My piece of the pie

I am faced with a dilemma this week: a conundrum of sorts. It seems that my little organization in Texas will be graced with a “pay adjustment”. The budget is a small percent of our total salary base. That’s the pie. Adjustments are expected to be performance-based. I was a manager at MFE for years and I’m familiar with their guidelines. I’m not familiar with my current employer’s guidelines. In fact, I’m mystified by my conversation with my Taiwan-based manager on this subject.

One surprise? I need to recommend my own pay increase. I’m a candidate for promotion but the promotion will not come with a pay increase.

The challenge? As the Line Director (responsible for delivering product) I was the highest paid employee in the organization last year. This means small changes in a proposed “percent increase” for me can largely reduce the remainder of the pie.

The dilemma? As the Acting Division Director, I’ve successfully led the team through an evolving business model and driven several initiatives that have more than paid for a year’s salary for my entire organization. My success in this role means the operation is running without the ineffective leader (my ex-boss) who made significantly more than I’m currently making. In the absence of an Administrator/Office Manager (also cut from the organization) I’ve picked up all responsibility for Human Resources, Payroll, Bookkeeping, etc.

What do I deserve? I searched Scripture and found in Proverbs (3:27) “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” Surely this applies to my team members and to myself, but it’s an uncomfortable position for me to be in. This is one of the few times in my life that my assessment of what I deserve is in competition with my assessment of what my team deserves.

What would you do? If you give yourself what you think you deserve, there’s less available for the team. If you don’t, would you feel resentment?

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The funny thing about feedback

It is better to be criticized by a wise man than praised by a fool (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Do you believe this to be true? There are people who operate as if only a fool would criticize them. Conversely, they believe that all praise is wise.

This week I was blessed by the departure of such an individual. During his end-of-year performance evaluation session he began objecting before I provided any feedback. His poor attitude has been poison in our small organization. He has been argumentative in team meetings, raising a litany of excuses and bemoaning the difficulties of job challenges without offering constructive input to make things better. He befriended another individual and the two of them spent a lot of time complaining and bolstering each other’s arguments about the unfairness of their current situation.

As individuals and as an organization, we are under construction. If we remain stagnant it is to our detriment. We will not withstand the storms of tomorrow unless we study our current strengths and weaknesses, understand the challenges and adapt accordingly.

In my leadership role, if I see a member of the team that is undermining the strength of the organization it is my responsibility to address the situation. After carefully considering the options I must approach the individual(s) and provide feedback and suggestions for changes that will help the individual and the organization.

No matter how carefully I frame the feedback, it is up the individual to receive and digest the information provided and to choose how to respond. In the case of my recent experience, the person in question, after being pressed through the “it’s not fair” portion of his reasoning, chose to leave the organization.

By nature we are prone to reactions of fight or flight. It takes a higher level of maturity to adapt and evolve rather than just try to survive intact. In our walk of faith, in our careers and in our personal relationships it is up to us to choose the path we will walk. I pray we are all seeking words of wisdom and choosing to grow and evolve rather than to cling to a stagnant version of ourselves.

Are you able to embrace feedback? What have been the most effective ways that feedback has been provided to you?

Another sad day

Today was the day. Most of those affected knew this day would come. Eventually. And yet…it’s still hard. A lot of people I know and love were escorted out of the building today. Others were placed in another organization, no longer in my building. A lot of people who were working at MFE on my first day back in ’97, they’re just gone. Now we began again, picking up the pieces. Trying to figure out who will cover this or that function that used to be done by so-&-so. But so-&-so’s gone.

For myself, now running a small company that supports the big company, I have to lead my team successfully through the changing terrain. We’re reinventing ourselves, again. Defining our place at the table. There’s no room for whiners or slackers. No room for excuses.

A beaver, hard at work.

Busy beavers only need apply. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

Separation Anxiety

These days it’s a common sight to spy 2 engineers with their heads together, like a pair of conspirators. It’s would be surprising because designing notebooks isn’t a particularly covert operation. I know it when I see it, though. It’s the rumors of layoffs bringing people together this way, with furtive looks cast over shoulders. The halls are relatively quiet. Everyone’s laying low.

The rumors have been rampant for weeks. Productivity is down. Morale is down. Job searches are up. Many are just hoping against hope they can collect a severance package to tide them over until they land on safer ground.

I desperately want to soothe fears, calm nerves and help create focus on the immediate needs of the organization. I firmly believe there is no benefit in worrying. Yet we are human. There are bills to pay, families to feed. Worry is our nature.

There doesn’t seem to be enough work to do. While some are seeking to flee, others are fighting to stay. They scrabble and scramble, making their presence and their contribution front and center so they are noticed and credited. Their behavior is no more healthy than the fretting.

And where is management? In the last 2 weeks, no fewer than 3 layers of management have shifted or disappeared completely. I’ve never seen such a vast change in organizational leadership. The expectation seems to be that the soldiers will sort things out themselves. Or maybe it’s a game of survival of the fittest.

But the rules of the game have changed. The demands are different. And the rumors prevail. Yet…another week has passed without a Reduction In Force. (But it’s only Thursday, you say. Yes, but everyone knows…no RIF happens on a Friday.)

“What’s to be made of that?” I ask.

“Next week,” they say with a nod. “Next week.”

And that’s life in the halls of My Former Employer.

Sometimes it’s okay to be a quitter

I’m transitioning into my new role. I can’t possibly manage to do three jobs at once and be effective. I’ve hired an Office Manager (Alleluia!) who seems to be adjusting to her new role. I don’t have a lot of time to train her so I must graciously allow for the inevitable mistakes. I’d rather have someone who accepts general direction, tries and fails than have someone who sits passively waiting for detailed instructions from me.

Meanwhile, I’m still swamped. Every day is a juggling act with too many balls in the air, too many plates spinning, too many sharp objects in flight. Rapid decision-making and a willingness to let some things hit the ground are my new operating model. My inbox exploded last month. I’m copied on all sorts of e-mails, both relevant and irrelevant. There’s no need for me to read everything but I appreciate having the awareness of all of the activity underway to launch our latest product family. I’m developing the ability to quickly scan, assess and act.

I’m must spend (read “waste precious”) cycles cleaning up messes left behind by my company’s former administration. I have faith that things will settle down soon but meanwhile I’m learning some important lessons. One lesson is that sometimes it’s okay to walk away from things. Discretion is required to determine how much effort to put into a given situation. I have to ask myself, “how much should I invest in this given all that is competing for my attention?”

I recently found myself struggling to get through a book I’m reading for leisure with the intent to write a review. It never occurred to me to walk away with the remaining pages unturned. It took me weeks to read the first ~50 pages. Then this book sat (for more weeks) on the top of my stack of books to read. All progress stopped. After reading Michael Hyatt’s article on reading non-fiction I decided to write the review, including the disclosure “I never made it past the first 50 pages.” In the end, I decided I could devote enough time to scan through the rest of the book, looking for jewels buried in the unread text. I spent exactly 1 hour reading the next 200 pages and indeed, I found a few note-worthy jewels. I wrote a review and now I’m ready to move on to the next book. I feel good. I didn’t quit reading the book but I quit reading the book as if it were a Physics textbook.

This is the foundation of compromise: revisiting goals and assessing what’s required to satisfy those goals. It’s self-defeating to try to be an overachiever in every aspect of life. Trade-offs are necessary.

Have you ever had to reassess and adjust your goals in order to be successful?

“Hey! It’s good to see you.”

There are so many ways we greet each other when passing in the office hallway. A simple “hi” or maybe “how are you?” Or “Good morning” or “afternoon” if appropriate. But in the wake of a layoff (or “Reduction In Force” – RIF), “it’s good to see you” takes on a whole new meaning.

Wednesday afternoon all of the faces I saw looked tired, drained, shell-shocked. I said with sincerity, “it’s good to see you” to my weary colleagues. Some folks had the temerity to express  relief and surprise as survivors. Many expressed fear (it’s only a matter of time, right? Surely there will be another wave of “action” some day). Some expressed chagrin (there’s a certain relief after the ax falls and you’re free, with a healthy severance check in hand).

My team and I spent most of the day secure in our lab. The day we separated us from our former employer seems distant now. It’s been well over a year. We didn’t get a severance package but we remained employed. Some people pitied us but I think we’re blessed in many ways.

By Thursday almost everyone in the halls seemed to be past the worst of the shock. There’s been so many days like Wednesday I’ve lost count. Everyone is affected by the actions. Everyone will have to “work smarter” in order to pick up the pieces and keep things on track. The show must go on! The product delivery will not be impacted. We’ll meet the needs of the business.

Maybe it’s hard-hearted but it is business. I pray for all of us to trust in God and maintain our faith in His greater glory. That may not pay the bills but it will keep us all right-minded. Meanwhile Facebook status updates and supportive comments reflect the sentiments and compassion of all. And my inbox overflows with Linked-In and Plaxo networking requests. God bless us, everyone.

What not to say in an interview

One of my top priorities in my new role is to hire an Office Manager/Administrator for the organization. My goal is to find someone who will partner with me in running the business. Primary duties require strong Communication and Organizational skills, Accounting skills, Project Management Skills, Administrative skills and prior experience with My Former Employer (“MFE”), our customer. I posted a blurb on Facebook, and I sent a list of job duties to my organization as well as to MFE Sr. VP’s Executive Admin for distribution. Recent and pending “Reduction In Force” actions at MFE have resulted in a talent-pool of available resources in Austin.

Out of the dozen or so resumes received, I brought in 7 candidates for interviews. One of those candidates left the wrong kind of impression. I share this to reinforce a message that many job seekers already know.

My team is located in a lab on the 4th floor of MFE’s building. When a candidate arrives in the lobby it’s convenient for me to be notified by either the candidate or the front desk security. Then I go meet the candidate and bring them to our lab.

As I approached the door to the Auscom lab, this particular candidate said “Oh! That’s how you spell it. I was spelling it ‘Oscom’. No wonder I couldn’t find anything on the Internet.” Later she shared her delight that I’d called her back after she didn’t respond to the voicemail I’d left last week. Apparently the message I left was garbled. When I called her again over the weekend and spoke to her directly I gave my name, the name of the company, the position and confirmed that she had my phone number.

As we chatted during the interview she mentioned that when she got to the lobby of my building she was glad she had my phone number from caller ID because she’d only been able to provide my first name to security at the front desk. She said she didn’t catch my last name when I called her.

Now I’m really curious, so I ask, “How did you hear about this position?”

“I responded to the posting on careerbuilders.com”

“But this position wasn’t posted on careerbuilders.com”

“Maybe it was one of the other sites. I’ve really sent my resume out to a lot of places.”

Out of curiosity, right in the middle of the interview, I said, “Let me just check my records here.”

All of the interviews were set up in response to e-mails I’d received. When I checked my archive I found the e-mail from the candidate. Someone had forwarded to her the job description that I’d sent out…which included my full name, the name of my company and my phone number. She’d sent the e-mail back to me, indicating interest and requesting an interview.

Next candidate, please!

In a sea of potential candidates, it is not good to stand out as the one who couldn’t connect that the “Fran” she was meeting with was the same “Fran” she’d contacted directly a few days earlier. She got flagged for “inattention to detail”.

Question: What other important “don’t do’s” have you run across in the pairing of jobs and candidates?