

Hollywood is facing its biggest upheaval in many, many years. With the fall of Harvey Weinstein (and many others), Hollywood faces much scrutiny over unfair practices in productions against not only minorities, but also against women. In particular, McDormand refers to the fact that women have been unfairly treated in Hollywood for far too long. Not only in the sex object perspective, but also from a pay perspective. Francis McDormand’s comment conveys a ton of information in those two words.

An inclusion rider is a legal addition to a contract, specifically, a movie production contract, to ensure that women are fairly compensated and properly represented within the production. However, there’s a whole lot more veiled in these two words. In particular, McDormand’s comment was intended toward the Hollywood A-Listers who command not only a high salary, but a lot of negotiating power when it comes to their employment contracts.

Basically, an inclusion rider means hiring folks into the production in all capacities that represent all ages, creeds, colors, races, lifestyles, genders and so on. Unfortunately this also means sometimes shoehorning cast members into a production who don’t fit the story or setting of the film. For example, the most recent Fantastic Four is a very good example of the use of an ‘inclusion rider’ on the cast. This production hired a black actor for Johnny Storm. This is so far out of place from the original FF comics, it actually made no sense. Basically, that film version took extreme liberties from the the source material of Fantastic Four and rewrote that Susan Storm was adopted into a black family! This was never the case in the comics. In the comics, Susan and Johnny Storm were actual siblings, not adopted siblings and not from a mixed race family. Unfortunately, the production shoehorned in this black actor into this role without thinking through if it made any sense to the source comic material. This is when an ‘inclusion rider’ goes way too far and gets in the way of the casting for the production. To be fair, that casting mistake (and it was a relatively big one) was actually one of the lesser problems with that film version of Fantastic Four. Though, it didn’t help either.

The second example is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams intentionally requested a diverse set of ethnicities to be represented in the Star Wars reboot. However, because these stories didn’t exist, casting these characters wasn’t as big of a problem like The Fantastic Four. However, by The Last Jedi, the production had shoehorned the newest character, Rose, played by the Asian female actress, Kelly Marie Tran. Apparently, the production thought they didn’t yet have enough ethnicities represented and threw in yet another another character at a time when the production already had too many characters in the cast. The Rose character just doesn’t work. Sure, they added an Asian female actress, but that was too little, too late for the China audience. China had already written off the latest Star Wars as stupid way before Rose joined the cast. The casting of Rose did not in any way help sway China to accept these newest Star Wars films.

Is an inclusion rider good or bad or even necessary?

I’ll leave that for you to decide. However, from my perspective, the source story material should always rule the roost. An inclusion rider should never attempt to shoehorn diversity in actors or actresses simply because it’s politically correct. If you’re a producer who’s adapting an existing novel to the big screen that contains primarily white male characters as the leads among similar background characters, you shouldn’t recast them using to black, Asian, Latino or female roles just because of an inclusion rider. You should also not include extras who are demographically out of place or who don’t make sense for the source story. The source material should always be upheld for casting as the source story dictates. If you can’t cast a film the way the book is written, you should find another book to translate to film that fits your casting ideals.

Rewriting the source material’s story just to fulfill an inclusion rider is not only heavy handed, it’s insanely stupid, insipid and likely to cause the production to flop. The characters in a book are written to be a certain way and that’s why the story works. If you’re adapting that book to film, you should make sure that you’re being faithful to the source material which doesn’t include changing genders or the ethnicity of any character in a book just to fulfill an inclusion rider. Stick with the source material or expect your movie to fail at the box office.

See: Fantastic Four (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016) to understand just how badly ‘inclusion riders’ can affect your final product.

If you’re writing an original story for film, then by all means write the story so that the characters can be cast in the way that makes the most sense for your production’s inclusion riders. But, don’t bastardize an existing book or adaptation just to fill the cast with random genders and ethnicities that don’t make logical sense for the story or the setting.

As for whether an inclusion rider is even necessary is entirely up to the actor to negotiate. If you feel it’s important for your participation in the film, then yes. But, what’s really more important is you doing your best work possible with the cast who’s hired. Putting unnecessary demands on the producers might, in the long run, hurt your career longevity. That decision, however, is entirely up to you.

Best Production Possible

As a producer, don’t tie your production’s hands unnecessarily by adding stipulations that limit the potential quality of your project. You want your project to succeed, right? Then, keep all of your options open. Adding an inclusion rider that limits your hiring practice may, in fact, limit your production’s chances of succeeding. Don’t limit your production solely to hire under-represented minority groups. Do it because it makes sense for the film’s story and to make that story’s setting more authentic, not because you have an inclusion rider present.

Hiring Values

As for your behind-the-scenes production crew, by all means, hire as diverse as you possibly can. The more diverse the better. As with any business, and don’t kid yourself that a film production isn’t a business, diversity in hiring applies just as much the crew as any other employee in any other business. Diversity in hiring should be included in any capacity that your film needs. Of course, these folks are all behind the camera. However, hire smart, not diverse. This means that you don’t hire just because you want diversity. Hire because the person has the right skills for the job… which means, don’t turn away well qualified Caucasian candidates just because you want to hire diverse. Hire each one of your positions because the candidate offers the skills you need to get the job done, not because of an inclusion rider. Hire for skills, not diversity.

For the cast members in front of the camera, always hire the cast that makes the most sense for the story and produces the most authentic results. Don’t hire diversely just to fill a quota because you feel that an ethnic, lifestyle or gender group is underrepresented on film. That’s the wrong reason to hire a cast. Hire a cast that makes proper sense to tell the story. If that means diversity, great. If it means all white females or all black males, then that’s what the story needs. The story should dictate the cast, not an inclusion rider.

Original Hollywood Sign photo by raindog808 via Flickr using CC 2.0 license

How not to run a business (Part 11): Hiring

Posted in business, Employment by commorancy on August 21, 2016

I’ll preface this article by saying that there is no magic bullet to hiring, even though a lot of people want there to be. Any processes put into place to reduce the number of resumes to dig through will weed out potentially good candidates. If you believe that your weed out the methods are effective at helping you find just the right candidate, you are mistaken. Let’s explore.

Don’t believe your weedout methods work

As a hiring manager, when you have a large stack of resumes sitting on your desk, your first thought is likely, “how do I read through these rapidly?” Unfortunately, there is no easy answer or magic bullet for digging through resumes.

Instead, what you need to understand is that to find the best candidate you need to read through and carefully examine every resume and every candidate. Clearly, you will find resume submissions that don’t make sense. If you try to find an easy way to skip reading, you’re going to weed out candidates that could be a good fit for your company. On the other hand, by skipping resumes, you may ultimately be left with bad candidates who are not a good fit for your company.

Don’t skip reading resumes

Many companies try many forms of pre-screening methods to limit reading resumes. Methods that include psychological tests, aptitude tests, technical tests or any combination of those tests. Depending on the position for which you are hiring, it may also include other tests such as  lie detector tests (i.e., in trust or money related positions).

Don’t get caught up in the pre-screening process and forget about finding the best candidate for your job position. If you are simply too busy and your primary goal is to get rid of half or three quarters of the resumes on your desk, you have entirely lost sight of your goal and you might as well just randomly select three quarters of those resumes and throw them in the trash. That’s how effective such early weed out methodologies are in finding the right candidate. If you believe the hype that tests are effective at finding just the right candidate, your test provider is blowing smoke. You’re paying money for nothing. That test provider is only there to sell you into their testing service, not provide you with an effective service to locate quality candidates. This comes to…

Why tests fail you

Tests weed out people who are good or bad at taking tests. If your job role is all about taking tests every day, then weeding out those who can’t take tests makes sense. However, if your job role is something other than taking tests (which most real world jobs are), then testing your candidates may weed out people who may be a good fit for your role. Not every person on the planet is good at taking tests. Tests take a certain mindset, require specific thought processes and requires quickness on your feet. It’s a mode each person gets into solely for taking tests and never a mode you get into for actually doing job-related work.

For example, in technical positions where correctness and completeness is the key to prevent mistakes, test taking is the exact opposite of what you want in your role. You want people who are careful, methodical and have attention to details. You don’t want people to rush through the work and guess at answers because that’s the quickest ways to mistakes. Multiple choice tests are extremely bad at determining if a person offers attention to detail, is a good communicator, has the skills you want or at  predicting effectiveness in a job role.

Tests also fail to screen candidates properly because apptitude, IQ and management tests do not assess a candidate’s job skills at all. Worse, the assessment it seeks might not even be relevant to their job role and may even erroneously assess the wrong skills.

How do you find a good candidate?

If you’re actually looking for the best candidate to fulfill your position, then you will need to spend the time and go through each and every resume from top to bottom and weed them out in the normal way …. by reading.

I understand time constraints. I really do. You want the easiest and fastest way possible to find your candidates without spending a lot of time on this process. This is especially true if you have thousands of resumes to review. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Tests won’t do it. Random selection won’t do it. Only by reading through the resumes and talking the candidates will you find the right person for your job role.

If you don’t have the time to spend on the hiring process, then you probably shouldn’t be in a hiring position. If you cut corners, then will get what you deserve. Yes, it is very tempting to use third party pre-screening technologies, like testing, to eliminate candidates sight unseen, but be prepared to potentially eliminate some of your best candidates by doing so.

Job Postings and Resume Volume

If you do actually have 10,000 resumes on your desk, then you’re likely posting your job ad too broadly. Posting your job too broadly is your first mistake. Not only will it bring in too many candidates, it will bring with it many recruiter calls (something will you want to avoid if your intent is to hire internally). Use limited job boards and job ads when posting your jobs. If one venue doesn’t work, wait until that job ad expires before posting it somewhere else. Don’t just blanket the internet everywhere to find candidates.

If you need your position filled yesterday, and who doesn’t, that’s just not going to happen if you’re looking for a Rock Star. If you need someone now, then consider hiring a contractor to fill the role to buy you time until you can find the right permanent candidate.

Overall Best Practices

Forcing any kind of pre-screening tests onto candidates is really no more effective than doing it the old fashioned way. In fact, the old fashioned way of reading through resumes and calling them for phone screens is probably the easiest, fastest and most reliable way to determine if the candidate is a good fit. It is also the best way to determine if you should progress the candidate to the next stage of interviews.

Yes, there are many testing services out there willing to take your money for the promise of producing high quality candidates. In the end, you’ll find that you could have found those candidates on your own without spending that money on a testing service.

Part 10 | Chapter Index | Part 1

Tagged with: ,

Rebuttal to Jack Dorsey’s Women in Tech

Posted in Employment by commorancy on August 31, 2014

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey recently offered up some thoughts on women in tech. Or, more specifically, about there not being enough women in tech. I’m happy he’s bringing up the topic, but unfortunately, he hasn’t brought up the whole topic that needs to be addressed. With plenty of personal experience under may own belt in the professional world, having worked in tech since 1991 and with first hand experience working with many women along the way, here are some observations about women working in tech. Let’s explore.

Young Women and First Jobs

As women in their 20s and 30s seek their first, second and third jobs, they also seek something else to fulfill their lives: love, a relationship, a partner, marriage and kids. There’s nothing wrong at all with seeking to have a family. There’s nothing wrong with getting married. There’s also nothing wrong with getting a job. I’m all for having both a career and a family. But…

Jobs and Family

There is something wrong with getting a job just to support your maternity goals. I call that scheming. And, of that, I do not approve. If you are intent hiring onto a job, you need to plan to be there at least 1-2 years (preferably longer) before ever considering having a baby. Yes, I realize biological clocks are ticking, but if that’s your primary concern and not your employment, you shouldn’t be working at all.

So comes one primary issue with women in tech and this situation becomes painfully obvious when specifically hiring women who’ve never had a child. This specific problem typically manifests at the most inopportune time, usually when they are a valued and relied on team member…. and then they get pregnant. When the baby is due, that leaves a hole in the team for at least 3-6 months while she goes on maternity leave and has no contact and does no work. Worse, it leaves the company obligated to hold that position open unfilled while she’s on leave which ultimately makes the situation even worse for the remaining team members.

Unfair to those who still have passion for tech

This is a completely unfair situation to the team who still has their jobs to get done during her maternity period, but now that team is forced to function with one member less. It also makes it doubly more difficult if that person happened to be a significant contributor. It also means that now-on-maternity co-worker, who may have been a star producer, is now a zero producer during maternity leave.

Career or Family

I have no qualms with women wanting to have children, but I would expect them to also use some professional and common courtesy. Don’t sign onto a job and then 9 months later leave the rest of your team in the lurch while you’re off having child for 3-6 months. I find this behavior completely ludicrous, yet it is fully tolerated. In fact, the laws mandate that it be tolerated by the company. This behavior wouldn’t be tolerated at all out of a man, yet women get special dispensation in this area. If you already know you are planning to have a child, don’t join onto a job simply to ‘take advantage’ of the maternity perk 9 months later. While the laws force businesses to support maternity leave, it also leaves that team off balance until she gets back. So then, it’s no wonder that there are women who come back only to find they’ve now been moved into a role that doesn’t matter. Not to mention, being gone for 3-6 months requires the returning team member to spend another month catching back up on all of the new projects and the work that they missed. It’s like hiring the position all over again. Tech moves far too fast to support that long of an absence away from a company.

Firsthand experience

In this, I have personally witnessed a woman who went from being a star code producer, to getting pregnant and going on maternity leave (a zero producer). When she returned, her attitude had completely changed and she was no longer that star producer. On top of her lack of passion, she set off a series of unreasonable demands for extra time off to tend to both of her children, higher pay, working remotely and after not producing for several months, was ultimately fired. This isn’t really because of the baby more than because of her views on work-life balance. Instead of having passion for and focusing on the work, she chose instead to focus on child and family instead of work. The tech job then becomes secondary and the star player who used to do whatever it took to get something done at work becomes an average to low producer, working only 8 hour days (or less), doing the minimum and taking more time off to tend to family matters. And again, leaving the team in the lurch to find a new star player. It happens far too often than not. While this can happen with men and family, it happens far less often with men than with women.

[Update: 12/17/2014] I have just had this same exact experience described above a second time. Another co-worker recently had a child. Her second child. She took approximately 6-8 weeks time off for her maternity leave. When she returned, a week later than when she said she would return, she worked at the office for 2 weeks. She then suddenly needed a month off to return to her home country for a family crisis. She was again gone for another month. When she returned this second time, it was obvious her work ethic had substantially changed and it was inevitable that she would request yet more time off. She asked for four additional months off. Her manager didn’t allow it which left her to make a choice. Stay on and do the work she was hired to do or leave the company. She opted to leave. This is apparently an all-too-common thread among some mothers. It seems that this is especially true of mothers with two small children at home. This is the almost the identical scenario that played out in the first example above.

It’s clear, having children and hiring female tech workers don’t mix. Any hiring manager who chooses to hire a female tech worker must weigh these risks. If you’re looking for someone who has long term staying potential with the company, hire a male. If you wish to hire a female to be long term, you should hire females beyond their child bearing years or who have already had all the children they plan to have. Hiring a female who is still in the getting married-having child phase, you’re opening yourself up to scenarios exactly like the above, ultimately letting that person go and leaving a new hiring hole to be filled. A hiring hole, that I might add, that may take months to fill.

Courtesy first

As a comment about society in general, values have changed, manners have been lost and far too many people have lost any idea of professional and common courtesy for their fellow man especially when it comes to the workplace. For many people, it’s now only about what the company can do for them, not about what they are doing for (or to) the company. Courtesy and manners have been lost and devices like cellphones prove that fact out. I digress.

For these reasons, I encourage any woman who is contemplating having a child (or who is already pregnant) to remain out of the tech workforce until your baby days are behind you, you have your tech career passion back and you have your work and career priorities straight. Let your husband carry the maternity expense on his company’s health plan. If, as a woman, you want to have a long career in tech, and specifically you like the position you are currently holding and wish to have longevity in that job, you need to rethink any baby decision you may be contemplating. Once you’re pregnant, it’s too late to be thinking about your career.

Yes, I understand why women use maternity leave in companies in the way that they do, at the same time it also makes those who are active contributing team members resent you during that long absence and for your lack of work passion when you return. While your team is generally happy that you had a baby, the reality is your team doesn’t care that you now have a family. Your co-workers only care that you get your job done timely, that you do it well and that you continue to do it well after you return from your maternity leave.

Loss of Passion

Having a baby is stressful and time consuming. We get that. You need to change diapers, feed and clothe the baby, cuddle it, nurse it, keep it healthy and do all the right things to make your baby happy and grow into a toddler, child, young adult and ultimately an adult. We get all of that. However, at a workplace, that’s not anyone’s problem but your own. And, you need to leave that at home. Unfortunately, having a child is a huge time commitment that isn’t to be taken lightly. Yet, many women jump into it not realizing how much time, energy and money is drained by being a parent. Additionally, we also get that you want to spend as much time with your child as possible. But, that leaves less time for giving passion to your job at work.

Passion requires focus. Worrying about whether your baby is doing well, is being properly cared for, etc, diverts attention away from focusing on the tech job whether that be writing code or managing systems. Focus is important to do a job well, do it correctly and remain attentive to details. Diversions easily cause loss of focus and loss of details.

Split Attentions

Unfortunately, there are many women are not good at a split focus situation. And, something usually gives. When the choice has to be made, it is usually home and family life which is given preference. This clearly becomes evident when projects are delayed, work isn’t getting done timely, pieces of projects are being held open or other people have to do your work because you are at home dealing with home and family issues. As I said, the star player who was previously dedicated to work and getting things done amazingly well is now focused on continually wondering if little baby fell down and got bruised. While that is important as a parent, it’s not important to getting work done.

Laws have forced companies into keeping returning mothers on board when they are no longer the contributor they once were (at least to a point). However, don’t expect to come back from maternity leave and have everything exactly as it was. That won’t happen. Projects move on, managers change, people reorganize and the company changes. Oh, your payroll job will be there as mandated by law, but the job you’d hired into may not. You may find that you’ve been put into a role that has nothing to do with why you were hired. That’s what can happen when you have an extended absence. Time and work marches on with or without you.

High tech and after hour requirements

Let’s just get right down to the heart of the matter. As a member of a high tech profession, one thing you will quickly realize is how much extra time, effort and stress is involved. And, I’m not talking about the 9-5 hours. I’m talking about what happens outside of that. If you write code and that code breaks, you need to expect to be called looking for a fix at any time of the day or night. You are expected to drop whatever it is you are doing, including sleeping, open your computer and look for a fix. It could be 2PM or 2AM.

Now consider being a mom with a newborn. If your baby is continually waking up all hours of the night and you get called to fix your code, what are you going to do and how will you respond? Additionally, when on conference calls under a ‘fix it’ situation, the rest of your team really doesn’t want to hear your newborn burst into the cry song the entire conference call, nor do we want you to leave the call every 2 minutes to attend to your baby. Split attentions don’t work in these situations.

I know this may seem heartless, but business marches on and the company needs undivided attention from team members to solve problems quickly. Just think of this section as your wakeup call to reality. Having babies and being in high tech don’t mix. They both require similar hours and similar attentions, but you’re one person and can only divide your attentions so far. For this reason, you need to fully grasp what it takes to write code for a service that’s 24/7 always on. And, you need to grasp what’s most important, your career or your family. If you answer family, you need to find a job that is not in a high tech startup. You need to find a job where you aren’t required to be on-call to fix your code. You need to find a job where you can stroll in at 9 and stroll out at 5 (or whatever 8 hour period works within your day care requirements) and forget your job until 9 the next day.

Hiring into a high tech job won’t be a long term career goal for you unless you are 100% committed to the job and you are willing to let someone else manage your home and family (like dad or a nanny).

Non-performers and tech

There is no real resolution to this problem from an HR perspective. HR is simply required to comply with all laws. However, that doesn’t mean that every company will tolerate lack of work ethic when a woman gets back from maternity leave. Some companies are very stringent towards non-performers and get rid of them quickly. If you are contemplating working in a tech career, you need to find out what that company’s stance is on non-performers. Some companies are willing to pay very high salaries, but only to the best performers. Anyone not performing sees the door and quickly. You also need to evaluate your own personal views on having a baby. If you think your own views will sway towards family once the baby is born, you should not hire onto a job in high tech which demands tons more time and attention than you may be able to give once your baby is born. You should, instead, look for a job role that is already 9 to 5, limits after hour requirements and doesn’t require staying late.

Career Goals

It makes no sense to commit to a 9 month stint at a high tech company strictly so you can have a baby, which may ultimately end your career in high tech. Placing yourself into this position with a company and your co-workers, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your co-workers, the company and your professional career. It also means you may have to put a firing on your resume. This is never a good thing for a resume. Do yourself a favor and properly plan your career and look for jobs that work on concert with your family goals.

Tagged with: , , ,
%d bloggers like this: