Friday, February 26, 2010

Would You Fight to Keep Your Job?

A few weeks ago during Bad Boss Week, many of you shared stories – and almost all of those stories ended with an employee leaving their job. Most of those stories had elements of discrimination or bias (age, gender, religion), or just plain inequity – and some of the readers suggested that the authors of these stories might have some legal recourse. Which causes me to ask the question:

How hard would you fight to keep the job you have?

I have been both the manager who has had to tell employees they no longer have a job, and the employee who was told they no longer have a job. I have also seen hundreds of colleagues in this situation. If you know what this is like, feel free to skip the next couple paragraphs, but for the benefit of readers who don’t know, this is how it goes:

You have a meeting (possibly via phone) with your boss on the appointed “notification day” and your boss says something like, “Your job is being eliminated and you have thirty days to find a job within the company or you will be separated,” or, “We need to cut half of the team, and your contribution was not as strong as others, so you have thirty days to find a job or you will be separated.” These are the two basic ways that corporations choose to ‘downsize’ – work elimination (first example), or staff reduction (second example).

Just so we are clear – most bosses take absolutely no pleasure in doing this. They hate the decision and they dread having to tell the employees. They use words like ‘resource action’, or ‘downsizing’, or ‘laid off’ to temper the impact, but let’s be honest – it really means ‘you’re fired’. They will tell you, “You didn’t do anything wrong,” and chances are (unless you are being fired for cause) that is true.

So now what do you do?

Most people put on a full court press to find that elusive ‘other job’ within the company they are at. They update their resume, contact every person they know, and apply for every open job. The lucky ones who find a job often settle for something they don’t really want to do, or that is below their qualification level.

But are they really the lucky ones?

Those who don’t find jobs immediately start the search for jobs outside the company. But finding a job in thirty days is highly unlikely, even in a good economy.

And then the day comes when you are being ‘separated’ from the company. Would you sign an agreement not to sue in exchange for a severance package? Or (if you think you have a valid argument) would you hire a lawyer and fight the decision?

In my experience, employees who make the decision to move on are more peaceful and happier with their lives than those who fight ‘at all costs’ to keep their job. That certainly was the case in the stories submitted on bad bosses.

What I do know for sure is that this is a very personal decision for every individual. There may be many factors that come into play – a family to support, the need for medical insurance, whether or not they get a severance package, or (sigh) the economy. Another key consideration for many is the time, money, and stress associated with a fight. Is the job really worth all that?

You tell me – what would you do?

Would you use your company’s internal escalation process to fight the decision? Would you stay in an organization where your skills aren’t valued? Would you take a job that’s a demotion or has a decrease in pay? How hard would you fight?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why are My Toilets Always Dirty? The Art of Procrastination

I no longer work fulltime (or more) in a corporate job. I’m my own boss, and I can work whenever I want. I rarely set my alarm.

So I should have lots of time to clean the toilets, right?

As a working mother with a demanding work schedule I had a rigid home schedule in place for the weekends. Cleaning and household chores were sandwiched between sports events at school and the occasional movie night. Laundry started Saturday morning and ran continuously during the weekend. If any family members missed getting their dirty clothing into the laundry basket by Saturday morning they’d have to wait another week to get it done (and they knew it). Grocery shopping was on Sunday afternoons.

So why, then, are my toilets always dirty now?

It’s because I can clean them tomorrow. Because I have all the flexibility I could ever want, there is no driving need to clean them this weekend. I can clean them whenever I want.

It’s that nasty procrastination gene kicking in.

In my very first corporate job I was responsible for answering customer calls and debugging software problems. These calls came in electronically (yes, even then – this was an IT company after all). We worked by priority and handled the calls as they came in. One day, I had completed all the calls on the queue except one. My boss stopped by my office (remember the days when the bosses walked around?) to check in. I noted the light day, and explained that I was saving the last call for tomorrow. She suggested I do it today and I said, “But if I take the call today, there won’t be anything to do tomorrow.” Yeah, I really said that. Luckily, it didn’t hurt my career.

It’s difficult to drive yourself to complete work.

It’s also very difficult for managers to drive employees to complete work. When there is a hard deadline (like a launch date, or a product release date) or when an incentive structure is in place (as in most sales jobs) – when there is an impending event or reward it’s easier to drive tasks to completion. The ‘just do it’ gene kicks in because success depends on it. I have had many jobs where this is the case, but there have also been many times when it’s been up to me to decide the schedule or drive the team. And in those times, it’s harder to put the procrastination gene and the perfection gene aside. The same is true today as I drive my own projects.

How do you decide when a project is really ready to go? What are your strategies for driving tasks to completion when no external force is driving you?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Four (or Maybe Five) Examples of Brilliant Marketing

There is nothing that I find more fascinating than a fabulous new technique to attract customers to buy a product and induce – and sometimes even compel – customer loyalty. That is what I call brilliant marketing. And every now and then I see an example that makes me say, “Now that was a brilliant idea!”

Let’s start with mainframe software. I am of course referring to the real mainframes (not the ones that claim to be mainframe-like) – specifically, these are the ones built to run with the IBM z/OS (MVS heritage) mainframe platform. Clearly there is some brilliance in the terrific capabilities that the software provides, but that’s not my focus here. The real brilliance is the fact that customers get hooked on the platform, and the software that is charged on a monthly license fee translates into an annuity stream for IBM long after the product is sold. Each time a new mainframe is sold, even into an existing account, it extends that annuity stream longer. Brilliant.

The Mobil Speedpass is another great example. That little plastic widget on my keychain probably cost very little for Mobil to implement, but because it is there I look for Mobil stations to stop at even if the gas costs a few cents more per gallon. Why? They made it very easy for me. I don’t need cash, and I don’t need to get a credit card out. I just swipe, pump and go. Brilliant.

Amazon has what might be the best example of online loyalty marketing that I have ever seen. Their ‘recommendations’ have often caused me to purchase a book that I had no idea I needed. A lesser-hyped marketing play in their arsenal is their Amazon Prime membership where (for $79 per year) you can get unlimited free second day UPS shipping. This appeals to both the need for instant gratification (my packages often arrive the very next day) and the practical. If you make more than a handful of purchases a year this is well worth it. I go to Amazon first because I’ve already paid for the shipping. Brilliant.

Next we come to Apple’s genius around the iPod and iTunes. The iPod was coveted for it’s sleek design and usability, but it’s really iTunes that was the magic here. Providing a superior platform to download, organize and play music is what (in my opinion) drove iPod to the number one spot in the MP3 market. And then… wait for it… the business model feeds on itself – as people download more music, they need iPods with more capacity. Podcasts and videos made available via iTunes all drove the need for more capacity, driving more iPod sales. This one is not just brilliant – it’s pure genius.

So what then is the next brilliant marketing idea? Will we see one with the eBook readers? Amazon made an attempt with the Kindle. They had the e-reader market to themselves for a couple of years, and even attempted to get people hooked on the technology by taking a loss on Kindle book sales. Barnes and Noble entered the market this year with the Nook. Both are attempting to compete on feature/function with what I will call ‘near-proprietary’ platforms. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are approaching this as a book war. Tie the book sales to the technology and get them hooked; he who sells the most technology will ultimately sell the most books. But are they sacrificing the pawns too soon?

Enter the iPad. What’s different here? Let’s start with the fact that Apple is not in the bookselling business. They aren’t selling just another e-book reader. The jury is out, but I suspect that we are going to see a kick-ass business model that is all about the data. And like the iPod, more data drives the need for more capacity, which in turn drives the technology sales. Is this about selling books? I doubt if Steve Jobs thinks it is. It doesn’t matter where the content comes from – the more books and more data the better. And while Amazon and Barnes and Noble are fighting about who is going to win the electronic book reader war, I predict that the iPad is going to be all about data, and data integration (music, text, video…), and integrating data and applications. Gee, I’m almost talking myself into wanting one!

What do you think? Can Apple ratchet up their brilliant marketing yet another notch? What’s your top example of brilliant marketing, and will we see one with the iPad?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Galleon Watch – 02/11/10 Update

There have been a few developments in the Galleon case over the past couple of weeks – more chips are falling, and the tapes of the wiretapped conversations are being called into question.

On February 8th, the New York Times reported that Rajiv Goel, formerly an executive at Intel, pleaded guilty to providing confidential information to Raj Rajaratnam. Goel is cooperating with prosecutors. He is the tenth guilty plea in the case.

With Goel’s plea on the books, Bob Moffat (formerly of IBM) is the only outstanding defendant (of the six) from the original complaint whose plea is still open. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported on February 9th, that allegations from Goel, Kumar and Kurland have led to additional charges against Rajaratnam.

The tapes of the wiretapped conversations could become a key turning point in this case. Lawyers for Rajaratnam are attempting to suppress the wiretap evidence in the criminal case.

The tapes have also come into play in the related civil complaint from the SEC. Tapes of the wiretapped conversations were accidentally turned over to the SEC from federal prosecutors and later returned. On February 9th, the New York Times reported that the defendants were then ordered to turn over the tapes to the SEC, following an argument to suppress this evidence in the civil case.

For prior installments of the Galleon Watch click here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And the Winner Is...

With voting now closed, the author of Tuesday's entry, Escape From Jane, is the official winner of the Bad Boss Contest. This guest blogger will receive the $25 Amazon gift certificate, and the honorary title of "Survivor of the Worst Boss".

It was a close race, with the author of Special Project coming in a very close second. Check out the results here.

Thanks to everyone who played by contributing their stories, reading the stories and voting. Look for another contest in a few months. Readers have already suggested a "Good Boss Contest" and a "Bad Colleague Contest". If you have another idea you'd like me to consider, or want to second one of these, let me know with a comment.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bad Boss Contest - You Pick the Winner

As Bad Boss week comes to a close, the only thing left to do is vote!

The winner is entirely up to you. Voting opens today and ends at midnight on Monday (Feb 8th). The story that receives the most votes wins. The winner will be announced on Tuesday.

Click on the links to review the finalists:

Monday - No Men Allowed
Tuesday - Escape From Jane
Wednesday - Extreme Measures
Thursday - Special Project

Vote here:

The Worst Bad Boss Is:

So, what do you think? Was this fun? Should we do it again sometime?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bad Boss Finalist #4 - Special Project

This is the story from the last of the four Bad Boss Contest finalists. Voting starts tomorrow.

Special Project

I’ll call my bad boss “Special” because that’s how he described himself. Back when I started with the company, Special was a rank-and-file project manager. I was a combination engineer/project manager. I didn’t work with him much back then, but I heard that none of the field personnel liked him. One time he called his field crew and made them so mad that they walked off the job. He wasn’t allowed to directly talk to his own crews after that. But, Special was good at office politics and got on the good side of the powers-that-be. After we had a management catastrophe that resulted in most of middle management getting fired, Special was selected as our new Director of Engineering and Project Management. Other than his politics, his only qualification for the job was that he was willing to give the company $40,000 (as “skin in the game” – upper management sold all of the open positions because the company was having cash flow problems).

After assuming his new position, Special called lots of unproductive meetings where he expounded at length about how he was going to “right our ship”. He created lots of new forms for us to fill out and decreed formats for how to document projects. It would have been a good idea, but he went too far and began micromanaging us. He also required all project managers to attend a weekly meeting where we were supposed to discuss project status and get help with problems. The company was short on resources, so except for some commiseration the meetings were a waste of time. At these meetings I kept pointing out that one project I had inherited (after the management catastrophe) was falling behind because only 10% of its resources had been allocated. Every week it got further behind and I got more vocal – so Special banished me from the meetings. Of course, later during my performance review he pinged me for not attending those meetings. He never did get me any resources, but I managed to keep the customer happy because the customer was having his own scheduling problems and we were managing to keep up.

Then Accounting did their yearly project audits and found that my project was not bringing in the expected revenue. I couldn’t bill for hours and efforts that weren’t being applied! By unhappy coincidence, the Director of Operations was balking at honoring the manpower commitments he made during the project proposal so to get me off his back he complained to Special. Special called a big meeting about my project, where not only did he claim that he never knew that my project was behind but he also had to play “big man” in front of upper management by chewing me out nonstop for an hour. I was removed from the project. Special wanted to fire me, but my track record was good and my other projects were doing fine so upper management wouldn’t let him.

Special vowed during the big meeting that he would take the project over and fix it. However, after a week of finding out how bad it was, he re-assigned it to a buddy who had never managed a project before. She was in over her head, so after a month she asked me for help and I ended up taking the project back. Special pretended not to notice, and I was still banned from his meetings. I heard that, in his meetings, somehow every project problem was now my fault – even on projects that I was never involved! Finally I got the project done and thought things would get better.

Not! Special had been poisoning my reputation with upper management. The company was reeling from bad management choices (those folks who bought their positions) and decided to have a big layoff. Of course I was on the list to go. During my exit interview, Special admitted that he had sabotaged my projects (to use those resources to bolster his own failing projects) and that he had been blaming me for all kinds of things – and he admitted all this in front of HR! He claimed that I was expendable because another buddy (Willy) was the “future of the company” – I spent at least fifteen hours a week fixing Willy’s mistakes. Special was going to call me later to “buy me a beer to make up for it”! (By the way, I never did get that call.)

The company continued to flounder. They laid off half of the technical staff, and lost 75% of their experience and credentials. Willy quit two weeks later when he found that there was nobody left to fix his mistakes. Special ended up getting demoted before the company eventually went bankrupt. Instead of feeling vindicated, I’m sad because at one time that company held a lot of promise and several good people lost their jobs.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bad Boss Finalist #3 - Extreme Measures

And today we have the story from the third finalist. Don't forget to check back on Friday and vote.

Extreme Measures

The time: September 1994, when IBM was in the throes of the "Gerstner Gutting", and layoffs were rumoured to be on the horizon for even (gasp!) Raleigh.

My second-line manager issued an edict in late August that there would be mandatory meetings on Tuesday, September 6th and Thursday, September 15th - no one would be allowed to take vacation, personal holidays, etc., and if they did they would immediately be given a "four check" (failing) appraisal, regardless of their performance level otherwise. These dates were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

As one of only two Jews in the organization I protested, knowing based on past history that the selection of those dates was not coincidence. The protest was ignored, and when I returned to the office on the 7th I was called into his office for an immediate appraisal.

I exercised the Open Door Policy and went up to the fourth-line manager, who I knew well, and explained what had happened; my second-line was reprimanded for his actions. But while I may have won the battle, he won the war; my name was added to the layoff list at the last moment (his secretary, who had been my father's secretary 25 years before, called me at home late the night before to tell me), and I was one of over 100 people in our organization laid off and escorted out of the building on the 14th.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bad Boss Finalist #2 - Escape From Jane

Here's the story from the second Bad Boss Contest finalist. Feel free to share comments below and come back tomorrow for another story.

Escape From Jane

I was a victim of corporate America for 20 years, where I had a wonderful career inventing new products. As a smart, hardworking, senior scientist and passionate about creativity, I loved my work and was pleased to be providing the world with new outlets for colorful, creative expression.

Managers came and went, each with any number of unique quirks, pluses, and minuses. I adapted to change as it came, focusing my talents, knowledge, and creativity on putting out new products- until about 5 year ago, when I was abruptly transferred to my boss from... well, I’m not sure, but let’s say it became difficult, at best.

Let’s call her “Jane.” She immediately moved me to an offsite team that underutilized my technical abilities, and which suddenly required an average of 2-3 extra unpaid hours of my time daily. I was salaried at 25 hours a week, and was suddenly working an average of 35-40, plus working through lunch. I asked to have my hours officially increased and my benefits covered, but Jane adamantly denied my request and insisted that I should not discuss this with HR lest I look bad.

I continued to do all I could, and later was brought back to the labs. There was a new corporate drive to segue to platform management of products, and the technical and marketing leaders were all scratching their heads wondering what else our company could do. Jane came to me, asked me to stop all project work, and instead to dedicate 100% of the next several months gathering and outlining all possible new product and platform ideas. I researched the market exhaustively, and presented her with 4 thorough documents, each with tens of pages of outlines. I also copied the potential new product document to my old R&D manager, as well as to several of the key marketing managers. Suddenly, there were 1000’s of ideas flowing freely, and the company was reorganized to begin implementing many of the new directions I had originated.

Meanwhile, whenever she wanted something, Jane would use fear and authoritative tactics. Once, she waved a binder at me, saying, “I have one of these on everyone and I can get you or anyone else fired at any time.”

That year, my review was mostly positive, but the depth of the background work I had done for her was minimized. Further, I was dinged for getting few new products to market. The breaking straw was when I questioned Jane as to why she wrote that I was “Not a team player.” We discussed this for about 10 minutes, but she couldn’t give a single concrete example, saying only, “Everyone knows it.” The following day, I told her I took her feedback seriously, and asked her to either remove the text or to please let me know what I had done or how I could improve. Jane became exasperated with me, stood up with eyes flaming, banging both fists to the desk, hovering over her desk and finger wagging towards me, forcefully saying, “Look! I got it on my review, so you’re getting it on yours!”

Whew! Ok... So that’s how it was. I left that day wanting to quit, and contemplating my options. In our organization, going to HR generally did more harm than good; I had heard plenty of stories of people who had legitimately approached HR to resolve a problem, only to be let go or looked down upon thereafter. So, I sought my mentor for suggestions, feeling like I couldn’t possibly work for this woman anymore. He suggested I ask the other manager if he’d consider taking me back into his group, since there was an opening.

I did, he wanted me, and that worked out well for 2 years. Jane was promoted shortly after for her excellent work on new product and platform direction. A year ago, she was promoted to Director of R&D, and my boss reported to her. A few months later, with a new CEO on board and a “realignment,” I was permanently laid off. Those still working under her tell me they are all in constant fear and rumor she’s having an affair with her boss...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bad Boss Finalist #1 - No Men Allowed

It is officially Bad Boss Week!

Not surprisingly, there are some bad bad bosses out there. I have selected four finalists. Their stories will run Monday through Thursday in no particular order. Don't worry if you don't check back every day, you can always review them later. But do come back on Friday so you can help choose the winner!

Because each of the finalists has chosen to remain anonymous, I have given each of the entries a title so we can distinguish them. The titles are purely my choice so please don't allow them to sway your vote.

Thanks to everyone who entered their stories. Just about everyone who entered noted that it was therapeutic to write their stories. Even if you didn't enter, you might want to try it!

Feel free to share comments on these stories and commiserate with the writers.

Here we go with the first finalist story:

No Men Allowed

I was employed by a rather large corporation for 25 years. Most of that time I held supervisory positions in two departments. The latter was in the Sales department. I was approached by the manager of the Marketing Research department to supervise the Marketing Information Systems group. At the same time, someone new to the company was hired to supervise the Marketing group of the department. After two weeks in my new position, the person that hired us resigned from the company. Even though I had over 20 years with the company, I did not have direct marketing experience and the company decided to promote the newly hired marketing supervisor as the manager.

That is when the trouble began. It was apparent that the new manager was a 'ladder climber' and was going to do everything she could to make it to the executive level of the organization no matter who she stepped on in the process. As the only man in an all female department, I was an easy target for her. I was a long-term employee that was popular and well respected with everyone in the department and many within the company. My performance reviews ranged from very good to excellent over 25 years. As a new employee, her management style alienated many people. She tried everything to discredit me: moving me from an office and into a cube, verbally attacking me in front of others and rejecting some of my work because it was not to her liking.

One day I prepared a letter to one of our clients and submitted it to her for approval (everything had to have her approval). She waited a day or two to even look at it. She stormed over to my desk, threw the letter (with red marks all over it like a graded paper) at me and said, "Write something that someone can understand", and walked away. One of my subordinates was also responsible for writing this same kind of letter. After the dust had settled I told my subordinate to take my letter as-is, put her name on it and send it to the manager for approval. It not only was returned to her immediately, but it had a post-it note on it that said "Nice job!!"

The final straw for me is when she proceeded to read a list of 'male-bashing jokes at a staff meeting as "the lighter side" of the meeting. I found them to be rather offensive and reported her to the Sales Director. Shortly thereafter, I was fired for "unsatisfactory performance".

It took 3 years, an EEO complaint and a lawsuit, to settle with the company. I was hired back with full benefits and she eventually 'resigned'.... well below the first rung of the corporate ladder.