Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I woke up this morning, took a shower, made a bowl of oatmeal, sliced up a blueberry muffin and toasted it for breakfast.* I watched a few segments of the morning news, none of which managed to stick within my memory, then I packed up to head for work. I opened the door to the stairwell leading down and was immediately struck by the rich scent of rain. That is one of the essential scents of spring. Along with it I love the atmospheric feeling of impending rain. My commute into work was smooth, with the exception of one car who stopped on an on-ramp, having lost their nerve when it came to merging with the flow of traffic. I arrived at the office, parked, and got out of the car to walk across the parking lot. The scent of rain still lingered and there were incidental tiny drops spattering off everything, including me, but the wind had kicked up and several strong gusts buffeted me around as I crossed to the building. It is a good day to be working inside. I feel productive as this morning begins, so let us see if that productivity manages to ride with me through the day.
Monday, April 26, 2010
I am back from a walk at lunch and thought I would tell you about a strange little dream I had last night. I dreamt that I was in some sort of corporate meeting with several hundred other people. The presentation was very boring, so the speakers were losing people in droves - to the point where people were actually simply standing up and walking out en masse. I stayed until the end of the presentation, mostly from courtesy, since in the dream I was sitting in the back of the meeting and daydreaming. Which, uh, is frighteningly like many a real meeting I have gone to, with the exception that usually most people have perfected the blank-corporate-meeting-stare, so they don't actually walk out. After the meeting wrapped up I went out to catch a bus home. The first bus I caught was a giant, but overcrowded, double-decker bus. I was wedged in near the top of the stairs with no room to spare, next to a real life friend of mine. We had a pleasant conversation as we headed home. We both live near each other, so we were planning on making the same connection to a smaller bus. As we went over a bridge I could look out over the city into a storm tossed sky where many small figures, like people, were riding about over the city on zephyrs of wind caused by the impending storm, swirling around and around. That is where the dream ended. All in all it was a strange, but cool dream.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I finished reading Dean Koontz's "Breathless" and I have to say - though I loved Merlin, Riddle, and Puzzle - it tapered out at the end and ultimately didn't deliver for me. I followed it up however with an absolute page turner that has me laughing out loud in the middle of the night - Christopher Moore's "Bite Me: A Love Story", which is the sequel to "You Suck". I love Christopher Moore and he has never failed to pull round after round of laughter out of me - and in Bite Me - I love Chet the Vampire Cat. Chet rocks!
So, with Love, Voices and Vampire Cats, let me call it a night. Good night!
Monday, April 19, 2010
Clear away the dust and debris
The tiny broken pieces of other days
Sweep them up and consign them
To the bins of discarded memories
Set down the weighted burdens
Still carried though reason is lost
Then stop and close your eyes
Breathe deeply of the fresh air
Smell all the green scents of spring
Set aside that last chill of winter
All things are reborn here and now
That includes you and all your branches
Renewed, emboldened, let them turn
Let them turn toward the sun
Strip the day of its clutter
Friday, April 16, 2010
What a rough patch of road I have been on. When I find myself on a rough patch of road I tend to strip life down to the essentials and just keep moving forward. That is basically what I’ve done for the last six months. It seems strange as I continue down the path of healing each successive week takes me closer and closer to the point of being healed. I am still not entirely there yet and I have learned that I really cannot tell you how much farther down the road I have to go. But, each successive week I feel better and better and it is only in retrospect, in comparison to the week before, that I realize how much better I feel. Let me tell you, getting a toe amputated is certainly a traumatic event and it has awakened in me a far greater empathy for those people who are going through far greater trauma than I. It feels good to be feeling good though. That in and of itself is one of the simple miracles of life.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Over the last decade or so I have formulated a pragmatic approach to management that I call the theory of bright lines. I have come to believe that the best managers draw "bright lines" from their employees. By a bright line I mean they clearly define what tasks need to be done, the process for doing those tasks, and the reasons why those tasks need to be done. The vast majority of employees want to do well - I would even go so far as to say that the vast majority of people in the working world need to do well - need at a very deep psychological level that has do with the need to have the tribe acclaim the value of the individual.
Where employees fail they fail in one of two simple areas.
First, there is innocent failure - this occurs when the individual crosses one of the lines (they either do something they should not or fail to do something they should) because the line is vague and not well defined. When this type of failure happens it reflects poorly on both the leadership and the individual. When this type of failure occurs for the most part both the leader and the individual can be corrected with training and instruction (with the further definition of the bright lines).
The second type of failure is a willful failure - where the individual deliberately crosses one of the lines. There are, of course, many motivations for this particular action or series of actions - but ultimately it comes down to a deliberate act of will on the part of the employee. When this happens there is only one circumstance where this behavior is acceptable and that is the circumstance where the employee sincerely believes that the line is bright line is drawn incorrectly and is attempting to demonstrate the correct placement of the line. Under those circumstances crossing that bright line is an act of innovation and courage - and if right - should be rewarded not punishment. In all other circumstances the sanction should be swift and fair, up to and including termination.
Over the years I have also come to believe in the value of "hire quick, fire quick". I think that when you are hiring people you really can't tell with any certainty how a person is going to work out in a position, so what you do is assemble your list of qualified candidates and from that list, simply pick the one who appears to be best qualified and move them into position - and then, either they work out (in which case you saved money by shortening the hire cycle) or they don't, in which case you let them go - and you let them go as soon as you believe they won't work out. I have come to this conclusion after years of watching other managers skirt around sub-par employees who do nothing but drag a department down - productivity wise and morale wise.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Well, I am starting behind the eight ball today. The morning was a bit chaotic and it took me a while to get settled in here at the office. With a combination of training and meetings over the last two days I am running an email deficit today – I’ve got a stack of things in the “action required” folder – so I reckon most of the day will be spent trying to make some headway against that tide. (I seem to be obsessed with metaphors today).
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I have been on a trip down memory lane the last couple of days. Over the weekend I was at Fry's Electronics and I picked up a CD of Bob Seger's Greatest Hits. Most of them are songs that I remember from my teens and early twenties (a few later). Lyrically they are very much bounded by the time and place in which they were written and they reflect a sort of wistful innocence that I didn't recall in them the first time around. Of course, I am an entirely different person now then I was back in those days - changed in large part by the wealth of experience that lies within the last thirty years of my life. It is kind of amazing to me though that the songs can evoke the echo of a feeling - the same feeling I had when I first heard a lot of those songs. They remind me heavily of old times, old friends, old lovers, and the old events they were a sound track too. Then I wonder of course - dang, was I ever that innocent? The answer of course is yes. In each year of our life we learn new things, we are transformed by the things we learn, and we lose a small portion of our innocence because we see and experience things we had never experienced before. In the best of all possible worlds we trade the coins of our innocence for the wisdom of our age.
Monday, April 12, 2010
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There were giant raindrops this morning. Those great big ones that fall heavily and splatter in all directions when they hit anything. It was cold but beautiful storm. I am blinking my way into Monday morning here, having already resorted to a second giant cup of coffee trying to find some energy. I am not sure it is going to work. I have a pair of meetings this morning, a stack of email, and a doctor’s appointment. The way it feels, by the time I finally get mentally rolling it will be the end of the day and that will be all right with me. Some days are meant to be taken in a low gear.
Friday, April 9, 2010
The weather outside appears beautiful - the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and it looks like the temp is going to climb into the low seventies, so it should turn out to be a great day. I've got plenty of things to do - some of them I need to do, some of them I want to do. But, I am just slow getting rolling.
It is not even that leisurely slowness of a nice lazy morning. It is more of a general slowness - most likely a result of allergies taking the edge off everything for the last couple of days. Ah well, on days like this I guess there is really no alternative except to just get up and start moving.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
I was driving into work this morning and my monkey mind merrily leapt onto something it knew would trouble me. At work there is one thing that, when I contemplate it, it will pretty rapidly spin me into a black mood. That subject is performance management - specifically the formal process of performance management. Several years ago the company I work for adopted a performance management strategy that I think is rather seriously disconnected from reality. The results of following the corporate guidelines result in outcome that are fundamentally unfair - it forces people into neat little boxes and by using a relative ranking system (comparing one employee to another) sets up a "favorite children" scenario. The end result of this scenario are some employee's who "shine" and others who become disenfranchised and de-motivated. Employee's rapidly figure out that the perception of quality outshines actual quality, that the appearance of being good becomes more important that actually being good.
Now, here is a dark secret about me - well, okay, it is not really a dark secret. I read Machiavelli's "The Prince" years ago. I understand what he is talking about. I am pretty good at it. I won't say I am a true Machiavellian, however I freely admit to being a rather ruthless pragmatist. I am quite capable of "doing what needs to be done", whatever that may be. That means in a system that rewards the appearance of quality over actual quality, I am quite capable of thriving by structuring my activities to insure that I am presenting the proper appearance. In fact, I am pretty naked and open about it (which tends to through people off). However, because I can thrive in an environment doesn't mean I like the environment. I often find myself in the lonely role of "speaking truth to power" - that is, when asked or presented with the opportunity, I point out to my corporation and my upper management and the various groups I can touch that, as far as performance management is concerned, under the current system, the Emperor has no clothes. I've been fighting that battle, which seems like a quest worthy of Don Quixote, for several years now. I've made quite a few members of the executive staff uncomfortable by repeated pointing out the nakedness of the emperor.
So, that is an ongoing struggle here in the work environment. For the record, in my opinion as a leader and manager, the best performance systems have certain traits that are necessary for success. First, they have many layers for ranking employees (personally, I think a minimum of 9). Second, rather than relative rankings which set up competition and are subject to manipulation, they focus on absolute measurements of success - i.e. "did you get the task done", and third, they focus the power regarding the ranking process in the hands of line management (who is then ranked by their management, etc.). Now, don't think that this rules out the crucial human element of management and leadership, because among those absolute tasks being measured can be and should be "are your employees happy" and "do your employees perceive the decision making processes as fair", and similar items. I am also a huge advocate of true 360 degree performance reviews - as a leader, what do the people you lead think of you? What do your customers think of you? What do your business partners think of you? What do your peers think of you? What does your upper management think of you? Finally, the best of performance management systems are openly explicit - that is not only do you know what you are ranked on (and how and why), but you know what your fellow employees are ranked on (and how and why).
Now, I don't know that we will ever get there as a corporation, though I see some excellent signs that we may be moving in the right direction and that other voices have risen up to join mine (and believe me, I sure felt like a lonely voice in the wilderness). so, after a morning drive of my monkey mind dancing around the subject, I thought at the end of the drive that I would turn that potentially negative bit of interior dialogue into a potentially positive bit of interior dialogue. I decided to spend some time today to think about how, in spite of the system I feel is fundamentally flawed, I can keep my employees in a state of high professional motivation. (And just as a little self-serving glimpse into my world, let me share with you a conversation I had with my director a few months back. Following one of his routine skip-level meetings, he commented to me that in all his years of being in upper management he never encountered a group of employees who seem as happy as mine - they only had two things to complain about - they wanted me to buy the a new refrigerator, and the office area was too cold.).
So, with that dance hopping around in my monkey mind - I hope you're having a grand day and I hope that your monkey mind is contemplating interesting things!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The last couple of days I have been more or less fascinated with the mechanics of walking. Since I lost the toe things like stride and foot positioning are important. That toe provides you with a bit of balance and support under certain circumstances - most notably when you are getting up or down (as when you kneel down to pick something up), when you are climbing or descending stairs, and when you are climbing or descending an irregular surface. The foot picks of the slack quite easily, provided you placed it properly.
So, for the last couple of days I have just been endlessly watching my stride. It has actually turned into a sort of Zen walking - a focused and concentrated walk. I walk both at work to stay mentally alert and as exercise. We have a program at work that provides a free pedometer and software to upload and track your results, so that has been kind of cool. The recommended target is 7,000 steps a day, with 10,000 considered as very good. I routinely average 10,000 on week days and may or may not hit it on weekends, generally getting over 7,000 though. It seems odd, but with the pedometer I rapidly learned that I walk less on weekends (I would have expected the opposite). Consequently on weekends I have to make a concentrated effort to walk for greater lengths of time and distances.
So, as you wander through your day, watch your feet in action and maybe you'll become as fascinated by the mechanics of walking as I have.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
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Thursday, April 1, 2010
Well, today is effectively my Friday. I took tomorrow off so I can go up and spend the weekend in San Francisco. The organizing principle is Wondercon - a pop-culture/comic book arts celebration which is expected to draw about 30,000 people. I will be heading up there Friday morning with friends and then spending the entire weekend there in downtown San Francisco. I am looking forward to it - we're staying at a nice motel (the downtown Marriott's) in a beautiful city, indulging in popular culture and arts, surrounded by good food and cool people. What more can you ask for on a weekend?
There are deeper thoughts spinning inside my head this morning, but they have yet to take shape or form. T.R. got me thinking about "time" this morning and time is always an interesting subject. So, while my brain begins to spin slowly around the subject of time - I hope you enjoy your day, all those wonderful moments of it.