While reflecting on my journey through professional life, I decided to generate a timeline of my travels to date:
After a seven year stint at GE, I joined Sensis (SENsor Information Systems) Corporation in 1987 as employee #13. For 20+ years, the company flourished and grew until running into financial difficulties in 2009. After choosing Sweden’s Saab AB from a list of suitors as our future parent, we were purchased in 2011 and our name was changed accordingly to Saab Sensis Corp.
Due to the funky national security complications of being a foreign-owned company that does business with the US Department of Defense, it made financial sense to split the group in two – a subgroup that conducts business with the US DoD (Saab Sensor Systems) and one that doesn’t (Saab Sensis). A functional and physical split would lift the DoD security restrictions hampering the non-DoD business efforts of the Saab Sensis group.
After expressing a personal preference to be placed at Saab Sensis, I ended up being assigned to the Saab Sensor Systems group when the split was finalized in the fall of 2013. So far, it has worked out better than I initially thought it would. The high quality of the people and the work is essentially the same between the two groups, but Saab Sensor Systems is roughly half the size of Saab Sensis (to me, the smaller the better). In addition, the near term business outlook for Saab Sensor Systems seems to hold more promise.
I’ve been a lucky bastard throughout my entire work and social lives. I’m grateful for that, and I hope my lucky streak continues.
Because of the widespread wreckage caused by the 2008 financial meltdown and the fact that not one single gov-handout-taking banker fat cat is behind bars, I harbor a deep disdain for financial institutions. Since the impeccably infallible Goldman Sux is high on my turd list, I quickly snatched up Steven Mandis’s “What Happened to Goldman Sachs: An Insider’s Story of Organizational Drift and Its Unintended Consequences” to harden my mental model of the company. One of my favorite passages in the book is:
Before this increased emphasis on quantification and accountability, people were willing to make more time for each other and help think through issues. Bankers didn’t worry about filling out time sheets or taking credit. They worried instead more about giving clients better advice. – Steven Mandis
So, if your org’s so-called leadership starts cranking up the volume on “metrics!“, “accountability!“, and/or “performance management!” in textbook MBA fashion, then beware of what the future holds. It simply broadcasts their knee-jerk cluelessness and utter lack of ideas on how to really improve your borg.
Somewhere on the road from small startup sensation to huge institutional borgdom, the oft-repeated process of “manage-ification by growth” fires up and kicks into high gear. It’s inevitable, or is it?
Check out this 20th century retro banner that BD00 stumbled upon whilst being given a tour of a friend’s new workplace:
OMG! The smug agilista community would be outraged at such a bold, blasphemous stunt! But you know what? BD00′s friend’s org is alive and well. It’s making money, the future looks bright for the business, and the people who work there seem to be content. Put that in your pipe and stoke it up.
In a 2012 slideshare deck that built a case for a hostile takeover of Blackberry maker RIM (Research In Motion), venture capitalist Robin Chan hoisted this foil of the smugly smiling C-level dudes running the show at DIM (Disaster In Motion):
To add insult to injury, Mr. Chan writes:
D’oh! C-Level infallibles don’t like being characterized as “ill equipped” and “discounted“. However, fear not for the dissed DIMwit royalty. Since DIM recently announced plans to frantically find a buyer for their struggling business, these execs will make out just fine. The golden parachutes will be doled out, they’ll hop on a plane to their next destination, glide right into the C-suites at their next gigs, and have their smiling picture taken for the next annual report. Who sez performance matters?
I love discovering people and companies that buck the current “kool and hip” trends followed religiously by the herd (mooo!). One of these motherbuckers is Evernote Inc. I’m not an Evernote user, but the app is phenomenally successful and has an enthusiastic following.
In “One Reason Everyone Has Outsourced Their Brains To Evernote | Fast Company”, Evernote CEO Phil Libin says:
We do everything native. That was actually the big decision. Right from the beginning we said, “No common denominator crap.” No HTML5. Just all native on every platform.
You would think that it makes no business sense to maintain a separate, resource-sucking team for each supported platform, but think again:
Yes, it’s really expensive. Yes, it takes a ton of developers. But it works for Evernote: As Libin says, they’ve got independent teams for every platform. They compete to make the best version, steal from each other, and leapfrog one another. Since each platform is different–BlackBerry, for instance, has that keyboard thing–the versions are tailored to them. And each fits. – FastCompany
Damn it, I hired you to get results! (… and I don’t care what means you use, so don’t give me any details) – Unknown CEO, President, SVP, VP, Director, or Manager
Some of the people who run our institutions don’t care much about “means“. Although they’ll never publicly admit it, they only care that results are achieved by whatever “means” possible. That is, until the “means” comes back to hit them where it counts – in the wallet. Even then, after the wallet has been lightened with a slap on the wrist, it’s back to business as usual. Wall St.? Investment banks? Bad ass corpocracies?
The title of this post sounds like the stodgy name of some inhumane, BS, corpo process under which “supervisors” evaluate their children, I mean, induhvidual contributors. But wait! It’s the Valve way.
You don’t know who Valve is? Valve is a company that creates massive, multi-player, online games. According to “economist-in-residence“, Yanis Varoufakis, Valve rakes in $1B in revenue even though they have a measly 300 employees. Also, according to Yanis (and their employee handbook), they are totally flat chested. There’s not a single boob, oops, I mean “boss“, in the entire community. D’oh!
The employee handbook spells out the details of the “Stacked Ranking” process, but in summary, peers rate each other once a year according to these four, equally-weighted metrics:
Skill Level/Technical Ability
Notice that there’s no long list of patriarchical, corpo-BS ditties like these in the four simple Valve metrics:
- Takes initiative and is a self-starter
- Knows how to acquire resources when needed
- Manages time well
- Knows how to prioritize tasks
- Yada, yada, yada
As you might guess, the stack rankings are used for salary adjustment:
…stack ranking is done in order to gain insight into who’s providing the most value at the company and to thereby adjust each person’s compensation to be commensurate with his or her actual value. Valve pays people very well compared to industry norms. Our profitability per employee is higher than that of Google or Amazon or Microsoft, and we believe strongly that the right thing to do in that case is to put a maximum amount of money back into each employee’s pocket. Valve does not win if you’re paid less than the value you create. Over time, compensation gets adjusted to fit an employee’s internal peer-driven valuation. - The Valve Employee Handbook
Whenever I serendipitously discover jewels in the rough like Valve, SAS Institute, HCL Technologies, Semco, Zappos.com, etc, I always ask myself why they’re rare exceptions to the herd of standard, cookie-cutter corpricracies that dominate the business world. The best answer I can conjure up is this Ackoff-ism:
The only thing harder than starting something new is stopping something old. – Russ Ackoff
But it’s prolly something more pragmatic than that. Since corpo profits seem to keep rising, there is no burning need to change anything, let alone blow up the org and re-design it from scratch to be both socially and financially successful. That would be like asking the king to willingly give up the keys to his kingdom.