Strike When The Iron Is Hot

Strike When The Iron Is Hot:

I introduced a young friend of one of my children to a colleague in the tech business last month. The young friend took a day to reply to the email introduction and by then the introduction had gone cold.

Happily the introduction resurfaced this week and something may still come of it.

That story reminds me of another.

It was 1996 and Flatiron Partners had just relocated to the Flatiron district of NYC (we really had no choice but to locate there). A friend invited me to lunch at Gramercy Tavern which had opened a couple years previously and was one of the most happening restaurants in NYC.

We sat down to lunch and Danny Meyer, the owner of Gramercy Tavern, comes into the restaurant and starts working the lunch time crowd.

When he gets to our table my friend says to Danny “please meet Fred Wilson, founder of Flatiron Partners who has just relocated his business to the neighborhood.” Danny reached into his pocket, took out his business card, and said to me “Welcome to the neighborhood. If you ever need a table please give me a call and we will take care of you.”

That night when I got home I told the Gotham Gal “I met Danny Meyer today and he gave his card and said I could call him whenever I need a table.” To which she replied “go there for lunch tomorrow.” And I told her “I don’t have a lunch tomorrow.” She said “Get one. He will remember who you are tomorrow but won’t next month.”

So I got a lunch, called Danny, got a table, and he again said hello when he worked the lunch crowd (something he used to do whenever he was in town). I became friends with Danny and still call him when I need a table at one of his restaurants and can’t get one on Resy.

Striking while the iron is hot is so important. I often thing of the Gotham Gal saying “get one.” It was absolutely the right thing to do and always is.

(Via AVC)

I do this poorly. I almost never follow up right away, and then let too much time pass before I “get around to it”.

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The difference there is betwixt honor and honesty seems to be chiefly in the motive. The mere honest man does that from duty which the man of honor does for the sake of character.

William Shenstone, Of Men and Manners, 1764

Performance Reviews are a Waste of Time

I dread linking to anything posted on Medium, but Performance Reviews Are A Waste of Time by Xavier Shay echoes much of my feelings about how useless they are.

I enjoyed Jamie Thingelstad’s article write-up:

Formal feedback mechanisms in companies are hard. I’ve come to think of performance reviews as an organizational insurance policy. The process and mechanism for them insures that a bare minimum of dialog is happening. I really don’t know of anybody that feels that they are an effective way of leading and managing teams. I think that is summarized in the common refrain that there should be nothing new learned in a performance review.

(Via Weekly Thing Newsletter Archive Feed)

Back when I was a manager and my direct reports were local-ish (I rotated weekly between the three cities in two countries where they were) I had to do the annual review and instituted formal quarterly reviews.

They sucked. They were one of the many mistakes I made as a manager.

However, I found more value – and I am told my team did as well – in the concept of “Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around”. This was hugely informal and unintentional. I didn’t want to be holed up in my office all day. My team was doing the kinds of technical work I enjoyed but from which I had to step away. And I valued their input and ideas in an ersatz Socratic Method to help with the bigger picture stuff.

I liked, trusted, and valued my team, so why wouldn’t I want to be closer to them than my offices offered?

Many modern workplaces with remote workers don’t necessarily have that benefit. Tools like Slack can’t really make up the gap, especially if your team is global. The formal performance review still fits poorly.

I should have seen the performance review as a company insurance policy back in the day.

Interestingly, I was contacted not too long ago by a colleague who felt “railroaded” by a sudden bad performance review. I advised challenging it with the formal HR process with plenty of CYA (Cover Your Ass). Turns out the supervisor involved had nothing to back up their position but my colleague had plenty to refute.

The bottom line is as always: protect yourself; document everything; use the HR system to your advantage; and don’t accept the premise.

Overboard Evangelizing & Button Pushing

I was in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park on a recent Saturday enjoying the cool weather before the rains come. I found a delightful spot just under tree branches for my blanket where I could enjoy my book while taking time to take in all the joy on display in front of me.

The Laos festival was taking place in the event space, so I walked over to grab food and bring it back. Delightful!

My park departure was a miniature play of my years in Oklahoma.

  • There was a guitarist playing & signing hymns
  • There was a duo playing Christian music
  • There were people handing out Christian pamphlets
  • There were friendly looking evangelicals on hand & ready to convert

The biggest similarity to my time in Oklahoma was the confrontation.

NOTE: Your Faith is yours. I don’t have the monopoly on wisdom or enlightenment or whatnot. If Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or whatever is your jam & helps you be a better person in and out of your community works for you, then that’s good for you. I don’t care, in so far as that is your journey. Don’t try to make it mine.

Here is where I get irritated: one of the Christian folks handing out fliers opted to engage with me. To be clear, I had headphones in my ears and moved to the other side of the space to avoid this dude. He left his station to come talk at, not to, me.

It did not go well, for either of us. I am disappointed that I was not able to maintain my composure while the other fellow was losing his. Since then I’ve lost my patience a few more times in scenarios where I would normally not have a problem. I’ll get my rationality back under me, but I don’t like how easily or for how long I lost it.

Back in the day I had a director who reveled in pushing peoples’ buttons – especially mine. By “pushing buttons” I mean saying things in a way to elicit a strong reaction regardless of the speaker’s own thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. The undisciplined respond in predictable ways. The disciplined don’t, and use the opportunity to learn something about themselves and the speaker.

It goes back to the idea that emotion and belief, in the absence of reason and logic, is powerful to the point of blindness but only useful in one direction. For example, someone who is fanatically against abortion will not be a good advocate for gun ownership or the death penalty. This is not because the they would seem mutually exclusive. It is because a true partisan toward one will not have the energy to devote to the others.

In my former director’s use, it was about finding the blind spots and better fleshing out rational arguments. Ultimately we had to convince business and finance people about the value of IT and Security in a time when there was much less visibility on the latter and IT was seen as a money pit. That, and he liked doing it, especially when we knew he was doing it and yet we easily fell into the trap.

The Leaders We Remember

Farbod Saraf on Twitter:

The bosses we remember:

1 provided safe space to grow

2 opened career doors

3 defended us when we needed it

4 recognized and rewarded us

5 developed us as leaders

6 inspired us to stretch higher

7 led by example

8 told us our worked mattered

9 forgave us when we made mistakes

(Via swissmiss)

This citation probably trite by now. That’s too bad.

One of my first managers in the ‘90s basically said the same thing but somehow more tersely. I’ve tried, sometimes more successfully than others, to do these things regardless of my title.

And that’s the difference: being a Leader means you do these things. I’ve seen many a manager (or “boss”) to whom I would never assign such traits. And I’ve seen many a Leader who held no title.

Which are you?

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Top BBC men take wage cuts in gender pay row

Top BBC men take wage cuts in gender pay row:

Six top male BBC presenters agreed to take wage cuts Friday after the broadcaster’s female China editor quit in protest over unequal pay.

The six, who are among the British Broadcasting Corporation’s top-earning journalists, voluntarily decided to take a pay cut

(Via Japan Today)

Arguably this makes the situation worse. For the BBC or any company it is all about the money. Taking a pay cut, though well intentioned, doesn’t do anything but help the BBC’s bottom line. Two or three years ago, maybe the bad press would kick-start change. Today, not so much.

If the male presenters demanded their full pay while not going on air or protesting the disparity on-air until there is pay parity, that’s meaningful. Or they could take a pay cut and cut their work for the BBC to the same proportion.

As it is, it’s a mindless empty gesture that helps the wrong people, In My Humble Opinion.

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

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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.

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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.
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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.