'Office Gossip' Archive

Show Up or Stay Home

August 15th, 2011

Some context…I recently stumbled into reading Primal Blueprint, credit the kindle and it’s easy ability to sample books. In that book, Mark talks about the idea of breakthrough performances. His thesis being that instead of toiling away at chronic cardio, you approach a workout like it will be your breakthrough performance. Whatever your current plateau is, if you don’t feel like you can smash through it with this next workout then take the day off and recover. Sounds like a recipe for couch surfing right? Well he suggests that instead of long workouts that break our bodies down, we focus on shorter ones that push our boundaries and allow plenty of time for recovery.

I try to make my decisions about whether to do something physical based on that ‘rule’. Do I feel like I can put in a breakthrough performance? No? Then I don’t bother and instead allow for more recovery. This recovery could be mental, physical, injury based, lack of sleep, who knows but it’s a simple measure. Show up if you’re going to push your limits or don’t bother, ie recover. It’s a nice change from that feeling of just putting in the hours, grinding it out.

The other subtle side effect here is getting you into the zone. If you did show up then you’ve now committed yourself to pushing your own limits. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be here.

All this got me thinking, what if we approached our workdays like this? Is it really any different than physical health? Show up to the office if you’re prepared for a personal breakthrough performance, otherwise stay away and allow yourself to recover until you’re ready to push through a plateau.

Why don’t we allow for more recovery in the context of work instead of the absurd three weeks vacation per year? How exciting would it be to spend your workdays pushing through personal plateaus instead of putting in the hours and grinding out another day? I’d be excited about working in an office knowing that the people here today are committed to pushing their limits. Contrast that to watching someone nod off at their desk or drag their ass into yet another meeting, well let’s not waste each other’s time.

PS: Who knows how this works in the context of essential services. It would suck to call 911 only to hear that no one in your area was prepared to have a breakthrough performance today….

Tracking Hours = Freedom?

July 4th, 2011

I read The Good Life and How to Get It this weekend. Over the years I’ve read a whack about Great Harvest and how the Wakeman’s ran it. One of the things they discuss in this article that I’d forgotten is how they painstakingly tracked hours, down to the minute.

Having spent years consulting and having to track every minute in order to bill clients, I’ve come to view tracking hours as jail and not having to track hours as freedom. In recent years I haven’t had to track anything beyond what I deem as success and I love it. Tracking hours feels like a massive step backwards.

Reading again about how the Wakeman’s track hours got me rethinking all of this. I have a multitude of hats I wear these days. Most of those hats are my own, which is lovely. The problem with those lovely hats is that it’s tough to know when to take them off. When you work for someone else, you spend a lot of your time striving to ‘get home’. When you work for yourself, it can be easy to just keep working.

In the Wakeman’s case, they track hours in order to limit how much they work on their business. It forces them to have lives beyond work, be productive when they are working and create business systems that don’t rely on them.

I prefer tracking history and making small changes over time rather than creating prescriptive budgets. To that end, I’m starting a new experiment today where I track my hours on anything resembling a business. Once I have a month or two of data, I will review and based on that set some annual limits for myself as to how many hours per week I will work on my various projects/businesses.

If it works, it will force me to not ‘put in hours’ in my own businesses, create systems that don’t rely on me and build sustainable companies. My guess is I’ll lose patience with tracking hours before I get that far but I’ll let you know.

Tracking hours as a means to freedom, who knew?

Calling My Own Bullshit

July 23rd, 2010

Instead of sleeping last night I was mulling over the post I wrote yesterday about leveraging customer interactions. I then remembered an exchange I had last week around the current Brainpark job posting. I alluded to someone on twitter that they should apply. They direct messaged me saying they’d interviewed with us over a year ago and hadn’t heard back.

So after whining about chacos leaving me hanging for three days over something as trivial as a broken flip flop, I call bullshit on myself for leaving someone hanging about something as important as finding a place to work.

It’s easy to think of experiences I’ve had interviewing over the years and think “well that’s the reality of job hunting”. That’s garbage and it’s an example of a wasted opportunity. While every company can leave people hanging and take their damn time responding to people looking for jobs, it’s a terrible experience on the other side. As well, everyone who sets foot in your office immediately becomes a spokesperson, marketer, recruiter, etc for your company. Regardless what their experience with you is, they’re going to talk about it.

Ask yourself, what will that person you didn’t choose to hire say about your company? Will they tell their friends to apply or warn them to stay the hell away?

So, if you’ve interviewed with Brainpark in the past and we left you hanging, I personally apologize. It won’t happen again.

Dick Gets a Job

July 9th, 2009

Here’s a little tip I use a lot when interviewing/hiring. Make sure you involve people in the process who appear to have NO decision making power. A receptionist or admin type person is great but technically anyone will do, all that matters is that the people you’re interviewing think you have no say in the process. Let’s call these non-decision makers NDM’s to save me some typing.

Now flip it and make those NDM’s key decision makers in the hiring process (Yes I realize I’ve just nulled the NDM term I created by making them decision makers, slack please).


I alluded to this before, in that you can get a better feel for a person’s true character by observing how they treat the NDM’s. They can’t help but put on a show for the decision makers, they’re trying to impress them.

At brainpark, if you treat our NDM’s like slop you have zero chance of joining our team regardless how many sql’s and sharp C’s you have in your basket. We need people who treat others with respect regardless of their ‘power’ or title. I’m actually considering taking this a step further and intentionally introducing some mild conflict between candidates and NDM’s to see how they handle it. In cases where some tension has naturally arisen between candidates and NDM’s, it’s always incredibly revealing. Through this we’ve found some lovely, gracious people and we’ve uncovered a few nasty pricks. Both of which are impossible to spot on a resume or by asking what the difference is between a class and an object.

Now a tip for the other side. If you’re interviewing for a job, don’t assume the manager, and other ‘power’ players are the only ones making the decision. Or even better, just don’t be a dick to anyone period.

Lead with Change

May 26th, 2009

One of the talking points in my recent MeshU talk was “lead with action and change, not policy”. For whatever reason, maybe just front of mind, I seem to be repeating this thread more of late.

Whether it’s HR type processes within a company, product design or your software process, it’s rare that leading with policy is effective. Symptoms of this are referred to as ‘adoption’ issues. Why aren’t we doing what we said we’d do? Instead of using policy, cultivate a focus on making small course corrections, of a reasonable scale from an implementation perspective. Watch for the changes that are successful and then find ways to codify those, ie make them policy.

In my opinion, policy should be a communication and sharing strategy rather than governing or leading. Does this scale? I have no clue. Certainly you can take the small change approach within smaller groups, then codify the proven ones to a larger population. I don’t want to tackle the scaling issue here, just convey a simple approach that works for me personally.

This approach is heavily influenced by Jeffrey Pfeffer‘s book The Knowing Doing Gap. For a shorter summary read, try this article titled “Why Can’t We Get Anything Done?” The basic premise is that organizations struggle with major gaps between what they know(policy) and what they do(action). The painfully obvious solution being that if you only create policy through action then you have less of a chance of having a gap.

Bottom line, use policy less as a tool to create change and action and more as a way to communicate(share) successful change.

Hiring Tests

January 20th, 2009

I was part of a working session at BOS with the topic of ‘hiring and keeping great developers’. The topic of testing in interviews came up. The majority of people agreed that testing was important, however, they acknowledged fundamental flaws in that people could be nervous, feel rushed, etc. The point being it doesn’t accurately reflect how they’ll function in the real work setting.

The issue with most interview testing is that the test environment is completely unlike the real work environment. Maybe I’m naive but isn’t the fix to make your test environment as much like the real work environment that you’ll be requiring that person to function in?

Are you hiring someone to stand in front of a room full of strangers and write software on a whiteboard with no outside resources? Or someone who can sit in a room alone with pen and paper and write pseudo-code?

I doubt it but if you do, you’re in luck. Most of the existing testing environments are perfect for your company. If, however, you need to hire a developer who can leverage all the resources available, work alone, with a team, and produce creative solutions to stated requirements? Then keep tweaking your test environment to get as close to that setting as you can.

Cooper design has been doing this for years with their interaction design exercise. Recently we started using simple developer tests for both brainpark and boc meant to put the candidate in a work-like environment.

How? Find a simple tutorial publicly available on the net that’s technically related to your work. The tutorial should take the average person 1 to 3 hours to complete and should end in a functioning application. With brainpark we use the django tutorial. We have the candidate go through the tutorial on their own time with their own resources and then submit the code when complete.

You could provide clear directions such as satisfying a requirement not in the tutorial or just leave it open ended. We’ve benefited from leaving it open ended, it gives us a view into how the person is able to leverage opportunities. Do they take a few extra steps like ensuring the application will install and run? Maybe add some features relevant to what you’re company is up to? Do they go too far and bloat the feature set and UI? All of this is great information for you in assessing where this person may, or may not, fit into your team.

Then sit down with them and their resulting application, run it and walk through the code. You now have the opportunity to discuss real code…why did you extend that class? would that method be difficult to maintain? Why doesn’t your application run? It’s amazing what a difference it makes to talk about real code instead of fictional examples.

The goal isn’t to filter people, it’s to give candidates an opportunity to shine and truly show you what they’re really capable of in a setting reflective to your working one. Hopefully it allows you to find the people who best fit with your team.

Taking One For the Team

December 10th, 2008

Neil writes here about a recent visit they had from Tim Lister. One of the observations Tim made was:

“that individual team members, especially developers, need to de-optimise themselves to optimise the team. The aim isn’t to get developers developing in the most efficient way: it’s to deliver a complete product. An individual developer might need to sacrifice some personal productivity for the benefit of the overall project. He might need to change the way he works, or throw away some code, or go off and do something else for a bit, so a tester can test sooner or better and the project can run quicker.”

That’s great but companies need to watch for mixed messages they’re sending. I mentioned the idea here of having your compensation plan focus on company interdependence and a common goal. The issue with what Tim suggests above is that most compensation strategies send the opposite message. They rewards teams, or worse individuals, for hitting their targets. Yes I know, the wise managers are meant to craft those team metrics to be in line with the overall company goals but that’s never delivered on, or maintained. As well, how much are you paying your high priced managers to maintain your compensation plan? Is that money well spent?

Be cautious about the clever schemes you devise. People love games and love gaming the system. If you’re not careful you may build a company of people who are excellent at gaming your reward system and leave no one tending your business.

Men’s Warehouse has a history of firing their best sales person in certain locations. The results are that the overall sales for the store increase. What they know is that the fired overachiever was gaming the system by hoarding contacts, information, etc so they could be #1. That’s their job, be #1 right? All Tim’s suggesting is that instead of firing your top performers, find them a role to play in raising the level of your entire company. It’s infinitely more challenging to create an environment that sends that message instead of one based on internal competition.

Team Character

December 1st, 2008

If you even know the sport hockey exists, and live in southern Ontario, then you know the Leafs have a new man in charge. In keeping one eye on how this played out I noticed something interesting about how Burke handled the process of taking over a team.

The first thing he did, in taking over the team, was say the following to the media:

“Our team plays a North American game, we’re throwbacks,” he said before the game. “We don’t apologize for that. It’s black and blue hockey.”

“We believe in aggressive pursuit of the puck in all three zones, or possession of it desirably. We believe in answering physical challenges and playing a style that allows your younger players to play and develop in a fear-free environment.”

“No. 2, we believe in financial and fiscal prudence. At the end of the day it’s the fans’ money and the sponsors’ money, we try to spend it intelligently.”

“And third is community service. It’s not optional, you want to play in a great city like Toronto, you’ll give back to this community or we’ll find you somewhere else to play.”

Anyone who pays the least bit of attention to the Leafs knows that none of the above has been true of this team’s character or beliefs in decades. The first thing Burke did was clearly explain the character and beliefs his team espouses. A team he just joined and likely hasn’t even met yet.

It’s interesting to think about what he did NOT do. He didn’t hold a team meeting to get input from the team. He didn’t hold one on one meetings with each player to ask them each what type of team they’d like to build. He didn’t seek the commitment and buy-in of the very people who have to implement his strategy. What he did instead was laid out a clear path, one that most players will get excited about being a part of. It’s worth noting that on Saturday night the Leafs looked more like the team described above than they have in years.

Do you agree with Burke’s approach? Or is this caveman sports crap with no lessons or parallels to team building in a business?

Create Passion in your Boring Dayjob

November 14th, 2008

First a quick thanks for Jevon, David, Jonas, and all the people who made StartupEmpire a great event. As always, it’s great to hang out with the Canadian startup crowd. There were some familiar faces yesterday and lot’s of new ones.

Rob Hyndman spoke at the event yesterday about intellectual property(IP), NDA’s etc. Basically, what protections must a company have in place to ensure they own their creations. Employee signs document stating everything the create on the job, or possibly otherwise, belongs to the company.

Both employees and companies have valid issues. In order for a company to grow, or simply survive, it must maintain ownership of it’s IP. Individuals with side projects have the same issue and don’t want their dayjob making claims against their IP. Sounds like an ugly situation all around right?

Well Rob beat me to the punch in touching on the opportunity in all of this. If you run a team, there’s a chance some, or all, of your team members are actively working on side projects. Instead of fighting it, embrace it. I’ve always said that the brilliance of programs like google’s 20% projects isn’t in creating time for employees to work on side projects at work. It has nothing to do with that and company’s that fail to implement similar programs for that reason are…..simple. The brilliance is in giving employees permission to talk about the side projects they’re already working on but they don’t feel they can discuss during the workday.

Choosing to spend off hours, without pay, working on a pet project is about satisfying something in you that your day job fails to do. You don’t get paid enough, you can’t be creative, you don’t get to lead people, can’t work on a specific technology, it could be anything. When you talk with someone about their side project, they light up. They’re passionate, they’re excited.

The challenge, and as Rob alluded to, it’s not a legal one? If you have a team, assume everyone has side projects and work your ass off to understand why they’re doing that. Then work with them to find a way they can satisfy that within your team. This isn’t about stopping their side project or stealing their ideas. It’s about dragging that passion and excitement into their boring old dayjobs. Most side projects are symptoms of crappy companies that don’t allow their people to find their passion.

If you work on a team and have a side project, or have contemplated one, then you aren’t off the hook either. I challenge you to drag that into your boring old job. Don’t bitch and moan and wait for the day your boss becomes enlightened. Maybe you pull in the actual project and it’s IP but again that’s not the point. Think hard about why it is you feel the need to work on that side project. What does it give you that your job doesn’t? Why do you light up when you work on it? Now take all that, go into work on Monday and find a way to get paid to do it. What do you have to lose? Sit down with your team lead and pitch a new program or just explain your side project and what that provides you. Tell them how excited and passionate you are about it and that you want to bring that level of energy to your dayjob daily but you need their help. I’ve done this a few times myself and I guarantee you, regardless of the outcome, you will learn a lot. Be prepared that you may learn you’re working at the wrong company or have the wrong team lead but that’s a great thing to learn. You may get lucky and learn that your company only wants the exact same thing and is willing to work with you to achieve that.

Not to trivialize real relationships like marriage but you have a relationship with you company. The only way to make any relationship work is if both parties are fully committed to it. So commit to your company and don’t take no for an answer. Use your job as a way to get passionate and excited while getting paid! Don’t wait for it to come to you. What are you going to lose? Hey, you can always quit tomorrow.

John Maeda on Rewards

September 23rd, 2008

John Maeda on rewards and motivation:

“Some reward systems stem from recognizing progress itself as the payoff….The reward, in this case, was growth. When we’re older, we tend to forget this simple buy key motivation we all had as children.”

Ok, you’ve set me up, now bring it home John…

“At the core of the best rewards is this fundamental desire for freedom in thinking, living, and being. I’ve learned that the most successful product designs, whether simple, complex, rational, illogical, domestic, international, technophilic, or technophobic, are the ones that connect deeply to the greater context of learning and life.”

Now that’s a product design manifesto!!

So yes, everyone loves a scobby snack now and again but don’t mistake that for what we’re really after. Try this experiment, pick a really close relationship in your life. I mean spousal not your boss or butcher. Now think of some behaviour in that person you’d like to change. Nothing trivial, I mean serious stuff that causes tension, battles and push backs. Stopping smoking, drinking less, picking up after themselves, having sex, etc. Pick something serious that’s a point of irritation in that relationship. Got it?

Ok, now devise a reward scheme for it. Let’s use the stop smoking example. Pick a reward, something significant that they’ll be excited about. Put a calendar up on your fridge. For everyday they don’t smoke they get a gold star on the calendar. If they can get 4 stars per week for the next 4 weeks then they get their reward.

Got it? Ok now pitch that to this person and see how they respond. Chances are you’ll have some hesitations when you’re about to pitch this. Maybe you’ll think, this is dumb, gold stars? We need to talk about how smoking is harming them and others around them not gold stars. Maybe I’m simple but explain to me how this is different from 95% of HR incentive schemes out there?