Sunday, November 16, 2014

Peformance, Trust, and Hiring

Recently I had my first team meeting with my new team.  Not so new now - I've been with them for a quarter, but in my experience even with a team where you know most of the developers it takes a quarter to understand the personalities and whether their goals and desires have changed since you last worked with them (and some of them I haven't worked with in almost three years).

I had a plan for the meeting, but I’m flexible and have lots of backup directions. Partially because my plans: talk about larger organizational theoretical topics, talk about Javascript visualization packages (although JS Sequence, cool...), talk about corporate/code security; can sometimes feel like lecturing rather than responding.  So after a few minutes of Q&A we went with flexible instead of planned and talked about team questions (culture, dev and test merging under a project aspect, am I moving closer to the team space [I currently sit two floors up and a tenth of a mile away - seriously], annual reviews/ratings and why you should give them some serious attention, etc) for 40 minutes.

I was sort of glad I didn't have to stick to my original plan.  A couple of team members asked “what’s that?” as regards culture changes, artifacts, and corporate statements.  I had a couple of videos that seemed somewhat culture change centric that had been in my planned queue.  I’d read a really good article by Derek Sivers on great customer service in my PragProg magazine (I know, I know, it's the Prose Garden now) – focused more on a culture of customer service, but interesting - and knew he had TED talks, so it included the following by him and these two others about corporate culture and safety.

Sivers was funny, but it's the Sinek one that strikes a little close to home in a culture discussion.  You don’t need to watch it – I’ll boil it down.  He says our tribal nature as humans encourages us to be safe within a particular group and see other, outside, things as a threat.  In any culture, that’s what you’re working against (the group identified as “safe” vs. everything outside “safe”).  As an example of a culture that tries to break down that safety circle and redefine it in terms of the company (widening the safety/trust circle is an alternative way to look at it), he refers to a company that hires for life, NextJump.  They have a incredibly in-depth onboarding process with the end result being you can’t get fired.  They can make you miserable (I assume) and put you through tons of training and re-training, and the company could go bankrupt, but the basic philosophy of the company is you’re hired for life or as long as you want to be (hired, not alive).  You can now ignore the threat of losing your job as an issue – you’re safe/r.  The whole company is your tribal safety space.

This leads to unpleasant questions…is there a basic disconnect between our pay for performance cultural practice and our desired cultural reality at my own employer?  If team members have to worry that not only is their performance potentially an issue, but that it’s subject to influences such as the opinion of specific managers and bell curves (basic math), are we sending two different messages about our culture?  Or creating a schizophrenic culture where we ask for trust that we potentially might not be giving?  You can intuit out some of my thoughts on it from my questions – but at the moment, I’m mulling it over and trying to decide if I think our cultural change isn’t thought out enough to tackle the shift on all levels and from all angles (and whether that dooms it to fail).  I need to think it through a bit more before I'm willing to dig into the topic with a group so that I'm not grinding my ideas against my team.

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