Axle Wrapped: Performance Review & Stoicism

You may not know I am on a global work assignment in Japan from the United States. I get to have two management teams, one in each country, and two performance reviews! Ain’t I lucky?

My US manager sandbagged me with my review. I woke this morning to a meeting request for my review at 21:00 JST. There was no warning and no notice.

My history with these types of activities is complicated. I won’t go into detail now. Suffice to say I find little value in these lazy “one size fits all” retail approach to HR. A good leader does not require such a complicated artificial construct, nor do truly empowered and well lead employees.

Never the less, I’m shackled with this time consuming obligation. I need to take time and reflect on good old fashioned stoicism to get my head right. It would be great unwrapping myself from around my HR axle as well.

First, it’s important to remember at the moment my career path, goals, and objectives align with my employer. The alignment is temporary.

Second, my employer’s goals and objectives reflect what is right for the company. There is nothing requiring me to like or even agree with the goals and objectives. Gainful employment encourages my active engagement toward them, yet my gainful employment is not the object of my life.

Third, the common theory of “you will get out of the process what you put in” is false. It is not true in physics, engineering, romance, cooking, finance, politics, small appliance repair, Pokemon Go, or much of anything in life.

Fourth, these retail HR systems are more and more geared toward meaningless concepts and platitudes which fail to bolster any concept of anti-fragility or resilience. Anecdotally friends and peers shared ratios of three or more positive comments to every negative comment in reviews. Others shared “the bell curve” – in any team the manager plots the best and worst performers on a chart and scores everyone else somewhere in between because “you can’t have a team of all above average or below average” members. Arbitrary artificial constructs like these try to pave over the world’s variables (I’ve seen plenty of teams with no above average performers, typically in non-critical roles) plus fail to offer employees any tangible constructive feedback (i.e., “You were rated a 2 out of 5 because there are too many 3s and 4s on the team already.“)

Fifth, companies want some degree of fragility in their employees. They cannot rely on loyalty any more, especially in the US and other countries with at-will employment. Employee retention is usually a balancing act between enough training, team building, and encouragement to make employees feel empowered & add value while subtly keeping them just fragile enough to fear change.

Stoicism and Us | New Republic talks about these concepts in other contexts, such as the cancer diagnosis in the opening paragraph.

What matters, in good times or bad, is not whether you have a job, an income, a family, or a home, but whether you have the inner strength to realize how little such things matter.

This quote, Dear Friends, helps me unwrap my mental axle.

Stoicism is having a moment in the robot revolution | The Financial Times talks about a new book by Svend Brinkmann, Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze – Kindle edition by Svend Br…. Full disclosure: I have not read the book yet. This article however talks about a few of the concerns I laid out above in the context of the current stoicism fad in Silicon Valley. This neo-stoicism smacks of exuberant exceptionalism without embracing the negative things in life. The side bar about this in relation to Ryan Holiday’s writings (which I enjoy) intrigues me.

This idea of embracing the negative leapt to my attention today when I read Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel worse | Berkeley News. This study (full disclosure: I have not read it yet) seems to reinforce the concept of the negative things in our lives can make us better at living our lives.

This long, rambling screed flowed fairly quickly. I feel better about my impending US performance review (and the soon-to-follow Japan review). I remain bearish toward the whole process, but at least I can get on with my day. And I hope to learn something more about dealing with things like this in the future.

What do you think? Am I off-base? Do you agree? Have I missed the boat entirely? Add your tempered, well reasoned thoughts in the comments or on the social media.

Date: 2017-08-15 Tue 11:54

Author: Paul Jorgensen

Created: 2017-08-15 Tue 13:55

Validate

Reading Room – Memorial Day ’15 edition

A travel weekend for me, and a long weekend for many of us, so plenty of opportunities to catch up on my reading list.

Surface Pro 3 Field Guide by Paul Thurott & Martin McClean, 0.09 draft version

Not a security book per se, it is helping me get the most out of what is quite possibly the best laptop I’ve ever owned. It is without a doubt the best tablet I’ve ever owned.

Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Kindle Edition) by Greg McKeown (Hardcover, Audible)

Again, not a security book. The concepts tie into my drive to simplify and declutter my life, professionally and personally.

As a leadership book, the concept of reducing your field of vision to what is truly important helps focus precious resources to the things that hold real value.

PVCSec

If you’re interested in my thoughts on leadership and security, do check out the PVCSec podcast. It’s coming next week. Head to pvcsec.com and on twitter follow @pvcsec for the prime cuts.

Why Marissa Mayer’s ban on remote working at Yahoo could backfire badly — Tech News and Analysis

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm wrote an article on Yahoo’s new policy on remote workers:

Not long after her arrival at Yahoo, new CEO Marissa Mayer started handing out carrots to her new employees, including new smartphones, free food and other Google-style amenities. Now she has brought out the stick: namely, a directive that employees are no longer allowed to work from home, something that is expected to affect as many as 500 Yahoos. Mayer’s move has its supporters, who argue that she is trying to repair Yahoo’s culture — but in doing so, she could be sending exactly the wrong message for a company that is trying to spur innovation after a decade of spinning its wheels.

The moment I first heard Yahoo proclaimed this policy I became angry. It does not impact me directly, but as a highly skilled and experienced IT Security and Networking professional now on the market I can say that Yahoo is no longer on my list of companies I’d care to work for. Here’s why.

About 15 years ago while I worked for EDS as a Network Security Administrator my marriage fell apart. Up until then I rarely if ever worked from home. With divorce looming I had sole custody of my two young kids. I had to work from home when they were sick or were off of school. At the same time my role at EDS changed to include firewall administration, demanding more of my time to cover on-call and odd support hours.

I was fortunate to report to managers that understood my situation and worked to help me. I worked with a great group of professionals who didn’t complain about my flexible work schedule. In fact we all worked together so everyone could have the same flexibility I had. How did I handle things? I became infamous for keeping sleeping bags, pillows, snacks, and toys for my kids in my cube. I don’t know how many nights I carried the two of them into the data center in the middle of the night, each slumped over a shoulder while I badged through the security doors. They slept on the floor swaddled in their sleeping bags and little heads resting on Disney-themed pillows, lullabied by the white noise.

When I interviewed with Magna I was very upfront about what I needed to do to take care of my kids and what I would to do in return. They took me on without hesitation, and I always appreciated and respected the trust they placed in me. Similar to my days at EDS, the team at Magna embraced me and the flexibility I needed. I repaid my boss’ and team’s trust in many of the same ways I did for EDS, but there was one case that was  above and beyond.

For reasons that escape my memory the IT staff in Europe all quit on the same day. The organization I worked for was very lean. There were no extra people around to help fill in while they hired new staff. I stepped up, waking between 03:00 and 04:00 Eastern time to support Europe until I had to get my kids ready for school. I’d drop them off (no bus service) and return to cover the rest of the European day and my normal work. I was caretaker of servers and services in addition to the network and security. I did this for almost 6 months from my basement, buying the European IT director time to hire some great team members.

When I moved into management my team earned with me the same opportunities and respect that I earned. With instant messaging and email, IP telephony and video conferencing, and cheap Internet-based VPNs back to the company they could do everything they needed to do from home that they could do from work. Yes, you cannot replace face-to-face interaction. But by the same token how much hallway and water cooler talk is mere friendly trivia?

I’ll leave how companies chose to handle working from home to what makes sense for them and their business. But I want the conversation rephrased to talk about working from home as a tool and not a benefit. It can help both the employer and the employee, and that can’t be taken lightly.

I sincerely hope Marissa Mayer reconsiders her decision. She’s closing a door on quality hard-working talent that will go elsewhere just at the time when she needs them in Yahoo.

via Why Marissa Mayer’s ban on remote working at Yahoo could backfire badly — Tech News and Analysis.