Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Rotten corporate culture, the Pink Slip list

Yesterday’s post took a look at a list of signs of a poor corporate culture. As something of an expert in poor – make that piss poor – corporate culture, I thought I’d add a few more to the list.

  • Too many meetings  - I understand that the higher up the management chain you go, the more likely you are to spend a lot of time in meetings. But there’s spending a lot of time in meetings, and there’s spending a lot of time in meetings. I worked at one large company, which became briefly famous back in the early Internet days as having launched the largest (and largest failed IPO) of all time. That was back in the day when a billion meant something. Anyway, you could literally spend every hour at work (including lunch) at meetings that extended from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. If your dance card wasn’t full, you weren’t consider a pllay-a. We’d all march around, Palm Pilot in hand, figuring out where we were due next, passing in the halls as if we were in high school, trying to get to the next class on time to avoid a demerit.  Nothing was ever accomplished at these meetings unless, of course, you brought your laptop with you and actually did some work. In what I considered quite the bold move, my friend Rob went to a meeting (maybe 20 of us there) chaired by the company president and sat there checking his emails.
  • All decisions made at the top – And I do mean all decisions. And I do mean at the top. At Wang Labs, I was a senior product manager. At my prior company, I’d been able to decide to make a field or customer visit, let my manager know, make my arrangements and go. At Wang, I had to have the sign of my boss, the director he reported to, the VP he reported to, and the EVP. Oh, and you often didn’t find out that your trip was okayed until the night before you planned to leave. This process was such a ridiculous waste of time, not to mention completely demoralizing. But if you went without EVP sign-off, you risked not getting reimbursed. (It was rumored that Dr. Wang was so intimately involved in the minutia of the business that he decided on the quality of the paper that data sheets were printed on.
  • Bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy – Once a company gets to a certain size, you really do need some sort of bureaucracy, mostly useful to take care of all that crap that no one wants to deal with. Let the bureaucrats order the pencils! But I worked at one smaller company (fewer than 300 employees) that once published a 50 page flowchart we were to follow for everything we requisitioned, including – ta-da! – a pencil. (At Wang, on my first day on the job, I put in a req for a bookcase and file cabinet for my cube. The req came back to me because I hadn’t put in a reason for my requests. I sent it back with “bookcase to hold books, file cabinet to hold files” and it was approved.
  • Too much “keep me in the loop”-ing going on – I’ve worked in places where pretty much every memo you wrote, every document you created, had to be shared with dozens upon dozens of individuals. I think that folks collected circulation lists to be on just so you could talk about how important they were. And, of course, you always wanted to get on the circulation list for any item that those higher up in the organization was on. Nobody ever read any of the stuff being circulated, let alone contributed anything of value around it. They just needed to be in the loop.
  • Senior execs making bogus attempts to be seen with “the people” – Hey, it’s great if I run into you in the lunch line or elevator and we chat a bit. Great if we actually have a need to meet for some reason. But spare me the Santa hats and dishing out rubber turkey dinners on Christmas Eve. Thanks but no thanks for annual wheeling or the ice cream cart around giving out Good Humor bar. Sorry, but completely meaningless. I’m all for management by walking around. Just don’t show up in a white paper cap with a goofy grin on your face.

I could go on, but that’s it for now.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Signs of a Broken Corporate Culture? Been there, got the tee-shirts (and the pink slips) to prove it…

Let’s face it, anyone with a blog called Pink Slip is going to be over the topic of “broken corporate culture.” Looking back on my full-time career, it’s hard to believe that, when it comes to corporate culture, there’s any other kind.

Thus, I was white-on-rice to a post by Liz Ryan I saw on forbes.com on the signs of a broken corporate culture.

When the energy in a company is good, you can feel the cushion of air that carries you throughout your workday. When the energy is bad, you can feel the gray cloud that hangs over the place and makes everything so much harder to do. ( Source: Forbes.

Ryan ticks off the signs of a bad culture, starting with people quitting left and right, but no one addressing the problem head on. Instead, they have an excuse for everyone who exits the building: bad fit, etc.

This is all true, but, of course, in my case, I tended to be one of the bitter-enders, sticking with a high-toxicity culture (they do tend to be wildly interesting) unless or until the toxicity flames started licking my heels. And then it became a case of why quit now. Let them make it worth my while.

Maybe they’re quitting because nobody knows what “the plan” is.

It’s certainly true that, in my places of work, there was often a lack of clarity about the company’s strategy, goals, and tactics. Often, there was lip service paid to something that sounded coherent (at least on paper). And yet we’d see time and time again that there’d be some “opportunity” that was off-track and, no matter how hare-brained and inconsistent it was, we’d head off in a new direction. Wheeeee!

Then there’s Ryan’s observation that, in a broken culture nobody tells the truth.

I’d counter this with my personal experience, which was that there were always a couple of folks willing to tell the truth, but they (me) were perceived as naysayers, Debbie Downers.

In one of my liar-liar-company-pants-of-fire outfit I worked at for many years, I sat down with my manager (the president) and went through observations of what we weren’t doing well and what I thought our prospects were. His response was that, in his moments of weakness, he felt the same way.


I would have thought that those would have been his moments of strength.

To me, unless you have an accurate read on a situation, you can’t do anything about it.

As it turned out, we both should have saved our breaths. Within a couple of months of that conversation, our little company was put out of its misery and rolled into another entity our parent company had also acquired.

For Ryan, a sign of a broken company culture is the the priority governing decisions is “don’t screw up.”

I’m trying to put my finger on what the overarching decision priority in the companies I worked for was. It doesn’t seem to me that it was “don’t screw up” so much as “don’t make waves.” (There is a difference.) You could screw up all you wanted as long as it was in pursuit of something that the “bigs” had declared worth doing.

Ryan’s point is that in a healthy culture, people make mistakes and learn from them. I’d say that in an unhealthy culture, people make mistakes all the time. It’s just that, after the fact, there’s no analysis of what went wrong. Thus, no one ever learns from their screw ups and, as I saw time and again, companies were condemned to repeat them.

Ryan is spot on with her notion that the blame/shame game is a hallmark of a broken culture.

In the companies I worked for, at those times when the culture was at its very worst, blame and shame ran rampant.

On a number of occasions, I saw very senior managers throw someone on their team under the bus in very public ways. Just hideous.

The final item on Ryan’s list is that w
hen a company culture is broken, the joy and creative excitement of any job disappear.”

In my experience, this isn’t necessarily true.

My full time career was almost exclusively in companies where, in many respects, the culture was as often as not broken. The clearest demonstration of just how broken was that most of them ended up in a death spiral.

Interesting, the company that had just about the WORST culture in ways that went well beyond Ryan’s list is still standing. Go figure.

What’s missing from Ryan’s post is this:

There are plenty of places with crappy culture that end up going out of business, but there may well be aspects of those cultures that work – or are at least fun and entertaining. I tended to favor cultures that favored smart odd-balls, and there was something about having great, smart odd-ball colleagues that made you (or me at least) forgive the lying, denying, blaming, shaming, etc. that characterized the overall culture as set from the top.

At the same time, there are plenty of successful companies where I would have hated the culture. (I’m thinking GE in its prime.)

This post is top of head, but I’m going to have to think about this broken corporate culture thing a bit more.

Stay tuned. Pink Slip may have a list of its own coming up.

Friday, November 27, 2015

On Black Friday,window shopping with Gwyneth Paltrow

Well, it’s Black Friday and, as is my tradition, I’m not out shopping.

Okay, I may head over to Macy’s a bit later in the day to buy a couple of pans that will work on my new induction cook top. Or I could just stay home and whip up an omelet for myself on the one and only pan from my past life that has magnetized bottom and, thus, can be used with the new cooker. (I do have a gorgeous sea-blue Dutch over that will work, but I don’t consider that part of the old me’s kitchen, given that I haven’t yet used it – other than as the springboard for determining the paint color for the kitchen walls.)

In any case, my Black Friday shopping will be light.

Mostly, I’ll be spending the day unpacking the remaining boxes, organizing a few of the drawers I just pitched things to – every drawer a junk drawer! – and waiting for UPS to deliver the living room registers that better @#*@()#*! fit this time. (Needless to say, the less expensive cool-looking brass registers didn’t fit. I do think that ones that cost more than twice as much will. Knock on wood, quartzite, quartz, marble – any of the new surfaces in my sleek new digs.)

But I will be doing some window shopping with Gwyneth Paltrow. Or rather on Gwyneth’s virtual, share-with-us home, thumbing (virtually) through her Goop Gift Guides, which aggregate quirky gifts from all over.

Where to begin?

Many years ago, Julie Andrews, channeling Rodgers and Hammerstein, told us to “start at the very beginning.” So, although I’m not a Centered Soul – maybe I am but just didn’t know what it means – I started with the Centered Soul guide.

Centered Souls, as it turns out, sit around in camis and teddies all day, burning incense, reading Rainer Marie Rilke, and wondering what goes on in the soul of an octopus. So my intuition about not being a centered soul was correctomundo. And that was reinforced when I read the Electric Love dreamcatcher as Electri Clove. (Must be smokin’ too many of them e-cigarettes.)

I guess I’m not a Collector, either. The only thing that caught my eye was this skull with the flowers painted on it. Not that I want one, mind you. I really don’t need any memento mori, thanks a bunch. Anyway, porcelain skulls are a specialty of a company called Nymphenburg. Gwyneth just subs them. (Call for pricing.)

Goop has collected stuff for kids, too. No memento mori here. But if you’re willing to shell out $459 for a kiddie play kitchen, you can get one with a look-a-like SubZero fridge and Viking range. Never too young to enjoy the finest things in life. (Hypocrisy alert, I suppose: I will confess that, based on my address and condo re-sale advice, I have a SubZero. My very own signifier…And if you have a problem with my SubZero, I guess you can go fly a kite. The $64 kite that Gwyneth likes. Didn’t kites used to cost 15 cents?)

There’s an entire section devoted to personalizable goop. My personal favorite: a personalized jar of sriracha. Only $9! See, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the same things that Gwyneth does!

Maximalists, who appear to be for women only, are in for a lot of pricey handbags – if you consider $2.5K pricey – and a $530 pajama top. Matching tap-pants for $320, but I’d rather direct that money to the $245 headband and keep the change. (Or perhaps order a couple of personalized sriracha bottles.)

On Dasher, on Dancer, On Precious, On Gooper…

For the Entertainer in your life, I liked the $190 linen bento bag. And “Running a Food Truck for Dummies.” (Oh, that Gwyneth.)

Doers are urged to chill out a bit. Of course, one of the chill-out gifts is a corset unitard (indeed) that’s designed for working out, but can also be worn while just hanging out on the couch, couch-potato-ing on Goop.

For Wanderers, a.k.a., travelers, who can’t live without their tunes, there’s a portable wireless speaker ($449). Just don’t sit next to me on the plane with one.

Nothing to report on the Secret Santa Goop Guide, but that’s probably because I was dying to get at the Ridiculous and Awesome gift list. Given how ridiculous, yet awesome, most of the stuff in all of the gift guides are, I figured this would really be something.

It mostly lived up to its promise. Hermes $46K mah-jong set, anyone? Not to mention the $125K gold-plated dumbbells. If you don’t have that kind of dough for gifting, most everyone can afford the $55 yoni steamer. (It does seem kind of personal. Maybe something you’d buy for yourself, rather than hint around for. Personally, I wasn’t aware that yonis need steaming, but what do I know? Gwyneth is clearly more on-trend than I am, and maybe if you do a lot of lounging around in the corset unitard, a yoni steam might be just the thing.)

While we’re below the belt, there’s also a $956 fancy-arse toilet paper kit. You’ll never squeeze Charmin again!

Oh, Gwyneth, the goop-a-thon window shopping did not disappoint. Like you, it was ridiculously awesome.

How fun it must be to curate this nonsense and put it all in one place for us.

Meanwhile, I’d love to see your home. Feel free to invite me over any old time. Maybe we can do an apartment swap?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Over the river and through the woods: Thanksgiving 2015

Actually, I’m not going over the river or through the woods. Not to mention that, at my age, there’s no grandmother’s house to go to.

But I will be heading out to my sister Kath’s in Brookline for dinner.

If I did have a horse, and if there were snow enough on the ground for a sleigh ride, that horse would definitely know the way to carry the sleigh to Kath and Rick’s, where I spent the better part of the last three months while my reno was underway.

That reno is nearly done at this point – just a few stray bits and pieces, like shower doors and heat registers – for which I am immensely thankful.

Even with those finishing touches still to go, a ton of boxes still to be unpacked, a ton of pictures that need hanging, those (bookcases in need of a coat of paint, everything is beautiful. When I sit on my new couch (or in my old bed with the new duvet cover), looking around at things, I sometimes want to pinch myself. I really live here? (You’ve come a long way, baby, from that three-decker in Main South Worcester…)

Much else, of course, to be thankful for.

As ever, for my wonderful family and friends, especially Kath and Rick for taking me in (and to Kath for taking her weekend to knock the bedroom and den into shape – no small task).

I’m thankful for my clients, still providing interesting work (which, admittedly, is on occasion a tad dull and wonky), which I’ll take for as long as they’re willing and I’m able.

I’m thankful for my general contractor and his ace construction crew. (And I’ll be even more thankful when they get back in here and finish up the odd bits and bobs.)

I’m thankful for health, and for what wealth I do have (even if it didn’t budge much this year: at least it didn’t lose money…).

I’m thankful for the folks at St. Francis House, who take such excellent care of Boston’s poor and homeless. If you’re looking for a place to make a holiday donation, this is a good one.

I’ll end with two things.

One, in keeping with Pink Slip tradition, is a link to last year’s Thanksgiving Day post. (Trust me, the 2015 edition is cheerier…)

And two, this picture I found of a balloon from the 1949 edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I was not yet born, but I was just around the corner. Given that this was what was in store for me, it’s no wonder that, as my mother told me on more than one occasion, I tried to crawl back up in the birth canal rather than drop into the world.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tweet, Tweet. No time for a full blown Pink Slip, 2nd edition.

Another Bloomberg Headline:’

Why People Will Spend $120,000 for a Chair

Because they have nothing better to do with their money?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tweet, tweet. (No time for a full blown Pink Slip…)

Tweet inspired by Bloomberg headline:

Would You Pay $550,000 for a Tintin Cartoon? Non, non, a thousand times non. (Under 140 characters.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

All reno’d out

Yesterday, after two and a half months living at my sister’s, I moved back into chez moi.

My sister and her husband could not be more generous and gracious hosts. Kath is a fabulous cook, Rick has a fabulous wine cellar, they have a beautiful home, they’re terrific company. What’s not to like?

The answer, of course, is nothing. Other than that I was beginning to feel like Sheridan Whiteside, The Man Who Came to Dinner. And never left. (That Sheridan Whiteside.)

So yesterday, with what I believe is the end in sight, I returned home.

With Kath’s help, we have my bedroom pretty much knocked into shape. Sure, my clothing is either in suitcases or Fibber McGee’d into my closets. I left home in summer weather, I’m returning past the date when I would have done the closet and dresser swap on summer-winter clothing. I’ll get to it at some point. Meanwhile, clothing is pretty much haphazardly stuffed wherever.

I’m good on the bathroom end, if you consider no shower doors, partial lighting, no vanity (main bath), no mirror (guest bath) “good”. Still, the toilets flush and the water runs hot and cold.

My den is in relatively good shape. Now I just have to figure out how to figure out the TV situation. Buying one would, I suppose. This was my husband’s department. Where’s Diggy when I need him? (As if I needed another reason to miss him. Oh, boo-hoo.)

The downstairs hall has way too much construction junk in it.

The light fixture in my office is dangling.:

The living room is a full blown disaster. New and old furniture remains shrouded. Construction gear too much in evidence.

No registers on the heating vents. Yet.

And then there’s the track lighting in the kitchen.

It was looking great. Then it flickered. Then it died.

This was Saturday evening.

I texted my GC. He told me to make sure the light switch was off.

He called the electrician, who texted me to call him. Which I did. He told me to make sure the light switch was off.

Now that is something you don’t have to tell me twice.

The electric crisis should be resolved today.

Most of what needs doing is small stuff and clean up.

So far, I’m loving it. Looking forward to settling in.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned plenty, including that olive oil and salt removed scratches from furniture. (Thanks, Kath.)

In another couple of weeks, everything on the punch list should be punched out. My old painted bookcases will have received yet another coat of paint. I’ll have gotten a couple of pots and pans to use on my new induction cooktop.

Reno, sweet reno. Home, sweet home.

Feeling a bit mixed-emotional.

Yes, everything is beautiful. But it’s going to be a lot different than the place where Jim and I lived for more than 20 years. (Did I all ready say Oh, boo-hoo? Life really does go one.. Just a bit sadly…)

Meanwhile, Pink Slip is taking a mini break. The posts for Tuesday and Wednesday will be my version of tweets. (I.e., posts under 140 characters.)

Back by Thursday. That’s assuming I can get the cable hooked up…

God, this is exhausting. You’d think I was the one swinging the hammer.