Things I have no choice but to write

Category: management

Of Bullies and Bobbleheads

In trying to refine my managerial style, I have taken to writing it down in order to force a clarification. Having been in the “world of work” for a while, I have been subjected to several kinds of management styles, from Laissez Faire to extreme micro-management. Some worked better than others for me. When it worked poorly, sometimes it was an issue with my managers, sometimes it was an issue with me. We all go through these phases. That said, I despise being micro-managed.

There is a lot of good writing on bad bosses. I am a fan of Jim Miller’s Best Boss, Worst Boss, which you can find on Amazon. I have been thinking about the parallels of two bad work environments I have been in, across the two decades of my career, lately.

In two notable cases, I have been in what I call toxic environments. These are work environments where the work and the management are punishing. In both cases, it involved bullies and bobbleheads.

Read the full article here…

What I Learned From Sun (and Others) DRAFT


I am feeling somewhat nostalgic now that Sun Microsystems is being swallowed by Oracle. Sun was a great place to work. But it was also a very hectic and unfocused organization. Sun was among the best and worst places I have worked.

That said, these experiences taught me a lot. In reflecting on the lessons I learned there, I have captured the following key points:

1. A Small Group of People Can Change the World(java)

2. Founder CEOs should have term limits of 10 year.

3. Bad executives do enormous amounts of damage.

4. Good executives can get organizations to achieve more than they were naturally capable of.

5. No amount of “vision marketing” can move you out of an uncompetitive position

6. Never take a job with “Strategy” in the title.

7. Bad organizations can make good people behave badly

8. Threats from Management Are Failures By Management

9. Beware the “game changing” new product release.

This is a preliminary list, and I will be updating each of these with a paragraph or 2 of exposition/explanation. If you are a Sun refugee and would like to add your 2 cents, please do.

Beware the cobweb

One of my favorite writers is Neil Stephenson. His book Cryptonomicon is brilliant at both the technical details and character development. I am a fan of his early work, too, written with J. Frederick George. One of his novels is a story about the intelligence community in Washington, DC. It does the unthinkable. It makes bureaucratic struggles entertaining.

The title of the book comes from a bureaucratic verb “to cobweb”.  To cobweb someone or some initiative is to throw endless reviews. presentations, and documentation in the way so you effectively kill it.

This can happen outside of the government as well. I have seen it happen several times in my career. It will often come about when a new idea, or a fundamental changes, is taking place. Those in senior management who are opposed to change will throw a myriad of things at a “change agent” in order to slow the process down, or defeat it. If you hear any of the following phrases, you are most likely getting cobwebbed:

  • Operations Reviews
  • Review or Control Boards
  • The establishment of “Project Management Office”
  • In software: anything related to CMMI level 2 or higher
  • Strategic planning reviews
  • RACI or Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed
  • Work Breakdown Structure

It must be said that Six Sigma, for which I have a lot of respect, can be used as of the ultimate cobwebbing tools in the wrong hands/

There are rare occasions when these cobweb tools can be used effectively, but they should be used sparingly. Most of these are tools for large organizations, like government projects with thousands of people. I have not seen them used effectively in any organization of less than 1000.

In the end, the way to defeat a cobweb is to go around it if you can, or to get out of the organization you are in. It is important to think of any large organization not as a directed-graph hierarchy, but as a tree structure with cycles. The cycles are points in the organization which jump one or more levels, and may not always follow a linear hierarchy.

Read the book to see how the characters got out of their cobweb. While the book feels dated in its pre-September 11 America, its still a great read.

If you feel yourself getting cobwebbed, either break the web, or find something else to do. A cobwebbed environment is most surely a soul-sucking one. Life’s too short for that.

Management Quote of the Day

I am in the middle of a job transition. It is a job transition that is mostly, but not completely of my choosing. This is mainly due to a different in managerial “styles”. and it has caused me to reflect on what my “style” or philosophy is.

Believe it or not, I still used the the Franklin Covey planner, mainly because it leads to a well formatted diary. It also has a quote of the day. Today’s quote comes from Warren Bennis, and typifies my philosophy of management.

The leader…is rarely the brightest person in the group. Rather, they have extraordinary taste, which makes them more curators that creators. They are appreciators of talent and nurturers of talent, and they have the ability to recognize valuable ideas.

In my view, the job of a leader is not just to manage, not just to “get things done”. The job of a leader is to craft an excellent team where people are operating at their full potential. If a leader does their job right, people could be executing at a level beyond what they think they are capable of.

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