How NOT to fire someone

The article

This article is representative of a genre. I will not call it fake news but rather “half news”. And I want to say why. And why it’s dangerous. But note that it’s under the “All the moms” section of USA Today, so every momma bear will have her hackles up to begin with.

The players:

Crystal Fisher – mother
Dawn – her boss
PS Food Mart (aka Folk Oil) – a company with 35 gas stations/convenience stores in the midwest USA.

In summary and at first blush this sounds like the actions of a rogue manager – Dawn – at one of the franchise “outposts” of the company. She didn’t know what she was doing, and it does sound like there was prior history with Crystal, the mother. So she may not even have believed Crystal?

So in part, fault likes with corporate PS Food Mart for not spelling out policy. This manager was clueless and was acting in a fear-driven way. An environment that discourages communication with headquarters only allows for good news (or at worst, business news, good or bad) to flow up. So Dawn may well have thought it was her job to just deal with this, cutting Crystal off to keep her franchise going. Texting is the worst way to communicate during times of crisis; Dawn should have known that her words would both hurt and stick. It is a leap to say that this was the first time the two communicated like this. But it became the final time.

At some places I’ve worked there are unwritten policies about this kind of thing. And at others, full-fledged long-term programs for life’s lingering emergencies. I can recount only a couple people EVER who took advantage and overstayed their leave.

Also, in my experience, despite official corporate communication, the firing of Dawn could be less about actual compassion or care for employees as a CYA move to eliminate lawsuits or simple PR to keep PS Food Mart/Folk Oil from looking bad. Individuals don’t matter in those cases; it’s all about the perspective of the public. Or PS Food Mart might indeed care and now establish policy. We won’t know because of the quick burn of the news.

Now, also, Dawn may indeed just been an uncaring despot, which the article would inspire. But that’s NOT a given. If true, a boss that pulls the plug on mourning, care for one’s loved ones or disability-driven absence does not deserve to lead people; that person simply has too much to learn. If that person’s manager allows that behavior, s/he will sacrifice a whole lot of good people who will either leave or just become less productive because who wants to work for someone who hasn’t got your back?

But USA Today/New York Post and any other media company reporting on this didn’t care about balancing things; they only wanted viral circulation, which makes them more money. At people’s expense. Dawn may well be a good manager who did her uninformed best, but good luck finding work now.

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Authoritarianism and the tribes

First, my take on things – Donald Trump’s communications are juvenile and narcissistic. He is not alone in his use of fear to gain and keep in power. He has used xenophobia to get elected, those on the left have used plutophobia. The hatred directed towards him does not come from a vacuum, but it has almost completely ruined what might otherwise be a reasoned, effective platform in opposition. I do not hate the man myself; his job as President is neither without merit nor failure.

This video was made to resist him and those like him. As such, it cannot be accurate or fair; it doesn’t WANT to be. Here are its points with some balance:

1. Controlling the free press – neither the left nor right press is free at this time. The left is blindly driven by hatred for one man and is practicing creative writing which it will continue to unless and until it finds some accusation, some conspiracy that has actual evidence that sticks and it achieves its goal of getting the man out of power. It is not interested in the truth, not now. On the right is an equally misdirected group bent on attack ITS political foes at the expense of the truth. Editorials have been masquerading as front page news for a long time now but people don’t seem to know or care about the difference.

2. Blaming minorities – the right blames the poor minorities, the left blames the rich minorities. Each has a playbook, both are inaccurate and intentionally misleading so as to keep the crowd in contempt disguised as unity. It works because of the pain of the masses, not because of the power-madness of a despot. The spectacular yet spotty crimes committed by individuals within the group being hated are generalized towards the whole group. Arabs are all terrorists, rich people are all exploitative misers. No one is going to be concerned about starving, disenfranchised rich people, but the tribal dynamics are the same.

Using force against protesters on the part of the feds and under the direction of the tyrant just hasn’t happened. It is so fanciful to play the Hitler/Nazi card but no, this isn’t that. It just isn’t.

3. Reading political defunding as way to gain control is fanciful. For the right’s dismissal of judges and watchdog groups – the former of which happens no matter who is in power – the left declares war on military spending. One could read diabolical motives into both. If one had time to waste. I do not think there is any current lack of investigation of internal activity. Just lack of results.

4. Loyalty over competence? All leaders need both so the dichotomy is contrived. But then the whole scare nature of the video has to do that, make parallels with real tyrants to get motivate its tribe.

5. Elections that have no chance of bringing change? Sounds like a frontal attack on the system to me.

6. Nonviolent resistance – all you want. Good idea. For those protesting pipelines, actions against immigrants or abortions or same-sex marriage. If there is violence, it comes from as many sides as the protests.

7. The ACLU is a good idea; but it has become selective in what civil liberties it fights for.

Cash cow decline

A cash cow is a product, service or technology which is past its prime. Its owners (which may in fact change causing it to go into cash cow status) have decided it is no longer worth investment but instead will only reap the payments made by its users for licensing and support revenues. So, it is dead as a product, but alive as a passive source of revenue. Part of the end-of-life planning is to acknowledge that revenues will decline as customers move on to greener pastures and likewise, internal investment in employees working on the technology will also decline as they are laid off, forced into retirement or otherwise disbanded.

 cow GIF

As you might guess, working on a dying product like this is less-than-desirable work. It’s not the stuff of resume building, for sure. You get type cast and obsolesced along with what you’re working on. It’s not fair, but it is business. And life.

Now, I’ve been in that situation. For. Years. I wanted to jot down some thoughts on how to keep from feeling futility and even despair:

They want you to leave. When they want you to leave. A friend of mine said this the other day and both of us fell into the rage you get when you feel grossly manipulated. But later, I asked myself if that rage was justified? The business that employs us can only do so because of money coming in. When that money wanes, so does employment. And though it’s not pleasant to see the end of the road, it was always an agreement. I could leave any time I wanted, and indeed I may. So chill on the manipulation story; it’s a two-way street.

 fear GIF

We work for a bunch of scared idiots. Two things there: fear and incompetence. The adage of not knowing what it’s like till you walk in another’s shoes applies strongly to the incompetence part. What I would do with my partial knowledge of the real climate and business trends and bravado in spending someone else’s money has very little to do with reality. I do believe the fear part is very real; it’s cultural and it tends to increases as you go up the ladder, unfortunately. As I’ve said to many – if you are solely concerned with what you look like, you will eventually look awful. Fear’s crippling grip can freeze ideas upon inception. But as an individual don’t let it seep inside. There is a seed of inspiration, an insistence on excellence that can still reign. And it must.

 cows GIF

It’s just monkey work. I have had the suspicious sense, with evidence, that there are those in the most senior management who think me and my colleagues are over-employed and overpaid simians. So they try, utterly unsuccessfully, to offshore our jobs and make us obsolete in every way they can. They try equally hard to supplant the product we work on with even worse results. To them, keeping the cash cow chewing its cud is just busy work; anyone can do it. However much of that is imagined loathing, it’s a hideous lie. The way to prove it wrong is to do elegant, excellent work, which can be done in the most lowly circumstances, it turns out. Problem determination, cost savings and system reliability are disciplines that have spawned deep and valuable innovation. So go there, read up on how people have solved the thorny problems that face you, even in service of keeping the cow from being tipped in the middle of the night. Monkeys are pretty good at swinging from trees it turns out.

 movies freedom braveheart mel gibson GIF

Those other guys just don’t get it. I’m talking about internal competition. Where I work, I’ve accurately typified the organizational culture as warring city states (if our customers only knew!!). As in feudal times, people are loyal to their locale. And fight with the others. When business is on the downswing, this means you can actually be motivated by seeing the other group get laid off and disbanded, but not your own. So, be sure to call that a sick and evil motivator, in all its gradients. Get over suspicion – and your suspicion is the only one you can affect. Mix with people from the other city. You may not think you need each other, but if you can build a bridge you’ve actually changed the culture.

We have to get back to the old days. No we don’t. And we can’t anyway. Life goes one way – forward. And if you don’t go with it, you will be dragged. Which is unpleasant. It’s okay, even necessary to reminisce. Learn from, but don’t yearn for the past. Because as bad as a dying cash cow is, there will always, ALWAYS be new cattle to take its place. That’s the circle of life; if it bothers you, you really have no option but getting over it.

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So yeah, it’s not that bad. And its been a good ride. Gratitude is an infinitely more noble sentiment than complaining. I’m thankful; or at least try to be.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Nothing “senseless” about it

I don’t like war. But when it happens, it doesn’t matter what I like. And if I dub an act of violence “senseless” when it makes perfect sense in war, I practice self-deceit.

We’re watching war, like it or not. We’re at war, like it or not. We have a tough time saying that word “war” because a) the events don’t fit our patterns of territorial acquisition – though they really do – and b) our very neighbors can be turned into the enemy without our knowing. And let’s be sure we fully understand the murderous antipathy that happens in b); body counts tell a vivid story of hatred.

The root of Islamic terrorism is a mix of greed, poverty and broken, missing or dysfunctional government. I don’t mean American or European government, but that in the Middle East from where most jihadists hail. They find Quranic verses to justify all manner of depravity and slaughter. But they recruit those who calculate they have little to lose in life and yearn to be heroes of something. And indeed they do not.

jihadpic

Why then are the targets America and Europe? It’s because those nations are seen – somewhat accurately – as those with interests that prop up corrupt and oppressive regimes while vaunting an un-Islamic culture. Jihad is waged against infidels – those of another belief system. But it’s more than that internally. It’s a tribal-based chauvinism directed against those who have shamed the tribe. And there is no statute of limitations on such feelings of shame – the nations of Europe and America are called Crusaders due to a long, selective memory (indeed there was no America yet).

It is of interest that if America and Europe stopped consuming Mideast oil that China and Russia would continue – propping up those same leaders.

As important as any of those sentiments are, there is one that is greater. It is so strong that bitter Muslim enemies unite behind it. Of course I mean resentment towards the democratic state of Israel. Its Jewish identity offends Muslims. The tragic relations between Arabs and Jews have created a permanent state of war. Of course, who but the Europeans and Americans are those who support Israel? Thus, the lumping. And again, not inaccurate.  Though to emphasize the good sense in supporting Israel – it remains one of the only nations in the Middle East where an Arab (yes Arab!) can vote.

But there’s no getting around it – Western Civilization, for all its flaws and injustices – stands opposed to the caliphates, monarchies and oligarchies of the Middle East. And I have no issue with citing its evolved superiority. I don’t say that proudly because there is no human history without systemic crimes and injustices. But the means in place to address those are further along in the West.

It’s obvious that this war cannot be fought conventionally. George W. Bush said that after 9/11 but no one has gone deeper into strategy beyond better military options. I am no pacifist in this conflict, but if one leads with guns one or uses only guns, then it will only enforce the hatred, ironically because our guns are better than theirs.

So, what to do? There are thousands of lists out there, so here’s number 4903:

  1. Love a Muslim. It is absolutely true that most Muslims are NOT jihadists. They don’t even bite. They need to be heard, understood and loved.
  2. Nix the tribe. Individuals are much more effective to engage with than armies. And I don’t even mean the armies with guns. If I want another to surrender his/her preconceptions, I should surrender mine. Because most of them did not come from me in the first place.
  3. His name is Jesus.  The Crusaders got it wrong.  Very wrong.  This is not at odds with “nix the tribe” because Jesus followers are from every tribe.  He didn’t conquer by force, he did so by dying, loving those who were killing him.  And yes, that’s more powerful than suicide belts.
  4. Work and support justice for the poor. Very few charities get the money to the problem. Find one. Support it. Raise a child.
  5. Become energy independent. Not only in the name of being green, or more natural but because Mideast oil is too valuable to the whole world.
  6. Advocate for better Israeli/Arab relations. It’s a bitter past but not all Arab people are united in the desire to destroy Israel. Nor are all Israelis hateful of Arabs. There has to be middle ground to find here. Support those who seek to find and walk on it.
  7. Pray. Doubtless there are those who are decidedly non- or even anti-spiritual reading this. That’s okay, we’ll pray for you too. These problems are bigger than us all, so I have no problem promoting them to One who can actually help.
  8. Fight and support the fight. Yes this includes supporting the military forces of the West, but it’s also a cultural and moral fight. Learn the truth and tell it – even if it indicts our side and thus pollutes our cause. Truth wins the war.

We have a mess on our hands. Doing nothing is not an option. Jihadis want us dead. It’s a war.

The lure and peril of quick-fix

I recently was called into a meeting to review an alternate approach to a technical problem I knew very well. The presenters smiled a lot, joked incessantly with one another (though not with their audience) and showed how their approach would deliver a solution faster than another other way. As I spoke with my management friends afterward, I didn’t even have to prompt their reactions. “It won’t work, not at scale” and “I don’t see this working” came from those who are not paid to be technically savvy.

Those reactions were right. And though the work is only beginning, the approach is not sound and is destined to known dysfunction and hand-waving, compromised workmanship. I don’t say that from an envious heart of “not invented here” but from the perspective of one who’s seen too much and too many fail for the same reasons.

QuickFixEgg

The deep lure of the quick-fix has repeatedly astounded me. In the corporate world, it happens when those in power don’t understand the work it takes to produce goods and services and develop suspicion based upon reports of others who don’t understand the work. They come to the conclusion that they are over-paying and over-indulging their most productive workers.

But quick-fix can happen any time that impatience is adopted. Any group or leader can fall prey. Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign was wildly successful because it attacked procrastination. What other footwear would you buy to attack your complacency? But projecting complacency, inefficiency and practical waste onto those who work hard and with integrity is misinformed.

Despite all the spin and Teflon-coating on those responsible yet not accountable, a quick-fix is very often disastrous.

This is not to say it’s easy to fight. Those prone to it want to be process heroes. And there is legitimate process evolution to be done. But it’s also the job of those who know quick-fix when they see it and are called to speak up. Here are some alternatives to offer:

  1. Planning and design. Eisenhower said “Plans are worthless but planning is everything” – meaning that contingencies can’t possibly be known beforehand but they can all be considered beforehand. An obvious and usually required phase of any project, but overlooked or partially done for quick-fix, the need to to brainstorm, write down and bat around the details of how the desired goals will be met is indispensable. The battle for doing planning/design is a hill to die on, truly.
  2. Do it right – quickly. Are there ways to correctly accomplish the task that get you and those waiting for you to the goal faster than traditional means. Nine women can’t have a baby in a month, but they can have nine babies in nine months. And that’s just citing parallel labor (intentional pun). A solid antidote to quick-fix is innovative process. Tools and technique, all that.
  3. Do it right – in phases. Software, even that in the Cloud, has the notion of releases or versions. For sure there is a bare minimum of what is viable – call that Release 1, which is never very useful. So you do need something that is standing, even on crutches, which meets impatient demands. But after that, amendments and replacements are less noticed but vital. You can even correct go-faster mistakes. Caveat – this does require buy-in from the powers that be who will be tempted to declare “all done” and move you on to other things before you are really “all done” – to their own discredit and at their own cost.
  4. Patience. When people cite their goals in their field of endeavor there is an implicit time line. And there is inherent impatience with the project not meeting the time goals. Therefore, impatience is highly valued trait in leadership. Now, the time aspect is not imagined – it’s very real. Whether I am working with people, machines or markets, there are such a things as “late”, “very late” and “too late”. That said, the virtue of “early”, “under budget” or even “on time” is often overblown. It is the folly of quick-fix leaders to blow that trumpet only and never consider – or be called to account – for the long-term effects of what they have produced. It’s a ploy, and one that sacrifices value for appearance. So, a balance needs to be struck here and doing a job right needs to be tempered by doing it quickly.

This is not a call for sloth or unionized slowdowns or overarching process. And sometimes quick-fix is the way to go; it’s important to be real about that.

But the time to oppose and suggest alternatives to a quick-fix approach is earlier than later. Citing the past and asking hard questions.

It’s a good fight to have.

Candidates and leaders

The presidential election season is at its hottest point right now and it won’t cool off until a POTUS is elected in November. I have puzzled for a long time at my inability to embrace candidates. Listening to the diatribes of rabid fans from the left of right – and I am most delighted to have dear friends from both persuasions – has only made me more alienated.

It’s not so much with the process – the fire of political rhetoric both positive and negative has its place – but with the actual field of candidates we have this year. And .. well, most election years. It always seems that in the end I am voting for the lesser of two evils. There hasn’t been a candidate I would endorse for decades. Part of that is because I’m not an institution like a newspaper or trade union and I don’t have to endorse anyone. And part of it is that I just don’t align with the two party approach. But even that is not the whole story as I’ll talk about below.

So, in the first place, we have the issues that everyone crows about. The voting public is asked to fit into 2 groups – conservative (Republican) and liberal (Democrat). Using just three categories of stances one might have on the issues and allowing for only three view on those issues (I insist there is a moderate place in each category), we have a 9 entry table:

basicpoliticalspectrum

The “International” category includes things like foreign relations, immigration, etc., though most would include some of that in “Social”. My points are 2:

  1. This is a very simple picture of the true spectrum.
  2. If one fits into a solid conservative or liberal stance everywhere, there is still no candidate that does and that is a statistical rarity.

But I don’t even think an issues-based affinity works to choose a Commander-in-Chief. What I want, and what I think the nation needs, is a leader.  The qualities of a leader are different from those of a candidate who can draw a crowd and go toe to toe in a debate.  Leaders do that too, but they do much, much more.  Here are some qualities that show what I mean:

  1. Inclusion over issues – The ability to unite and inspire even ones ideological foes is a rare talent, and even more rare among presidential candidates. The president heads up only 1 branch of a three branch government. An issues-only presidency makes for legislative gridlock and aggressive judicial review. And this applies to the leading the American people, because crisis – and there will be that – requires it.
  2. Compassion at the core – While the left would lay claim to this point; I don’t mean it that way. The ability to hear out others and address their concerns with what are overriding concerns on your part matters. People are going to disagree, for lots of reasons. How someone treats his/her detractors speaks volume to that person’s character, and fit for the job. An inability to rise above vitriolic, ad hominem rhetoric disqualifies any leader.
  3. Courage to be unique – More than fitting a party’s platform, or the patterns of any tribe, the best presidents have convictions informed by higher sources. As a person of faith, I admire those who know that the parties do not fit with what they know to be true. Self- and tribal-interest mar righteousness, pulling its actions to into harmful directions. A leader with courage to be him/herself will receive accusations of not being strong-enough and others of being oppressive and abusing power. When both of those happen, we have a president.

 

I know I’m not alone in my reticence about this year’s candidates. And I know even writing this will alienate those who have been polarized. My goal is not that, but to help us all understand what a real leader is.

 

 

 

Cancelled

The business world is unpredictable. I have learned over many iterations and through the depths of devastation NOT to cement my hopes to promises of management and plan my future according to their word. When I do, I will almost invariably find myself awash in the emotional muck of betrayal, futility and just fatigue.

The problem is that I want to be passionate about my work. It has to matter to me to do it right, with excellence and diligence. I want to finish the job. And I’m good at what I do. That’s not a boast; it’s the testimony of those who regularly review and evaluate my “performance”.

So it happened again.

Cancelled.

canceled

The cycle goes like this:

  1. A project starts up, designs happen, maybe a prototype.
  2. Preliminary results roll in and they are somewhere between auspicious and stellar.
  3. The meat of the project gets underway. People work hard, together and intermediate results are produced.
  4. Management reviews the project or there is a business event or shift.
  5. The project is cancelled.

Now, I’ve been on projects that are canceled earlier than point e). And this most recent cancellation was after point b).

And most painful were those project canceled who had lasted 2-5 years before point d).

I had someone once tell me to “just get over it” and that stung almost as much as the cancellation. You don’t just turn your passion off like a switch.

They say it’s not failure; that 70% of all projects never finish. You can imagine how much that helps.

Now it is a business fact that management loses confidence if a deliverable is not produced in months and not years. They are not paid to be patient or risk-tolerant.

In engineering it’s supposed to be adult and well-adjusted to just produce. Anything. For any amount of time. Dispassionately. Without attachments or emotions.

I can’t do that. Or I won’t. And I don’t really care which it is. It’s not me.

So where do I go when this happens? I go to loving people; it’s all that keeps going.

  • There will be a new team with people I can love, encourage and do stuff with. I don’t know how long it will last but the people are what matter, not the work. No matter what management says.
  • I will love management. Those people live in fear and under constant criticism. They don’t need more from me. It’s not that I won’t speak my mind – they also need to know they don’t manage robots.
  • I will love my wife, my family, my friends and my church. They are always there for me and .. they are a big reason I go to work in the first place.
  • I will love my work. Picking up the pieces, assessing what I’ve learned, I will dare to try again. In smaller places. Even unapproved ones. Because that’s where I’m a genius.

Canceled. It’s not the end of the world. Just another disappointment.