Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Game...

I wanted to share a story - one that I feel many of my friends can relate to or might find interesting.  It is a story of how the corporate world works, and how big companies lose sight of the employees that make the company great.

It is not a specific person, or a specific company. I heard the story and have decided to share it because it resonates with me, and will likely resonate with others.  The person who shared it and the company that they work for will remain anonymous (for now).

The Game.

Paula had previously worked in small to medium sized companies, and the kinds of work had varied: from sales, to marketing, to management roles, to Jack-of-all-trades. She had pretty much done it all at one point or another. And loved it. 

Paula was forever grateful for the opportunity to work for Acme.  The company was very diverse in its offerings and holdings, providing fantastic chances for promotion and professional growth. It was also one of those companies was older, but was trying to embrace the new way of work: telecommuting, unlimited personal time, flexible schedules, and a casual work environment. 

One of her fellow employees once talked about how employees were constantly leaving Acme to work at the other companies in the area, and Paula had seem some of it. It was almost the sport in the region – leave one company to work at the next. Leave that company to go back to work at the old one.  But this was not a sport that Paula was accustomed to, nor one that she wanted to participate.  Maybe she was old fashioned, but her experiences at smaller companies had allowed her to invest a piece of herself into her work, and the company usually awarded her investment.

Paula had been working at the company for a while, and thought she has seen it all.  There had been mergers and acquisitions. There had been the usual turnover that you would expect of a company the size of Acme*. But things are have steadily gotten worse.

Another big merger, another shake up in the executive suite. The CEO was driven to improve the stock price at nearly any cost, as he was hired by the board to do exactly this. OR ELSE!

So Paula was concerned – really concerned – for her job for the first time in her career. Even though she had exceled at everything she had been specifically asked to do, her responsibilities did not really fit into the core of the organization, and it was obvious to Paula that she should be concerned.  

In fact, Paula described the situation as “The Game” and to her it looked something like this:

Imagine a game of musical chairs, much like you likely played in elementary school.  You know the game is going on and some members of your team are playing, but you are not allowed to play. You know that eventually there will be the one chair remaining, and since you are not playing, you are certain to lose.

And even worse, the same game is going on in other places in the company. But since the company has closed ALL - meaning EVERY - hiring requisition, you are not allowed to play in those games either, even if you would be a really great fit in that game (team).

This was the state of Acme for Paula. It was the worst feeling she had ever had as an employee. Managers, directors and VPs all tried (unconvincingly) to convince everyone to keep on playing the game and that everything would be alright. But the truth of the matter is that they didn’t know any more than anyone else – that their confidence was a screen to try (again, unconvincingly) to reassure the employees.

So, Paula – with years of experience and skills on her resume – decide that it was time to leave. Acme had been a great company to work for, but the lack of direction and the poor communication (from the very top) was just too much. Besides, there were many other positions that she would like to do and that would likely progress her career more if she would take them. She would always be thankful to Acme for the opportunities afforded to her, but she had to look out for herself and her family. 

The greatest irony: when she leaves, her managers and co-workers will not understand why.

I feel for Paula, as I have been in this kind of position myself (even recently). I hope it works out for her. I also hope that if you are a manager / director / VP / executive that is part of a merger of this type, that you remember the employees. They are more than numbers, and it is impossible to address every concern individually without talking to the individual.

* Pretty sure the company is not Acme, in case you were curious.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Reorganization Transition...

I usually take the opportunity to write about cloud security or information security events in general. But today I thought I would share a few thoughts on something that foremost in my mind at the moment — the transition that occurs after a company goes through a significant reorganization.

As you may (or may not) know, I am employed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). I *LOVE* working for HPE — it provides opportunities for me that I literally could not have as an employee anywhere else in the world.

On Monday, HPE announced a significant reorganization in the cloud business line. I say significant — as it is significant to me. HPE is by far the largest company I have ever worked for, and is the only pure play tech sector company that I have worked for as well. But talking to any number of HP(E) “old timers” and they will tell you that this is the normal course of business, not only at HP(E) but throughout the tech industry.

I have no criticism of the reorg, as I think it is still too early to tell what impact it will have on the business. I know that our executive team is doing what they believe is in the best interest of the long term strategy of HPE, and at some point you have trust that they know what they are doing. To date — they really do know what they are doing, and the demerger from HP has actually been a very positive thing.

My thoughts are not really on the good and bad that is the reorganization, but more on the effects of the reorg on the people that are going through it.

Communication is key: The announcement, and subsequent meetings, about the reorganization are extremely important. Employees (and often the media, customers and competitors) want to know as much in the way of details that the company can share. Blogs, internal meetings, press releases and phone calls go a long way to providing that level of initial comfort.

A company is still made up of people: If I have learned a single thing over the 20+ years that I have been in the working world, it is that people make the business. Specifically, most employees choose to work for the company that they work for because of the people that they get to work with. There is a great quote by Marcus Buckingham that states that “People leave managers, not companies.” I agree with this statement, though people leave companies for more reasons than just their managers.

All comes down to trust: People need to be able to trust the company that they work for. Reorgs erode some of that trust, as it adds a level of uncertainty to the everyday equation. It is extremely difficult to be motivated to do a job when you don’t know if that job will exist the next day following a reorganization. Those that have been through numerous reorgs will probably tell you that it will all work out, but they are also wondering about what is going on as well. More than anything, it is a huge stressor, and sometimes it is just enough to check and see if the grass is greener on the other side…

Morale cannot be overlooked: People view and handle a company reorganization in different ways. Many embrace the opportunities the reorg will bring to them. Others have a feeling of uncertainty about their jobs, careers and how to make the next mortgage payment. I am personally somewhere in the middle of that — I am fairly certain that I will continue to have a job, as I think I provide a social media outlet that is valuable to my audience and to the company. But there is also a certain amount of trepidation about how that job and responsibilities will evolve. Part of this is solved with communication, part is solved with time, and part is solved in discussions with others about what is going on (kind of like I am doing here). The morale of the employees cannot be taken for granted — especially in my industry, there are just too many potential opportunities for employment for a manager / company to assume that an unhappy employee will just stick around.

The transition comes from acceptance — one day you go from being part of a reorg to part of a company. That transition is a nebulous thing, as there are companies that are in constant states of reorganization. At some point, an employee needs to “embrace the horror” as it were. And as my colleagues will tell me, most of the time, nothing really changes and it is business as usual. For example: most reorganizations are due to a reshuffling in the executive ranks. But does that really have a direct day-to-day impact on the job function of someone that reports 6 levels below them? Not usually. Sure — the company’s vision or strategy may change a little. The line employee may be asked to focus on the new product or direction, but those kinds of shifts occur all the time anyway, regardless of a reorganization.

No, the reorg transition is just one of those things that happens. To some, it is as natural to them as it is coming to work on any other day. For others, it means promotions and greater opportunities.

I certainly do not have all of the answers from the latest reorg that I am a part of, and arguably there is no one in my company that completely does. So I am going to choose to roll with the change, and embrace the transition while hoping for the best.

I’ll keep you in the loop as to what happens…