Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Three

I've gotten better as an engineer and as a manager and leader over the last 20 years or so, I hope.  There are lessons I can point to having learned that have been material in the last year, and the year before that, etc, but there are three major, "life was different before I figured this out" lessons that have left an indelible impression on me, and materially changed the way I look at doing my job.

Every once in a while, when the moment calls for it, I share one of these lessons with someone.  I realized at some point it might be better to just write them down once and share the blog post.  So here they are, in no particular order of importance.

Being Right

Back around 1997 or thereabouts my boss sent me to the Center for Creative Leadership's Leadership Development Program.  It was a great program overall, but one particular exercise sticks with me to this day.  In this exercise, we were supposed to learn the value of synergy ("the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.").  

The exercise was simple.  We were given a puzzle: After an earthquake, what is the right sequence of events to deal with the aftermath if you're in an office building (think "turn off gas," "evacuate," "find missing colleagues, etc").  There were 19 steps, and a canonically right order (as provided by the Red Cross) that we weren't aware of.  If you order these steps, you can then evaluate correctness by looking at the sum of the absolute difference between where you ordered a step and where it should have been.  For example:
If the right order for A, B, C is
1 C

2 A
3 B

And you ordered them
1 B
2 C
3 A

A: Should have been 2, you put 3, so that's a distance from correctness of 1
B: Should have been 3, you put 1, so that's a distance from correctness of 2
C: should have been 1, you put 2, so that's a distance from correctness of 1
Total distance: 4

Ideal, minimum distance, is 0.

So the exercise was simple: come up with your own, individual, answer to the puzzle.  Then, get together as a group and come up with the group answer to the puzzle.  The distance between the best individual answer to the puzzle and the group's answer to the puzzle was the efficacy of synergy within the group -- ideally, synergy would result in a group answer that's materially better than the best individual within that group had come up with.  

I was a relatively fresh manager at that point.  I came up with my own individual answer, then joined the group discussion to come up with the group answer.  I found the group's answer to be pretty different from my own, and tried to help them understand why they were wrong, but didn't make much headway.  I remember at some point someone telling me "Roy, you're looking at this like an engineer," and responding (I think somewhat loudly) "God damn it, of course I am.  That's what I am. Take advantage of that.

After the group answers were created, we were given the 'answer key' so we could calculate the individual distances from correctness and the group's distance from correctness and look at, essentially, our synergy scores.

And here's where the fun comes in:
A. My group had the largest negative distance between the group answer and the best individual answer (in other words, the best individual answer was more better (with my apologies to the English language) than the group's answer than any other group); 
B. I was literally the only person in the room who got a perfect individual answer.  

In other words: The only person in the room who got the answer perfect was me.  And I was utterly ineffective at communicating with my team and actually helping my team take advantage from this.  It was a shameful failure, and one I carry to this day as a lesson.

Because here's what I got from this:

You may be smart.  You may be right.  Inevitably there will be a point in your life that you are the only right person in the room.  And being right is a booby prize.  It's useless.  Worse, if you're right then you have a holy duty to your group, to these people you're committed to helping succeed, to be persuasive, to do whatever you need to do to make sure they see it. 

Lesson: Being right and later saying "I told you so" is you failing.

On the Importance of Keeping Horses Hydrated

Amusingly while I was taking the above course, I was dealing with a performance problem at work.  One of my more junior people, who'd had a spotty track record, had done some bad things.  Maybe not terminal, but definitely "We Need To Have a Talk About Your Future."  In order to stem the bleeding, I had a phone call with him and told him "Listen, this is a big deal, but I want to deal with this in person, and figure out with you how we recover.  Take the rest of the week off, don't work, don't worry about this as PTO, I'll cover it, and we'll talk on Monday when I'm back."  

The next day, he dialed into a conference call at work and participated.  Poorly.  

I was pissed off, and confused.  I mean ... what the hell?

I was having dinner with another LDP participant that night and shared my situation with him, and he told me "Listen, you can't actually make people do good work, or stop people from doing bad work.  All you can do is set context and enforce consequences.  The rest is up to them."

This is true, of course, not just with people reporting to me.

Lesson:  I can't make my reports, or boss, or my boss's boss, or my peers, or my CEO, do good work or not do bad work.  All I can do is effectively communicate, and then set and enforce consequences.  

Context, Not Control

Years later -- January, 2009, to be specific -- I took another leadership class.  This was Rapport Leadership's Leadership Breakthrough One course (I'm rather less enthusiastic at recommending RLI's courses than I am at recommending CCL's courses for $reasons).  Their courses have a certain weird almost cultish flavor and are run a bit like how I imagine boot camp might run.  If anyone in the class was a minute late to class, this was a pretty awful and noteworthy thing, for example; also, there was a lot of yelling.  

When the rules were established (e.g. the aforementioned "nobody's late" rule), they suggested that the group set up someone who'd pay attention to the time and try to get the group in on time.  I'm a timely sort of fellow so I volunteered.  

This was an awful experience.  The next day or so, I managed to alienate most of my classmates and was somewhat ineffective to boot.  Tensions were rising, people were getting annoyed, I was getting angry.  

And then at some point I gave up.  I sat down with my colleagues and said something like "listen, I've been trying to make you do something you're clearly not all that interested in doing, at least the way I've been trying to make you do it, because you're not doing it.  And it's pissing you off, and it's pissing me off.  So I'm going to stop doing it.  It doesn't work.  I want to help you to do whatever it is you want to do, in whatever way you want to be helped.  If you want something from me, I'm here, and I'll do it.  Otherwise ... it's OK too.  And sorry for being an ass over the last day."

And things immediately changed, and we started working as a group.  And we stopped being late, and I stopped feeling like the asshole who's making people do shit they don't want to do.

Lesson: Stop.  Listen.  Help people with what they want, how they want.  Don't force it -- it doesn't work.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sweaters, Yarn, and Companies

Think for a moment about yarn.

Wikipedia will tell you that "Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibres" which if you think about for a moment will lead you to the conclusion that if you knit with a ball of yarn, in some respects by the time you are at the end of that yarn there's really no part in that yarn that was there when you started.  There's an illusion of continuity, because at any given moment in time you're knitting with a bunch of fibres and you don't really notice as one fibre ends and another begins, even after all the fibres with which you started have ended and you're knitting with fibres you hadn't even imagined when you started.

It's even better when you think about knitting any item (say, an amazing Bojack Horseman sweater).  because even if you wanted to use just one color, chances are your skein of yarn is not nearly long enough and so you'll have to use another skein or two, and splice them in with your first one, probably using spit.  Which means that not only is the yarn within each skein you're using not really the yarn you started with, the skein you're using at the end of the sweater isn't the one you started with, and the whole thing just sort of looks the same, and held together by friction and spit.

Friction and spit.  The similarity to company culture is obvious, right? :)

I was having lunch recently with a coworker who after six years had left our company.  We were talking about some of the ways our company had changed in these six years (a forever in tech company terms), and was likely to change in the future.  In thinking about some of the influential people with whom we work, he asked "How will things be after Alice* leaves? Or Bob*?"

And that's when I thought of yarn, and the useful illusion of continuity.

Alice will one day leave; so will Bob.  Each fiber in the yarn that is this culture ends at some point.  And if the frequency of departures is low enough, in the end little of this will make a difference and the yarn will be unaffected by these departures.  Over time it will change, not in discrete shifts, but (probably) more gradually, perhaps even unnoticed.

This is good news and bad.  The good news is that a certain (high enough) size and (low enough) turnover rate, we can be less concerned about the impact of any given person leaving on the overall culture; the bad is that the changes above are harder to notice than the big, "as of today we've implemented stack ranking" sort of traumatic changes, and it's a little harder to notice if we're going in the right direction (irrespective of the fact that the Boiling Frog anecdote is factually incorrect, it's still a useful metaphor).

As someone who's interested in having this culture go in a certain direction -- and ideally continue to go in that certain direction after he departs, this yarn metaphor helps in one other way.  If all of us are nothing but fibres in this yarn of which we are composed, we can see our role not simply as adding to the strength of the yarn, but also to its color; and if we "bleed" our values onto the fibres near us, then these fibres will continue to be hued by their interaction with us after we leave.  

As legacies go, it's not a bad one.

* Fictional names

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Failure of Us

[ As always: Not speaking for my company ]

A long, long time ago, in 2011 in my first 2-3 months or so in Engineering after moving over from IT in this company, I had to solve a technical problem.  In an example of Yak Shaving, this ended up involving building a Python library to talk to a security service here, so I ended up finding the engineer responsible for that service and working with him a day or two to get my Python library working.  We worked together for those two days while he dropped whatever he had been doing originally, without checking with his boss, and didn't stop until we were both satisfied my library was done.  That engineer, by the way, is Jay Zarfoss, who is still one of my favorite human beings here.

That happened, I believe, because when I came to Jay and asked for his help, he thought of me as part of the group that he loosely labeled as "us."  And when one of "us" needs something, the rest of us band together to get it done.  He didn't have to look at me that way -- he could have also seen me as someone from Cloud Solutions (a different team from his own), or a Python developer (a different language from his own), or a myriad of other "not Us" orientations.

My history here is replete with such experiences with other engineers, facilities people, purchasing people, hell even lawyers.

Today, as I was talking to some people about a (so far, we haven't given up on it) failed collaboration between one of my teams and another team, it struck me that this failure was a failure of Us.  The engineers on the ground were bright and well-intentioned (I'm biased -- I hired one of them, and recruited the heck out of the other one to come work here), but in the end fell into a work mode that while thankfully not adversarial, still ended up being an artificially distant one, one where they took on different roles -- one a customer, one a service provider -- that created distance and a lack of shared vision and intimacy.

We know already that having an "us vs them" mentality develop in an organization is probably always bad.  I'm coming to see the mere "us vs not us" mentality -- a far less obviously bad mentality, with fewer alarms and red flashing lights tied to it -- as a subtly corrosive influence on the way we think and operate.  This is a hard shift for me -- one of the ways I've been successful is being passionate (to the point of annoying peers in some cases) about my customers, their experience, and their needs.  Giving up on the idea of "customers" to simply think of "us" -- my peers, my coworkers, this group of people of which I am a part -- is odd and uncomfortable.  Ironically, I'm doing it at the same time that I worry that as companies get bigger, one of the consistent natural scaling pain points is around how to maintain Us, and correspondingly how to notice the failure of Us and remedy it.

From a technology and collaboration on a goal together, the difference in context is clear to me: It's the difference between "What do you need?" and "What should we do?" It's the next step beyond not throwing things over the wall -- it's not even make sure that  people get what they need from you, and it's good, it's moving away from "giving people something" completely.

From a relationship and communication perspective, I think it comes down to striving to consistently lower the bar to communication and -- stay with me, this may be a bit confusing for a moment -- being ever-vigilant about the trivial little annoyances the people we work with create, and developing an ever-decreasing tolerance of them.

Wait, what?

I can't think of any bad relationships I have at work, but I can think of some astoundingly good ones.  And I find that the astoundingly good ones are characterized by such open communication that we tend to deal with relatively small problems whereas in less intimate relationships we might let them go.  Today was a great example -- one of my favorite people gave a public presentation where he was going to characterize my team's stance on a topic.  We chatted about it, and were on the same page.  In the presentation, he described my team's stance and said "this might sound a little more reactive [than other teams], maybe it is."  That was at 1:18pm.  This is our chat history:

me, 1:19pm
"This sounds a little more reactive, maybe it is"
That ... didn't feel good.
(your characterization of [my team]'s posture with regards to [topic])
[he was still presenting for another 20 minutes]
him, 1:43pm:
@#%.  I'm sorry about that - I see how that sounded.  I meant it's mostly reactive at this point since you already did the work to make it work... which is... actually... a huge win already.  I meant that to be a positive thing, but it totally sounded negative.  !@%.
me, 1:44pm:
No worries.  You did a better job the second time around :)
Just wanted to be transparent.
him, 1:44pm:
I  got myself a little mentally twisted at that point, and was recovering.
You're absolutely right.
me, 1:45pm: 
Thanks for hearing me.
him, 1:45pm:
Of course.  Sorry again for goofing that up.
me, 1:45pm:
No problem.
Great presentation, BTW.
I think you did a great job making it pretty noncontroversial
him, 1:45pm:
Thanks!  :)

Two minutes of talking, and we were done.  And what I left that conversation with was "Yup.  That's one of my favorite coworkers."

There are a myriad other options -- I could have just sat on it, because it was such a trivial little thing.  I could have convened a meeting with him.  I could have tried to give him actionable feedback.  All of those would have been appropriate (there are a few inappropriate options as well, of course).  But none of those feel right when it's Us.  Because when it's Us, all I really need to say is "hey, that hurt."  And I trust him to make it better.

I worry that we'll see Us failing.  I'm going to fight it as hard as I can.  

Because I really love Us.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Quantifying Shield Strength, or "How Happy Am I In My Job?"

A recent discussion in the Rands Leadership Slack of Rands' Shields Down article led to me sharing something with a few other people they thought was useful, so I figured I'd throw it up here so it's more easily shareable.

People who've read my (rather sparse, I know) blog know I'm hugely fond of quantifying ... everything (how fond am I of quantifying things? Turns out I'm 73.8% more likely to quantify unquantifiable qualities than the median of the population![0]).  At some point in my career, somewhere 10-15 years ago, I came up with a scale to assess how happily 'sticky' my current workplace is, also known as "how likely am I to leave right now?" (or, to follow in Rands' metaphor, "how strong are my shields right now?").  Being a 0-5 scale, this has some nice alignment with ratings in my company's systems, but this is but an accident.

The Scale:

5: I'm super-happy at my job.  My best friend could offer me a fantastic job and I'd basically go "meh, call me in a year, maybe I'll be ready then"

4: I'm very happy at my job.  I'm probably unlikely to entertain job offers from strangers.  If a friend contacted me and asked me to look at a particular position, I might do that as a favor, but not because I'm interested in looking elsewhere (that said, at least one job change in my career started off like this -- Andrew Voltmer asked me to interview at Macromedia, and despite being very happy at my current place I went basically as a good will gesture.  After having my butt handed to me by Marc Powell and Eric Thompson in the interview, I remember leaving Macromedia's offices sure of only two things: 1. I didn't get the job; 2. If I'm wrong about (1) I really wanted the job).

3: Sure, I'm willing to talk to people if there's some sort of reasonable position that might be interesting.  I might or might not be actively looking, but if I'm actively looking it's at the "talk to friends and see what's out there" level, not the "actively submitting resumes through automated candidate tracking systems" level.

2: Get me out of here! I'm actively looking for a different position and I'm looking for ... pretty much anything reasonable.  I'd like to leave here soon, damn it, and I'm actively, materially, dissatisfied.

1: Here's my resignation, with some reasonable advance notice (2-4 weeks).  I don't yet have a job, but I need to leave.  I'll figure out the details and where I'm going next later.

0: Here's my resignation.  It's effective immediately.  Don't worry about my stuff, it's already in my car.  This was my last day of work.  We're probably not going to speak with each other again.

No notice? Really?

I'll admit that I've never gotten to 0 (in fact, I've not gone below 3).  I reserve 0, hypothetically, to situations where I've discovered that if I remain at my company I'll be party to conduct that is either illegal or materially inconsistent with my principles and ethics.  

But ... Why?

Why quantify this? Aside for my desire to quantify most things, it's also a reasonable framework for figuring out how interested I am in the various random LinkedIn solicitations I get.  If I'm at 5, or 4, I can save people some time and effort and not engage.  If I'm below 4 ... there might be some value for discussions.  It's also worth being aware when the score changes, and figure out (especially if it goes down) what the reasons for the downgrade are (and whether or not I want to do something about them).

[0] I'm also about 68.2% more likely to make up numbers when I can't find them.

Monday, June 29, 2015

When You're Having Fun

[ In case it isn't obvious: This is my private blog, and this is my private opinion ]

Assuming you don't span two leap years, 2191 days is exactly six years.

In the beginning of June 2009, I was consulting with a company with whom I had previously worked, and had received an offer to rejoin them as a full-time employee.  This company prided itself on treating its employees like family -- it was the sort of place where as long as you tried, and they could find the budget, they'd find a job for you.  I was going to be able to work from anywhere in the country which was particularly attractive because my spouse wanted us to move to Portland.

On Wednesday, June 3, an old friend of mine called me.  He had joined Netflix (the DVD company), and had a UNIX Engineering group reporting to him.  His Engineering customers were talking about moving to the cloud and he was going to need help to figure out how IT could support them well.  On Thursday, June 4, I talked with the hiring manager, who thought the cloud thing would maybe eventually be an interesting thing, but for now really needed help figuring out how UNIX engineering would Automate All The Things[tm].  I had my first round of interviews on June 5, and my second on June 11 (we've gotten faster since then), and got the job offer to join Netflix as I was driving home from the second round.  I signed the offer the day after that, and joined Netflix on June 29, 2009.  Exactly six years ago.

The more things change ...

It's interesting to look at the last six years and see what's changed and what has remained the same.  From a cultural perspective, what has remained the same tells an incredible story -- Purchasing still requires no approvals (I remember when as a UNIX engineer I was placing $200K orders every other week, at some point our Purchasing people asked if my boss was aware of all my purchases; I asked them if they'd like to see me cc him on my orders, just as an FYI, and they said that'd be nice, though obviously not required).  My work with our InfoSec group is still basically on a volunteer basis (InfoSec doesn't approve anything; I don't need to involve them in my projects; I do so because they help me get my job done better).  Our expense policy is still the same ("act in Netflix's best interests") (though six years ago, managers had to still approve expenses; now they're automatically paid), and our vacations still unmetered.  There are still no formal processes for opening headcount requisitions, and as a hiring manager these days I own my job descriptions, interview panels, and final decision about hiring and firing.

Some things have changed.

When I joined Netflix, my director told me a story to explain the problems IT was dealing with.  The VP of Web Engineering reached out to him and complained, saying "I asked you for eight web servers, and I got eight web servers, all of which were almost exactly alike."  One of the words in that quote should fill you with dread.

When I was in IT, responsible for giving Engineering the resources it needs, it took us forever to provision machines.  I once established a reputation for recklessness when I promised my Engineering customers that I'd get them the ten servers they needed for the PS3 launch in a scant three days.  When they asked, dubiously, whether I was sure I could do it, I told them I was willing to bet my job on it (and was later counseled by both my manager and director that this was an unnecessarily brash statement, given the aggressive timeline).  These days, of course, we provision tens of thousands of servers every day, automatically, quite often without people noticing or doing any work to make this happen.  And they're all exactly the same.

Why am I still here?

Six years, for me, is a huge amount of time.  My average tenure until Netflix has been about 27 months.  More interestingly, if you exclude my longest and shortest stints, the standard deviation of my tenure has been about 2.5 months.  A 2.5 month standard deviation makes for a very narrow band -- at around 2.5 years, I reliably get bored, or annoyed, and move on.

There are various reasons why someone may want to work at Netflix.  We do interesting tech things.  We have a pretty great product.  You get to work with smart people.  You get lots of autonomy.  Having Netflix on your resume makes your next employer incrementally more interested in you.  Netflix pays pretty well.  If you're interested in speaking at conferences, you'll find that's encouraged.  The list goes on.  (Over)simplifying the whole thing, for me it comes down to three kinds of factors: The reasons I want to come to work, the reasons working where I do doesn't frustrate and annoy me, and the reasons why my workplace still wants me to come to work in the morning.

I want to come to work because I've never worked at a company of any material size that treated its employees so humanely, and had humane behavior so ingrained in its culture.  I've also never worked at a company that seems to earn as much revenue per employee (Seriously, check out and compare to others).  I think Netflix is a great case study in how humane corporate cultures are not simply not in conflict with a desire to be incredibly profitable, but in fact aid profitability.  I'm deeply interested in supporting and promoting this idea, both because it makes the American workplace better and because it makes it more likely my next job will be a better fit for me because of it.

Treating people humanely manifests itself in a variety of ways, mostly manifestations of the Freedom and Responsibility culture.  It's things like my boss telling me when I joined Netflix that I shouldn't have to bring my personal equipment to work, and that I should just tell my company what equipment I needed to be effective.  Or how when I asked for a 4K display a few months ago, my desktop support group noted on the ticket that it was not a supported display, so they wanted one as well (rather than gating the request).  Or the fact that when I've had unanticipated family events come up (fun story: I went on a two week vacation in February that, due suddenly finding myself adopting my son, turned into a six week vacation.  My boss was enthusiastic.  I came back to a promotion).  Or the trivial fact that minor computer equipment is in vending machines with no accounting or tracking of what you get whatsoever.  Don't sweat the small stuff.

Treating people humanely also means dealing with terminations humanely.  Not doing the Performance Improvement Plan dance means nobody's going to spend a few months documenting why you're bad at your job, and terminations can be a lot more amicable and decent.  I've had friends terminated from Netflix, and I've heard them rave about that last conversation with my HR business partner.  I've dealt with much, much worse :)

As for not being frustrated and annoyed ... alignment is a magical thing.

Our industry already talks a lot about DevOps, which I'd argue at its heart is about a better alignment between ops and dev people.  It's great.  I love it.  One of the most magical periods of my work at Netflix was when I was an ITOps person and worked closely with an engineering team, including attending their staff meetings and understanding their needs well enough I was able to start responding to their requests with versions of "no, I don't think you want FOO, I think BAR would work better for you.  What do you think?"

But talking about Dev and Ops alignment is only the beginning.  Imagine a workplace where total alignment exists not just between Dev and Ops, but between everyone you work with.

In most workplaces, engineers have a completely different set of priorities from IT, Facilities, HR, or Legal.  And I think that it comes down to the fact that in general, product delivery is all about optimizing something (innovation? customers? income? buzz?) while most of these other groups are all about mitigating or constraining something (cost? risk?).  When two groups, one motivated by maximizing something and the other by minimizing something else, try to work with each other, hilarity ensues.  For very low values of hilarity.

One obvious example of this is HR.  I suspect people become HR professionals for the most honorable of reasons, but in the end HR's mission -- as expressed to me by many HR people in several companies -- is one of risk mitigation.  The biggest risk to the company, from their perspective, comes from employees, in the form of legal action.  Most of the HR groups I've worked with have, explicitly or implicitly, believed their job was to protect the company from its employees.

With such a significant lack of alignment, it's not a surprise most engineers I've known have not worked well with most HR people I've known.  Personally, I've sometimes referred to HR (though not to their faces) as the natural predators of the creative class.

And then there are the HR people with whom I've had the joy to work at Netflix.  I remember figuring out the difference about six months into my tenure -- my HR people's mission is similar to my own -- maximize and enhance the benefit to Netflix.  With alignment of goals comes alignment of action, of context, and of approach.  And suddenly I find myself with an HR and recruiting group I -- for lack of better word -- love.  My recruiters have my back.  My HR business partner cares about my success.  I have a stronger, more trusting, more intimate relationship with my HR people than I've had with most of my managers, ever.  Pure joy.

The same is true for the purchasing people I work with.  And the facilities people I work with, who work tirelessly, and behind the scenes, to help me get my job done.  And, basically, everyone else.  One of these days, I should talk about my work with our lawyers, or Information Security people.  They make me happy.

The last time I left work frustrated by lack of alignment and another group's goals conflicting with my own was ... a long, long time ago.

And, at last, we get to the whole "getting to come to work" part of it all.

When I have direct reports, I'm pretty conscientious about managing them well.  I try to be thoughtful about working well with my peers.

Were I try to try to characterize my relationships with my managers, I'd use phrases like "benign neglect" or "amused tolerance."  They might use phrases like "a pain in the neck," or "has an allergy to authority."  This has sometimes led to career-limiting relationships with my management, which I've usually considered to be part of the cost of doing business.  I am easy to lead, difficult to manage.

And then there's Netflix, where my 2014 360 feedback from my manager included the phrase "Continue challenging me with regular feedback. I receive more actionable feedback from you in a week than I do from others in a year."

And so here I am.  Six years in the same company, though not in the same role.  Having started as a UNIX engineer on the ITOps side, then managing Service Delivery for ITOps, then becoming an engineer in Product Engineering and finally going back to managing a software development group, it's been a pretty diverse set of responsibilities and challenges.  I never imagined I'd be here this long -- I expected to get fired within a year.  I negotiated with my spouse leaving after two (and then renegotiated as we hit the two year mark).

It's hard for me to imagine being here for another six years.  Some day I'll leave.  And I'm pretty sure I know what I'll say on that day.

It's been a hell of a ride.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quantifying Personal Retention Impact: A Mathematical Thought Exercise

When I was promoted to managing the Insight Engineering group at Netflix, my manager sat down with me and said "these are incredibly smart engineers who, generally-speaking, will know what they need to do.  Your first job is to retain them." 

I've generally considered a big part of my job to be a positive impact on the retention of my employees and coworkers.  Prone as I am to quantification, I came up with, and in this blog post propose, an exercise for quantifying retention impact.

Firstly, it's more obvious to rate retention impact from the perspective of recruiting attraction -- you get used to the people you work with, and in most cases you're not making active, daily, decisions about whether or not you want to work with them.  Looking at it from the perspective of whether or not you'd pursue a new job with this person clarifies things a bit.  

So for a given person with whom you work, imagine they've left the company, and you're considering leaving the company to go to another company.  You find out they work in that company and your relationship with them would be the same as the relationship you have with them today -- if they're managing you today, they'd be managing you at this new company; if they're a peer today, they'd be a peer in this new company, etc.  What's your response, on a -3 to +3 scale?

-3: No.  Just no.  I don't care if it's the best job in the world, it isn't worth it if I have to renew this relationship with this person; 
-2: Ugh.  Do I have to? Maybe there are some very significant reasons why I want this job and am willing to undertake the pain of this relationship again, but boy howdy it better be a ludicrously great job;
-1: Oh well.  If the job is decent and I was pretty sure I'd take it anyway, I'm not happy to hear this, but I can live with it; 
0: No impact
+1: Oh cool.  I'm somewhat more inclined to take the job because they're part of the package
+2: Wow.  I'm much more inclined to take the job because I'll get to work with them again.  I'm willing to take some pain to do it; 
+3: Almost irrespective of how bad the rest of the offer is, or how terrible the environment, if I get to work with them again I'll do it! 

Think of the process by which a person p comes up with the answer with respects to you as function R, so R(p) has an output between -3 and 3.  

Firstly, it's useful to look at the value of R(p) for the set of people for whom you are most relevant -- direct reports, peers, manager, etc.  You can then expand to other people -- how about people in other teams? The further out, the smaller the amplitude of the likely answers -- it's unlikely that someone who hasn't worked closely with you would consider you a +3 or even a +2, probably, and for the vast majority of people who work in my company, I'm almost definitely a 0 because they don't know who I am, and it's not hugely relevant to them.  

It's noteworthy, however, that numbers for any given relationship can likely have a bigger negative span than a positive one.  For me, for example, I can't imagine a manager to whom I've ever reported who's a +3 -- the best and brightest, the people I'd love to report to again, are +2s.  However, I can definitely think of managers of mine who are -3; similarly, I was talking with my HR business partner and mentioned to her she's a +2 for me -- I really really love our HR group and find both the group and the individuals in it a big factor in why I'm happy where I work -- but I can't imagine an HR person or HR group being so instrumental so as to be a +3.  At the same time, again, I've worked with HR groups who would definitely be a -3.  

The interesting thing then, of course, is to look at trends for a given group -- e.g. direct reports:

Or peers ...

Or coworkers in general ...

Obviously, while the average may give high-level information, min and max would tell an interesting story (min more than max), and with sufficiently large populations you can start seeing if standard deviations tell an interesting story as well; are there common characteristics to the people who'd most like to work with you again? How about the people who'd least like to work with you again? 

In the end, though, the math is a fun[0] but not necessary part of this.  The interesting and -- arguably -- useful part of this is actually inquiring "how much would this coworker of mine like to work with me again, and what do I want to do about this?"

[0] The value of "fun" is left to the student as an exercise

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

After-Action Report: The Asus PB287 4K Monitor

Sometime about two weeks ago, I mentioned I had asked my desktop group to get me a 4K monitor.  Now that I've been using it for two whole days, I figured I'd say a word or two on this monitor, since I know some other people are considering getting one.

First, the slightly less important stuff:  Thanks, Asus, for including multiple HDMI cables.  Also, thanks for having this thing attached to a monitor stand that tilts, rotates, and moves up and down -- It's a nice enough stand that if I wasn't committed to having everything off my desk (and using a monitor arm), I'd be very tempted to keep it.  Nice call.

More important: HOLY COW LOOK AT THE DESKTOP.  The amount of desktop space available on a 4K monitor is the sort of stuff that makes me -- having had to work on 17" 1028x768 monitors not all that long ago -- giggle madly.

Sure, sometimes in order for something to be easily read by me (remember, old guy with glasses here) I have to increase the font size.  But not always -- for example, right now I'm writing this in whatever the native font size Chrome uses.  I also seem to be able to code well with the standard font size.

Minor downside: In the absence of a Thunderbolt hub, I now have to connect three, rather than two, cables to my laptop -- power, USB, HDMI.  So far it's not a huge drain on my productivity and happiness.  If it becomes such ... well, for one thing, First World Problem[tm].  For another, even if I end up spending another $200 on a Thunderbolt hub, that's still going to land me at $850, about $150 less than the Apple Cinema Display (ACD).

So, final verdict: Is this profoundly, amazingly, materially, better than the ACD? Maybe not.  It's maybe trivially better (for me).  But it's also 2/3 of the price.  What would I get if I was buying a monitor for home? Definitely the Asus PB287 rather than the ACD, any day of the week.  I *heart* this monitor.