Random Thoughts – Randocity!

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.

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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.

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Workplace Crime: Should I talk to HR?

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

This is a common question and doesn’t have a fast answer. Let’s explore.

Sexual Assault in the Workplace

I’ll talk about this one right up front as it’s front and center news. While this tends to be more common for females than males, both genders can experience this issue. What should you do if you’re groped at the workplace in an inappropriate way? The first question you’re probably asking is, “Should I contact HR?”

The answer is a resounding, NO. Do not contact HR and try to complain there first. In fact, unless you’re a manager, you should entirely avoid complaining to HR. 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 management, not the employees. Many people have a misconception that the HR team is an advocate for the employee. This is entirely false. The HR team members, no matter how friendly they appear, are not and will never be an employee advocate. Only you can be your own advocate (and any attorney you hire). Your employer’s HR team looks out for #1, which is the business and 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 by describing what happened to you in 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 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 HR team and give them notice of the event. Even then, you should only contact your HR team after discussing this strategy with your lawyer.

The HR 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 easily because the police are now aware. 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 the employee making the accusation is terminated and discredited. HR may or may not terminate the accused depending on the position held within the company.

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.

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 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 practice to get rid of troublemakers and avoid 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 hint to move on.

Termination and Lawsuits

When you’re terminated, 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.

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.

As I said above, if you attempt to go to HR first and ask them to address your concern, instead 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 the CEO. 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 the employee who made the report closely. Even the tiniest slip or mistake will be blown way out of proportion and 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 assault, 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 management.

Illegal Activities

Illegal 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.

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, 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 an HR manager or 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 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 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.

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 an 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.

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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 natural 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

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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.

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iPhone Risk: Your Employer and Personal Devices

Posted in best practices, cloud computing, computers, data security, Employment by commorancy on May 5, 2013

So, you go to work every day with your iPhone, Android phone or even an iPod. You bring it with you because you like having the convenience of people being able to reach you or because you listen to music. Let’s get started so you can understand your risks.

Employment Agreements

We all know these agreements. We typically sign one whenever we start a new job. Employers want to make sure that each employee remains responsible all during employment and some even require that employee to remain responsible even after leaving the company for a specified (or sometimes unspecified) period of time.  That is, these agreements make you, as an employee, personally responsible for not sharing things that shouldn’t be shared. Did you realize that many of these agreements extend to anything on your person and can include your iPhone, iPod, Android Phone, Blackberry or any other personal electronic device that you carry onto the property? Thus, the Employment Agreement may allow your employer to seize these devices to determine if they contain any data they shouldn’t contain.

You should always take the time to read these agreements carefully and thoroughly. If you don’t or can’t decipher the legalese, you should take it to an attorney and pay the fee for them to review it before signing it.  You might be signing away too many of your own personal rights including anything you may be carrying on your person.

Your Personal Phone versus Your Employer

We carry our personal devices to our offices each and every day without really thinking about the consequences. The danger, though, is that many employers now allow you to load up personal email on your own personal iDevices. Doing this can especially leave your device at risk of legal seizure or forfeiture under certain conditions.  So, always read Employment Agreements carefully. Better, if your employer requires you to be available remotely, they should supply you with all of the devices you need to support that remote access. If that support means you need to be available by phone or text messaging, then they should supply you with a device that supports these requirements.

Cheap Employers and Expensive Devices

As anyone who has bought an iPhone or an Android phone can attest, these devices are not cheap. Because many people are buying these for their own personal use, employers have become jaded by this and leech into this freebie and allow employees to use their own devices for corporate communication purposes. This is called a subsidy. You are paying your cell phone bill and giving part of that usage to your employer, unless your employer is reimbursing you part or all of your plan rate.  If you are paying your own bill without reimbursement, but using the device to connect to your company’s network or to corporate email, your device is likely at high risk should there be a legal need to investigate the company for any wrong doing. This could leave your device at risk of being pulled from your grasp, potentially forever.

If you let the company reimburse part or all of your phone bill, especially on a post-paid plan, the company could seize your phone on termination as company property.  The reason, post-paid plans pay for the cost of the phone as part of your bill. If the company reimburses more than 50% of the phone cost as part of your bill, they could legally own the phone at the end of your employment. If the company doesn’t reimburse your plan, your employer could still seize your device if you put corporate communication on your phone because it then contains company property.

What should I do?

If the company requires that you work remotely or have access to company communication after hours, they need to provide you with a device that supports this access. If they are unwilling to provide you with a device, you should decline to use your personal device for that purpose. At least, you should decline unless the employment agreement specifically states that they can’t seize your personal electronics. Although, most employers likely won’t put a provision in that explicitly forbids them from taking your device. Once you bring your device on the property, your employer can claim that your device contains company property and seize it anyway. Note that even leaving it in your car could be enough if the company WiFi reaches your car in its parking space.

Buy a dumb phone and use that at work. By this I mean, buy a phone that doesn’t support WiFi, doesn’t support a data plan, doesn’t support email, doesn’t support bluetooth and that doesn’t support any storage that can be removed. If your phone is a dumb phone, it cannot be claimed that it could contain any company file data.  If it doesn’t support WiFi, it can’t be listening in on company secrets.  This dumb phone basically requires your company to buy you a smart phone if they need you to have remote access to email and always on Internet. It also prevents them from leeching off your personal iPhone plan.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have an iPhone, but you should leave it at home during work days. Bring your dumb phone to work. People can still call and text you, but the phone cannot be used as a storage vehicle for company secrets (unless you start entering corporate contacts into the phone book). You should avoid entering any company contact information in your personal phone’s address book. Even this information could be construed as confidential data and could be enough to have even your dumb phone seized.

If they do decide to seize your dumb phone, you’ve only lost a small amount of money in the phone and it’s simple to replace the SIM card in most devices. So, you can probably pick up a replacement phone and get it working the same day for under $100 (many times under $30).

Request to Strike Language from the Employment Agreement

Reading through your Employment Agreement can make or break the deal of whether or not you decide to hire on. Some Employment Agreements are way overreaching in their goals. Depending on how the management reacts to your request to strike language from the Employment Agreement may tell you the kind of company you are considering. In some cases, I’ve personally had language struck from the agreement and replaced with an addendum to which we both agreed and signed. In another case, I walked away from the position because both the hiring and HR managers refused to alter the Employment Agreement containing overreaching language. Depending on how badly they want to fill the position, you may or may not have bargaining power here. However, if it’s important to you, you should always ask. If they decline to amend the agreement, then you have to decide whether or not the position is important enough to justify signing the Agreement with that language still in place.

But, I like my iPhone/iPad/iPod too much

Then, you take your chances with your employer. Only you can judge your employer for their intent (and by reading your employment agreement).  When it comes down to brass tacks, your employer will do what’s right for the company, not for you. The bigger the company gets, the more likely they are to take your phone and not care about you or the situation. If you work in a 1000+ employee company, your phone seizure risk greatly increases.  This is especially true if you work in any position where you have may access to extremely sensitive company data.

If you really like your device, then you should protect it by leaving it someplace away from the office (and not in your car parked on company property). This will ensure they cannot seize it from you when you’re on company property. However, it won’t stop them from visiting your home and confiscating it from you there.

On the other hand, unlike the dumb phone example above, if they size your iPhone, you’re looking at a $200-500 expense to replace the phone plus the SIM card and possibly other expenses. If you have synced your iPhone with your computer at home and data resides there, that could leave your home computer at risk of seizure, especially if the Federal Government is involved. Also, because iCloud now stores backups of your iDevices, they could petition the court to seize your Apple ID from Apple to gain access to your iDevice backups.

For company issued iPhones, create a brand new Apple ID using your company email address. Have your company issued phone create its backups in your company created Apple ID. If they seize this Apple ID, there is no loss to you. You should always, whenever possible create separate IDs for company issued devices and for your personal devices. Never overlap this personal and company login IDs matter how tempting it may be. This includes doing such things as linking in your personal Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo or any other personal site accounts to your corporate issued iPhone or Apps. If you take any personal photographs using your company phone, you should make sure to get them off of the phone quickly.  Better, don’t take personal pictures with your company phone. If you must sync your iPhone with a computer, make sure it is only a company computer. Never sync your company issued iPhone or iPad with your personally owned computer. Only sync your device with a company issued computer.

Personal Device Liabilities

Even if during an investigation nothing is turned up on your device related to the company’s investigation, if they find anything incriminating on your device (i.e., child porn, piracy or any other illegal things), you will be held liable for those things they find as a separate case. If something is turned up on your personal device related to the company’s investigation, it could be permanently seized and never returned.  So, you should be aware that if you carry any device onto your company’s premises, your device can become the company’s property.

Caution is Always Wise

With the use of smart phones comes unknown liabilities when used at your place of employment. You should always treat your employer and place of business as a professional relationship. Never feel that you are ‘safe’ because you know everyone there. That doesn’t matter when legal investigations begin. If a court wants to find out everything about a situation, that could include seizing anything they feel is relevant to the investigation. That could include your phone, your home computer, your accounts or anything else that may be relevant. Your Employment Agreement may also allow your employer to seize things that they need if they feel you have violated the terms of your employment. Your employer can also petition the court to require you to relinquish your devices to the court.

Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t get your devices, computers or accounts back. But, it could take months if the investigation drags on and on. To protect your belongings from this situation, here are some …

Tips

  • Read your Employment Agreement carefully
  • Ask to strike language from Agreements that you don’t agree with
  • Make sure agreements with companies eventually expire after you leave the company
  • NDAs should expire after 5-10 years after termination
  • Non-compete agreements should expire 1 year after termination
  • Bring devices to the office that you are willing to lose
  • Use cheap dumb phones (lessens your liability)
  • Leave memory sticks and other memory devices at home
  • Don’t use personal devices for company communication (i.e., email or texting)
  • Don’t let the company pay for your personal device bills (especially post-paid cell plans)
  • Prepaid plans are your friend at your office
  • Require your employer to supply and pay for iDevices to support your job function
  • Turn WiFi off on all personal devices and never connect them to corporate networks
  • Don’t connect personal phones to corporate email systems
  • Don’t text any co-workers about company business on personal devices
  • Ask Employees to refrain from texting your personal phone
  • Use a cheap mp3 player without WiFi or internet features when at the office
  • Turn your personal cell phone off when at work, if at all possible
  • Step outside the office building to make personal calls
  • Don’t use your personal Apple ID when setting up your corporate issued iPhone
  • Create a new separate Apple ID for corporate issued iPhones
  • Don’t link iPhone or Android apps to personal accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc)
  • Don’t take personal photos with a company issued phone
  • Don’t sync company issued phones with your personally owned computer
  • Don’t sync personal phones with company owned computers
  • Replace your device after leaving employment of a company

Nothing can prevent your device from being confiscated under all conditions. But, you can help reduce this outcome by following these tips and by segregating your personal devices and accounts from your work devices and work accounts. Keeping your personal devices away from your company’s property is the only real way to help prevent it from being seized. But, the company could still seize it believing that it may contain something about the company simply because you were or are an employee. Using a dumb prepaid phone is probably the only way to ensure that on seizure, you can get a phone set up and your service back quickly and with the least expense involved. I should also point out that having your phone seized does not count as being stolen, so your insurance won’t pay to replace your phone for this event.

How not to run a business (Part 4) — Performance Evaluations

Posted in business, Employment by commorancy on July 7, 2012

Do employee performance evaluations help or hurt your business? Are evaluations even necessary? The HR team may say, “Yes!”. But, that’s mostly because they have a vested interest in keeping their jobs. If evaluations are performed incorrectly (and the majority of the time they are), they can hurt your company and your relationship with your employees. Employee evaluations are also always negative experiences, so even this aspect can hurt your relationship with your employees. Let’s explore why?

Don’t let your Human Resources staff design the employee evaluations

If you absolutely must create and implement the tired ‘once-a-year’ evaluation system, then at least make sure you do it correctly. That is, assuming there is a ‘correct’ way to do this tired old thing. Employee evaluations should be designed by someone who is knowledgeable with writing evaluations and who has written them in the past. Using a service company like SuccessFactors or ADP to deploy your evaluations is fine, but is not required. Someone must still be tasked with designing the questions asked of the employee during the evaluation process.

Make sure your designer fully understands what is being asked of employees during the process, how it pertains to your business and most importantly, that the questions pertain to job performance and not to nebulous concepts like ‘core values’. Make sure the evaluation asks questions related to an employee’s actual job performance. The questions should also be relevant to all job roles within the company. Evaluations that target the sales teams with questions surrounding ‘customer interactions’ won’t apply to technical roles that have no customer facing aspects. Either unique multiple evaluations that apply to each department, or keep the questions generic enough that all job roles fit the questions.

Don’t ‘stack’ your evaluations

By stacking, this means that you should not mandate your managers give a certain number of excellent, good and poor reviews (i.e., ‘stacking’ the reviews towards certain employees — a form of favoritism). If your managers happens to have very good teams, stacking means that one or more than one of these individuals will end up with poor performance reviews, even though they performed well. Stacking is the best way to lose good employee talent.

Your staff has spent a lot of time and effort trying to locate the right employees for each job. With one stale (and lopsided) internal process, you may effectively, but inadvertently walk some employees to the door. Employees won’t stay where they feel they are not being treated fairly even while putting out high quality work. If a good employee is targeted with a bad review, don’t underestimate their intelligence to notice your stacked evaluation system and write about it on places like Glassdoor. Keep in mind that this is especially important for technical roles where talent can be extremely hard to find. Note, there are under-performers, but a once-a-year evaluation process is not likely to find many of them. Only can on-going, regular evaluation processes will find under-performers. Even more than this, only the manager can find underperformers via weekly one-on-one sessions, going through each employee’s work output.

Let your evaluation chips fall where they may. If a team ends up all with excellent reviews, so be it. Don’t try to manipulate some down because you feel the need to reduce cost of living wages. This comes back to paying your employees what they are worth. Note, this assumes that reviews will be tied to merit increases. Don’t assume that employees don’t know that the evaluations are stacked when you stack. That’s not only a condescending view, it way underestimates the intelligence if your workforce. If you’re thinking of decoupling evaluations from merit increases, see the next Don’t.

Don’t decouple evaluations from some form of merit increase

If you decouple employee evaluations from merit increases, you decouple the reason for employees to do evaluations. The question then becomes, “What’s the point in doing this?” If there’s any question surrounding the employee evaluation process, then your employees will not be motivated to participate. This also means that your evaluations will be worthless in the end. And, the employees will also know this. By tying the evaluations to merit cost of living increases, this ensures that all employees are motivated to participate properly in the process. However, keeping it tied to merit also means that this could lead to ‘stacking’. Avoid ‘stacking’ like the plague. If you really want to keep your employees on board, then let the evaluations remain truthful.

Additionally, when you decouple merit increases from the evaluation process, why have evaluations at all? Managers should be regularly evaluating their employees for work output and effectiveness. If they aren’t, then you have a bigger manager problem on your hands. If there’s no real reason to do evaluations, expect some employees to opt-out of the review process. If they chose to opt-out, let them. Forcing them to participate only leads to forced evaluations which may ultimately have them leave the company anyway and provide you with nothing of value.

Don’t require employees to rate their own performance numerically

Numerical or ‘star’ ratings are worthless. Numbers say nothing about the employee’s work ethic or performance. They are a failed attempt at trying to ‘rate’ an individual. The trouble is, if you artificially make the scale low by saying ‘No one is a 5″ on a scale of 1 to 5, then you have made the scale effectively 1-4. Then make the scale 1-4 and not 1-5. If you are using a scale of 1-5, then use the entire scale. If a person is a 5, then they are a 5. They are not a 4. This is similar to stacking. Do not artificially limit the use of something within the evaluation to make high performers appear lower than they are. This is counter productive and unnecessary and makes the employee feel as though they are under-appreciated. If that’s the intent, then it’s a job well done. However, it may lead to employee loss. Again, you spent all that time recruiting the talent, don’t squander that time, effort and money spent. Rating employees and artificially capping the scale is yet another visible employee negative.

Don’t do employee performance evaluations simply because you can

Employee evaluations are important for the manager and the employee to discuss performance issues and where performance can be improved. That’s the point in this process. It is not about anything other than how to get the manager and the employee on the same work page. Running this through multiple managers and multiple staff all the way up the chain to the CEO is pointless. Not only is it a severe time waster for those above the employee’s manager, it’s also a privacy issue that, for some reason, upper management and the human resources department alike think they should be privy to. In reality, any performance issues are between the manager and the employee. Ultimately, because of upper management prying eyes, any actual performance issues are not likely to present on an evaluation because it might actually become a hostile workplace or HR violation issue. Most evaluations are highly sanitized by both the employee and by the manager. Any real work issues are discussed in private between the manager and the employee. They are never included on HR based performance evaluations.

For example, an employee with poor hygiene and who is causing issues around the office could cause some severe HR legal issues if this information is placed onto a written employee evaluation. Yet, it is a performance issue. How do you document this without causing potential legal issues? This is the problem with once-a-year employee evaluations. Employee evaluations tend not to document the types of issues which result in legal issues for a company. These types of issues are sanitized from evaluations for this reason. This also means that company wide evaluations are by their very nature not completely accurate. If they’re not accurate, why do them?

Let the managers handle all performance issues internally. If the process needs documentation, then have the manager do so. But, do so privately. Airing the dirty laundry for all to see is ripe for both hostile workplace issues and could document potential legal issues that could arise should the employee leave as a result of a documented performance issue. Note that anything written and placed into the employee file can be come legal fodder should employee legal issues arise. If the evaluation process documents an illegal activity within the company, then your business is at risk. Leading to…

Don’t sanitize employee evaluations after-the-fact

If there is something written on an employee evaluation that puts your business at legal risk, don’t sanitize the evaluation or destroy it after the fact. This will make things far worse for your business. Instead, leave it as it is. If it’s a legal risk, you can defend yourself in court even if it’s in the document. Removing it from the document or removing the entire document is far more problematic legally than leaving it there. Note, if your employee has to write any part of the evaluation, they can make a copy for themselves. If an employee unknowingly describes an illegal business activity on the evaluation, your business is at risk no matter if someone in your organization deletes or sanitizes it. If you are concerned that some illegal activity could appear on an employee evaluation, it may be smarter not to do evaluations. An employee may keep a version of their copy for their records. You can’t easily expunge an employee’s personal records.

Don’t expect much productivity out of your employees during evaluation week

Employee evaluations kill at least a week of productivity time for every employee in the company. Instead of focusing on their job at hand, they are focusing on paperwork that is not related to their job. Expect that evaluations will lose about a week of productivity just for the paperwork portion alone and turn it into non-productive time. If your employees’ work time is important to you, you need to understand that during the evaluation process, far less output than normal will get done. This means you should choose a slow time of the year to perform evaluations. The more you ask of the employee to do on the evaluation forms, the less actual work they get done. Be careful with this process as it can lead to a lot of lost productivity. Note, there will also be a week or two of aftermath from the evaluation process where employees will reflect, brood and be distracted as a result of the outcome of their evaluation with their manager. Without any upside to doing the evaluation, this process simply leaves that bad taste to fester. Which leads to…

Don’t expect sunshine and rainbows

Employee evaluations are by their very nature negative job experiences. Always. Evaluations never give glowing job performance reviews. They are always there to show all of the flaws and weaknesses of the employee and make sure they feel like crap for at least a week or two following completion of the evaluation. This can negatively impact productivity following the completion of the evaluation. You need to understand that this process is by its very nature a negative job experience. It is never a positive experience. The only positive is a merit increase, if it comes. For an employee’s suffering through another performance evaluation, the upside is that employees will hopefully see a higher paycheck. If you decouple merit increase (as stated above), the employee evaluation process becomes a completely negative experience without any upside benefit to the employee. In fact, there is very little if any upside benefit to the company, either. This project then becomes an exercise in futility. If you really want to make your employees feel like crap for several weeks, this is the way to do it.

Think twice before implementing an evaluation system solely because you think it’s necessary. If employees feel that their evaluation is unfair (many will), expect a number of people to walk away from the company. Expect those that stay to underperform for at least a week following any evaluation. Expect some employees to brood and eventually leave months after their review. You will also need to accept some employee departures as a result. Other employees will realize the exercise in futility and seek a job elsewhere. Some my realize the unfairness of the ‘stacking’ and try to find an employer is more fair about this process. Make sure you are well aware of the full ramifications of an evaluation system before you implement it.

Make sure employees get some kind of positive benefit after the evaluation is complete (preferably a merit increase). If you’re planning to make your employees suffer through this negative job experience, then you need to be prepared to offer some sunshine and rainbows to your employees at the end to make the process go down easier. As Mary Poppins once said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” . You need to find that spoonful of sugar… and I don’t mean literally, either (don’t be funny and put a sugar cube on their desks).

Note that the evaluation process should never get in the way of actual work. Yet, it does. It interjects itself between the manager and the employee in a way that can drive a wedge between the employee and the company. A wedge that might otherwise not be there were sleeping dogs left lying, as it were. Employee evaluations can open a Pandora’s box with some individuals, so be careful with this process.

Do think up a better way than the traditional performance review system

If you can come up with a new improved performance system that works better than the old, stale, negative system, then by all means implement it in your company. Such a system would do wonders for making this process much more smooth. Unfortunately, I do not believe such a thing exists. In reality, having monthly one-on-ones between the employee and manager should suffice as an ongoing performance review system. It’s far less negative than the once-a-year evaluation which is mostly pointless. Do away with the once-a-year evaluation system and implement an ongoing manager and employee relationship building system that keeps the employee far more on track than a once-a-year system which really benefits no-one.

Employee evaluations can both help and hurt your company at the same time. Evaluations can open up problems that may not be necessary for an employee to perform their job properly and at the same time, it always ends up as a negative experience for all involved. If you really enjoy running your employees through the ringer once a year, the stale old evaluation process is the way to do it. Worse, though, is that because it’s a once-a-year event, it doesn’t really serve much purpose unless it is tied to a merit increase. If it’s not tied to a merit increase, this is a fruitless exercise. This is part of the reason many companies no longer do one-a-year evaluations.

Basically, do not feel compelled to run evaluations simply because you think you need them. Think twice before implementing these tired vehicles when they don’t really benefit anyone. If you must set up a performance evaluation system, then conduct it once a month between the manager and the employee. Let them discuss active projects, what’s going on today and focus on current performance issues. Having an on-going regular relevant performance evaluation system is much more productive to job performance today and ends up as a much more relaxed and positive experience. Out with the old and in with the new.

Don’t run an evaluation for an employee with 3 or more managers in 6 months

This one is pretty self-explanatory. However, it should be said that if an employee gets a new manager 2 months before the evaluation process is set to begin, the employee has no hope of a fair evaluation. If the employee’s old manager is still part of the organization, then enlist that manager to complete that employee’s evaluation. If the old manager is no longer part of the organization, then skip this employee’s evaluation.

An employee cannot be properly evaluated with a new manager having 2 or less months of service with that employee. Employees under this circumstance should also have the ability to opt-out of the evaluation process entirely. If they can’t get a fair, impartial evaluation for 6 to 12 months of service that year from their current manager, then the employee shouldn’t be obligated to submit an evaluation. I’ll also point out that change in management team is not the employee’s responsibility. Unfairly penalizing an employee’s yearly performance review because of management changes is not the fault of the employee. It’s the fault of your management team.

Unless there has been at least one manager who has managed that employee for a minimum of 6 continuous months of the year, evaluations shouldn’t be performed for that employee.

Part 3 | Chapter Index | Part 5

How not to run a business (Part 2) — General Don’ts 2

Posted in best practices, business, Employment, free enterprise by commorancy on May 3, 2012

As a second article follow-on to the first part of the series How not to run a business (Pt. 1), I will keep the momentum going. So, without further adieu…

Don’t keep non-producers on the payroll longer than 3 months

Three months is enough time to understand if the person you’ve recently hired can do the job for you. If they are not producing within 3 months, they are either in over their head, they simply don’t understand the job or they don’t really want to do the work. Whatever the problem, performance plans to improve probably won’t help. If you’re a small business, you can’t really afford having non-producers on the payroll for long periods of time. However, for longer term employees, that leads into …

Think twice before letting people go without warning

While I know that it’s common to reduce your payroll burden by letting people go, think twice before you do this. More specifically, don’t do it unless you fully understand the consequences of that change to your business. Letting certain people go can cause short-term damage if that person is entrenched in certain aspects of your business. Basically, make sure that your knowledge base is well spread out. This means, making sure that if you have a software engineer who is the only person who understands a crucial bit of code, that this person does a proper hand-off to another person before they depart. I know that it’s common to let people go without warning to them or to anyone else, but this is the worst way to handle letting people go for many reasons. First, you may lose a brain-trust you didn’t know you had or that your company needed. Second, you’re opening your company up to wrongful termination lawsuits. Both of these can be short term damaging to your business. Third, surprise firings don’t always go over well. You don’t know who is capable of temperamental outbursts and who may show up at your doorstep with a firearm ready to take retaliatory measures. Workplace violence is on the rise, be careful whom you let go and how. In the long term, your business will likely recover, but in the short term your customers may feel the pain. It’s entirely up to you to determine if that pain is worth the hassle of walking people to do the door without warning.

The best plan for non-producers is to give them one chance to step up and begin producing. Explain in very explicit terms what you expect to see in the next 30, 60 and 90 days. Set goals and expect improvements. Make it completely clear that this is their only chance to rectify their performance issues or they will be asked to leave. Basically, give the person fair warning in writing, document it, have them sign it, give them a copy and place the original in their personnel file. So, if they choose not to improve their performance issues, you have a documented copy of what you expect and that they failed to meet those expectations. This also means that when you do walk them to the door, this is not a surprise to them. It also gives you the opportunity to hedge your bets and hire someone to be trained by this person. If they refuse to train anyone, explain that it is part of their performance improvement plan and their job. If they choose not to train someone, then explain that they have failed their performance improvement plan and they need to pack their belongings and leave the premises. You can’t make someone do the work, but you can encourage them. If they choose not to work even after you have asked them to, it’s time for them to leave.

Don’t buy email marketing lists and don’t send spam

The quickest way to tank your business on the Internet and give it a bad reputation is by buying lists of people whom you have never met. If your business is important to you, find people who are interested in your services in other ways than by sending spam email. One of the best ways is by using services like D&B to locate companies that might have need of your services. Then, have your sales people cold call them. Note, that while cold calling isn’t always warmly received by many, it is more favorably tolerated than sending email spam. Cold calling is only between you and the called party. Spam, on the other hand, ends up not only between you and the other party, but all parties in between that delivered the email. The recipient may forward the email to other parties which then involve even more people. This is how reputations get ruined. The bottom line is, don’t send email spam and, more specifically, do not buy email lists.

On the other hand, attending trade shows is a great way to initiate interest in your product or service, is a way to collect email addresses and is the primary way to build your email list. Other ways to build your list is by blogging and simply by selling your product on the web.

Don’t acquire companies without fully understanding what they bring to the table

In the start-up phase when there’s lots of capital floating around, it is tempting to bring in what appears to be a good marriage of technologies into your company through acquisition. There are lots of reasons why you should think and rethink any acquiring plan. While you may bring in technologies you don’t otherwise have, it does a lot of other things at the same time. The merging of two companies is a pretty severe culture shock for the company being acquired. Their business methodologies, sales strategies, employment practices, dress code and lots of other subtle culture issues may clash with your current culture. Bringing in a new company can bring with it things your company may not be ready to handle.

Additionally, it well increases the workload for people who may already be overworked. For example, pulling in a whole crew of new staff requires human resources to hire these people in. It requires adding them to payroll and to benefits. It requires IT staff to procure assets like computers, phones, desks, logins, ID cards, etc. The new company will have accounting books that need to be folded into the parent company’s books. There’s all of the duplicated staff that are probably not necessary (finance, IT, operations, marketing… both personnel and management) that will either have to be let go or given alternative positions.

On top of the logistics of simply folding in one company to another, which requires a substantial amount of time and effort from staff, the products themselves also have to be rolled into your current core business that have yet to be determined useful. For example, if your company is primarily a Business to Business seller and you acquire a Business to Consumer company, you need to understand if that marriage works for your present business model. The questions you need to ask yourself… “Am I planning to sell B2C now?” “Can this acquired company’s technology be used in the B2B space?” “Will this new company provide the revenue needed to justify the purchase?” These are all important questions that materially impact whether you should or should not do the deal. Don’t jump into buying a business solely because it appears to be a ‘hot new technology’. The technology itself does not indicate that that product or service is long-term sellable, viable or, more importantly, sellable to your B2B customers and prospects. Yes, having a vision does help here, but remember that Business to Consumer products generally don’t generate near the amount of revenue that Business to Business products do. Also recognize, as in this example, that selling Business to Business is an entirely different beast than selling Business to Consumer. So, this also means learning curves and retraining for those folks tasked to manage both sales models.

Basically, this single section could fill an entire book. There are lots of considerations when contemplating the acquisition of other businesses. Unless you are completely certain that you are gaining something that your company desperately needs, it may be simpler and cheaper to hire people to construct a similar technology without the additional hassles of folding two companies together. In other words, it may take longer and be more costly to fold together both the companies and the technologies than it would have cost to hire engineers and construct a similar technology yourself. Weigh the costs, think about the outcome and determine if acquisition is truly the right choice.

Don’t give away something you can sell

I’ve seen this so many times now that I’ve lost count. Good will is an important aspect of the sales process. It makes the customer feel like the are getting a good deal. I understand this aspect of the sales process. So, discounts, incentives and giveaways are all good methodologies to managing a prospect’s ‘feel good’ aspect of the deal you are proposing. However, remember that you are in business to make money. You’re not in business to give good will gestures, that is unless your company happens to be a charity or non-profit. Assuming that you are a for-profit entity and not managing a charity, you should never give away things you can sell. This is true of not only goods, but services as well. I know it’s easy to think that your professional services team’s or other team’s time is not worth much, but don’t give professional services away for free. Controlling your sales staff, however, is another matter. Don’t allow your sales team to make deals without understanding the deal and someone in management signing off on the deal. Never allow sales persons to make deals without a managerial approval process. When sales people can make deals without approvals, they will make bad deals for your company that you will have to support for years to come.

Worse, giveaways encourage future giveaways. Basically, once you’ve given something to a customer for free, they will expect it for free at subsequent renewals. Don’t set that precedent. Always charge for every line item. Discount it by a small percent, but never discount anything by 100%. Once you agree to any freebie, you are saddled with that freebie for the rest of that customer’s contract with you no matter how much you find out it is really costing you. Believe me, freebies can easily become some of the most costly parts of a business.

Don’t believe everything you hear from prospects or clients

Prospects are good at finagling the best deal possible. One of the most common tactics is to suggest that your direct competitor gave away a service for free that you are selling. They are then expecting you to give them this service for free. So, here’s the common problem with this scenario. First, you are placing 100% trust into what they are saying should you decide to comply. Don’t do this. Check and double check any statements made by prospects when they ask for freebies. Second, when you cannot find that their statement is true, be prepared to take a hard line with them and discount it by only a small percent. Do not give it away for free. If they decline the deal, you may be better off. Don’t do a deal with freebies simply because you need the deal. In the long run, that contract will become unsupportable. Further, any freebie you do agree to will become a permanent never ending freebie. You cannot undo a freebie once done. Take your business seriously and charge for everything. Again, remember that to make money is why you are in business. If you give away any freebies, five years later you will still be giving that freebie to that customer. Don’t believe everything you hear.

Don’t do giveaways, trips and other incentives for the sales team alone

At least, don’t do it without including the rest of the company in the incentives. It’s quite common in many companies for the sales team to be offered trips, giveaways and incentives to close deals (or whomever gets the most deals). So here’s the problem. You’re already paying your sales team commission on deals they’ve closed (and hopefully after the checks have cleared). This is already an incentive. If they close a $1 million deal (or $1 million in deals) and they get 10%, they’ve gotten a $100k check out of that. That’s a lot of money for a sales person in addition to whatever salary you are paying them. Why are you trying to incent them further by flying them to Barbados or by giving them an iPad? It’s their job to keep up the sales. Giving them trips and giveaways sends the wrong message to the rest of your company’s departments who aren’t involved in these incentive programs. It’s also a very exclusionary practice so that most other parts of the company don’t get these incentives. Yet, these other departments work equally hard at their jobs. If you’re planning on offering these types of incentives, involve the entire company, not just your sales team (which, as mentioned, already have incentives in the form of commission).

Don’t plan releases of products or services on company pre-designated holiday weekends

So while this one may not apply to every single business out there, it is a general rule that applies to most businesses. Let’s talk about which businesses to which this doesn’t apply. If you are a consumer product, like an iPad or the latest cell phone, releasing on a holiday weekend is probably a good idea. Unless, however, your product falls into this category (which most businesses do not), do not release your products and services on national holiday weekends. Do it either the weekend before or the weekend after. Why? Nationally respected holiday weekends has nearly everyone out on that holiday. If your service is business to business, for example, no one will be around to review the changes you’re making. So, if your release breaks something crucial to your customers, they won’t know about it until after the holiday. Specifically, it will be too late for them to fix any problems that may have arisen over the weekend. For example, if your release doesn’t work correctly and sends out a bunch of email unintentionally to a list of your customers’ people, this may end up with a lot of angry people on your hands. Your customers won’t find this out until days after the incident occurred.

Out of common courtesy for your customer’s holidays (let alone asking your staff to hang around on a holiday weekend to release), delay releases to weekends that are not holiday weekends. Asking people to give up a holiday weekend (whether customers or employees) is most definitely not good for morale. Additionally, if you do ask employees to give up their holiday weekend, then expect to make up for that weekend through comp time on another weekend later.

By expecting people to give up a holiday weekend without any payback, you are setting your company up for huge morale issues, staff will come to disrespect you and your decisions and the company will become known for these unnecessary practices in the industry. It also means that employees will see that your company doesn’t respect their home family lives. What you do with your employees does get around the industry and can easily make it a challenge when it comes time to hire new qualified staff. Basically, word of mouth gets around quickly and people simply will not look at your company when looking for employment. Small things like these make a huge difference to your staff, especially to prospective employees and recruiters. These are also the types of actions that prevent your company from being placed on lists like Forbes top 100 places to work. Your company must respect the home and family lives of your employees. Forcing people to work company designated holiday weekends is like handing the employees a cookie and then unceremoniously yanking it back moments before they can grab it and quipping, “just kidding”. Don’t do this. Respect your employees more than this.

Don’t use the company to pay your personal bills

Being the CEO, CFO or any other C-level exec doesn’t entitle you to use the company as your own personal bank account. While there is nothing but your own personal moral compass stopping you (and adamant finance employees) from using the company in this way, eventually this information will leak out to the rest of the company. Some things just can’t be kept a secret, especially the longer your business runs and the more personnel changes that happen. So, unless you want your employees to know that you’re paying $6k a month for your house or $3k a month in car payments or $2k a month in child care costs, pay your home expenses from your own personal checking account. Don’t use the accounts payable people to pay your personal bills for you. Note, to those entrepreneurs who don’t understand computers, technology or the internet, yes, there are banks now that have automatic bill pay that you can set up online.

Part 1Chapter Index | Part 3

Is Obama hostile towards big business?

To answer this question, we need to delve a little deeper. Note, I am neither condoning nor praising Obama’s handling of his regulatory efforts. However, I would like to point out certain corrections that do need to be made.

“The truth is that not even the Franklin Roosevelt administration was as hostile to and ignorant about free enterprise as this [Obama’s] administration is.”
–Steve Forbes.

But, is Obama really hostile towards business? Or, is he making needed corrections? There is a fine line here. This issue also points out a serious problem in politics today. That problem is, you guessed it, money. Without money, the world doesn’t work. Without money, candidates don’t get elected. Without money, businesses don’t sell things and make money. Back up the train.. Businesses make plenty of money without governmental help. The trouble is that businesses want to be able to make laws that enable their businesses to make more money and then have the government be lenient with them when issues arise.

The reality, though, is that like the separation of church and state, the government now needs separation of business and state. The two are oil and water, they don’t mix. Government needs to be able to make law without interference from any party. But, businesses have deep pockets and hefty lawyers. These two elements help elect officials and help sway these same officials into making good on promises they made towards these businesses during the election.

Obama’s corrections

While I don’t agree with every single thing Obama has done, I do agree that change is necessary. The change that he is making is intended to correct the issues that led to the economic downturn. The trouble comes with statements from people like Steve Forbes. Mr. Forbes believes that he is the end-all-be-all-know-it-all when it comes to all-things-business. The trouble is, he doesn’t. Yes, he runs a successful magazine, but that doesn’t make him an authority. That makes him a successful business owner.

Obama is walking that fine line. A fine line that shouldn’t even be necessary. But, there it is. The line that’s there to help Obama help the economy, help spur business and growth and reduce the chances of a repeated failure. At the same time, the line is there to show that government values business, but isn’t there to socialize it. The trouble is, this economic downturn was of our own making. By our, I mean Wall Street. The housing bubble was just that, a bubble. Bubbles eventually burst and this bubble was no exception. It’s not as if analysts and intelligent minded people couldn’t see the handwriting on the wall. When the mortgage interest rates got down to 1% and all of those ARM and specialty loans were being issued like water flowing down the Mississippi, trouble was inevitable. We just didn’t know that banks and insurance companies were tying their financial soundness to these extremely risky loans using credit default swaps.

Until the bubble burst, no one really knew just how deep the rabbit hole went. Then, everything came crashing down and all of the nasty subprime mortgage and credit default swap issues came into view in their all fugly detailed glory. The first evidence of that was Bear Stearns followed by AIG (and the subsequent governmental bailout). I still think they should have let AIG fold, I digress.

Government and Business

It’s high time that government distanced itself from corporate businesses. It’s high time congress made laws to separate government from business (including political support). It’s high time that government stopped being a pawn for corporate businesses. Forbes clearly seems to think that Free Enterprise requires socialism to function. Free Enterprise is not part of and does not need socialism. Free Enterprise means that businesses can do whatever they need to do (within the limits of the laws) to make their business succeed. Clearly, there have not been laws enabled that have dramatically impacted Free Enterprise. The laws that have been enacted have been placed there to prevent corporations from producing risky investment vehicles with a high likelyhood of crashing down again. If businesses are now floundering, it’s not because of laws. It’s because corporations have lost their way and are still expecting handouts. Well, you can keep your hand out, but don’t expect the government to be dropping any coin in it.

Corporations have relied, no… depended on the US Government for handouts. That time needs to end. Subsidies for business need to go away. Businesses need to fend for themselves just like Free Enterprise mandates. If a business can’t make it on its own, then let it fail. I’ll repeat, LET IT FAIL. Failure is also part of Free Enterprise. Businesses that will succeed, will succeed because they produce a good product or service. Businesses that fail, will fail because they don’t produce good products or services.

Lost our way

America, and specifically corporate enterprises, have lost their way. For far too long have big corporations depended on favorable governmental conditions (sounds like a weather report) to help them stay in business. Well, that train has left (and must leave). It should be solely up to you and your business practices alone to make or break your company. It is the quality of your products, services and support that makes people want to buy your products or invest in your company. Nothing has changed about this aspect of Free Enterprise.

We need to go back to a time when quality was the key. When providing a superior product was the answer to getting people to buy things. If that also means deflation, then so be it. Businesses need to find their way by learning how to do more with less. How to manage their staff better and stop over-hiring. At the same time, many of them need to stop under-hiring and also value the employees that they have right now.

The key to keeping your business flowing is by keeping your employees active, productive and happy. Morale is a big problem in companies during any downturn. Once fear sets in over the next reduction in force (RIF), then morale falls to all-time-lows. No, taking the employees on an outing doesn’t boost morale. The way to boost morale is to stop RIFing the staff out the door. Yes, I know it gives a temporary boost to the stock price and makes the shareholders happy, but that’s a temporary fix with limited effects. Once the dust settles, the employees who are left become disgruntled, unhappy and produce less. This is completely backwards thinking. Which is why business has lost its way.

Shareholder value vs quality products

I know, someone’s going to say that it is all about ‘shareholder value’. That may be the way things seem now, but it is wrong. Currently accepted actions that lead to improved shareholder value tend to undercut production, stifle innovation, reduce profit margins and lower productivity. Why would you intentionally do this to your business? So, while these measures may seem to help the stock price, it does nothing to help the company improve its quality of products and services. In fact, in the long run, these actions almost always negatively impact the bottom line. So, the fundamental question is, are you in business to make the shareholders happy or are you in business to sell quality products and services? This fundamental question must be answered.

The true answer to this question also shows that Free Enterprise priorities today are all wrong. It used to be that the customer is #1. Now, shareholders are #1 and customers are #2. This is both wrong and stupid. Until businesses go back to the idea that the customer is #1, corporations will continue to fail and need governmental subsidies. While shareholders are considered #1, there is really no such thing as Free Enterprise when it comes to multi-million dollar corporations… which is why they always need a handout from the government.

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