Tag Archives: cubicle land

Performance review

I had my own performance review every year, but it is the first time I give performance review to my team. Just like giving interview, sitting on the other side of the table is a total difference experience. I am still a supervisor in training, so my boss is with me when I am giving the performance reviews. It makes me more nervous than my team member. Performance review is a formal communication between the team and supervisor. The performance rating, any bonus or salary raise should not be the focus. The focus of the performance review is how to make your team perform better in the coming year. I think at the end, it is all about managing expectation. Your team will be motivated if they have the right expectation and their expectation is within their reach.

Over time I will develop my performance review style, just I have developed my interview style. For now, my performance review follows the template I read from some coaching manual I found online. First I start the review with some chit-chat, try to loose up the atmosphere. Ask open end questions how the team member feel about their work in the past evaluation period. Then I will bring out the performance report and go over it together. I will highlight their strength, encourage them to further develop strength. I will highlight their problems and come up with objectives to address the problems. One key question I ask is how we (or the upper management) can help them do their job better. I expect some whining with some useful feedback. Then we set the job objectives for the next evaluation period. Ask them what they would like to work on and try to align their interest with the task on hand. It is important to give them a sense of control over their job. Ask them what area they would like to develop since growth opportunity is also a important motivating factor. I will save the letter for last. Giving them the number too early would only distract the communication.

It is easy to give performance reviewer to an average or above team member. They meet their objectives, I can give them a pad on the back (metaphorically) for the good work they have done and they are pretty much on cruise-mode in self-development. Everyone have some weakness, so they don’t bad at all to be told that they have something to work on. On the other hand, the performance reviewer of below average team member is quite trick. I have to handle it with great care. I need to communicate the facts across and at the same time without hurting his feeling or demoralizing him. I try to phase it positively when giving him challenges to work on, but I suspect his is not too happy about the feedback.

Now, I understand why the management always reluctant to give out the ranking or letter grade rating. The average plus workers has no problem accepting their rating. It is the below average workers that is trick. I feel bad telling him in face that he is below average and probably he also feel bad being told that he is below average as well. Without the letter grade written in black and white, at least I can smooth the feedback and make it sounds less harsh. I guess I will feel differently if I don’t have to care about his motivation. If he is a contractor and I can reject him on any future contract. Maybe I will get some pleasure from making him feel bad by crushing his self image with the below average review. Nay, what the heck, if I am not going to work with him in the future, why should I waste my time and energy giving feedback to him?

Flexible hours

Last year, I was invite to give a talk to grade six student on career day about my work. A student asked me what is the working hours like. I told him engineers work flexible hours. They don’t understand what’s flexible hours, so the teacher explained to them that I can come to work any time I like, go home any time I like and take breaks as much as I want. The idea of flexible hours seems novel to the students and they all say that’s cool. Then the teacher use the chance to teach them the importance of time management. Maybe I should tell the students, flexible hours is not cool in reality.

Flexible hours does not mean shorter hours, in fact it is often longer hours. Engineers’ work is project based, as long as we meet the dead line and show up in the meeting, to some extend we have the freedom of when and where to work. In other nine to five jobs, they have day in day out tasks. If you take a day off or have a sick day, someone have already covered your work for you. But in our job, if you take a day off, your tasks are still sitting there waiting for you come back and finish them. I end up working extra hours before my vacation so I can get all my the tasks out of my way. The only time I enjoy flexible hours is down time between projects. I can take the benefit of flexible hours by having a shorter work day if I don’t have much to do.

Career switching move

A colleague just resign today and decide to go to medical school. I only got half of the fact when I heard the news, , I thought he is already accepted by medical school so I went to congratulate him. It turns out he is making a very bold move. He has to study full time for a year to make up some undergrad biology credits before he can even apply for medical schools. He is smart and young, I think he could make the jump from being an engineer to a doctor. However, forgo one year of salary to prepare for application, then spent 5 years studying and many more years further education on specialty practices is a huge investment. I wish him good luck, but I also asked him, touch wood, what if he couldn’t get into a medical school. He said the plan B is come back to PMC and continue to work as an engineer.

Nowadays, no one has life time employment. Switching job is very common, but usually people switch within related industries. Switching career is a lot harder. You have to give up the experience you have accumulate all those years and start from scratch. Unless you really hate your first career or you have great passion for your new career, it is always a though decision to change career. I have friends who tried to move away from engineering but with bad luck end up staying go back to the same place where they starts.

One day, when I am bored being an engineer, I want to back to school to get a philosophy Ph.D. and then be a philosophy professor in university or community college for living. The only problem between me and my dream career is that I can’t afford to let go my salary for a few years to study something that is absolutely useless and does not yield handsome return in the future. Maybe I should be more realistic, study a MBA instead.

Hating what you do

It is easy to keep the employees happy as long as they have hope and sense of control over their life. As long as the company is growing, making lots of money, have a deep profit margin and the employee benefits from the success, the employees will be happy. They may still complain about long work hours or lack of work-life balance, but at least they can choose take it or leave it.

Continue reading Hating what you do

Window seat

After the layoff last year, the size of my company has shrink quite a bit. The current office space seems to be too spacious with empty cubicles here and there. The management decide to lower the rental cost by terminating the lease of the 4th floor. As a result, we have a company wide seat reshuffle. The current location of my department is at the best spot in the building, a bright corner on the 3rd floor. It is obvious the prime location will transform into the corner office for the CEO. We were put one floor below. The cubicle move was over the weekend and I am just settling in my new cubicle.

I can’t complain about my new cubicle, it is right by the window. At first, I was a bit worry about the glare off my monitors; I may have to close the bind all the time. Luckily my windows is facing East, so I get ambient light instead of directly sun light most of the day. I can leave the bind open all the time and have natural lights shines on my cubicle. I don’t have to turn on my desk lamp and yet it is still bright enough for normal tasks. I found natural light is more comfortable for my eyes and I feel like staying in my cubicle more. I think having a window seat may even boost my productivity because I feel better at work!

Indian bonding

The visiting VP is taking the team out for dinner tonight, thank us for the hard work during the project. Business with your boss, your boss’ boss and your boss’ boss’ boss is usually timid and boring, you can’t talking freely as you are with your own friends. The topic of conversation is kinda general and vague in the beginning, we carefully talk things related to the project. We bashed the IT department, circulate anecdotes about our customers, while trying not to complaining too bluntly about the poor management of the project. Somehow the conversation slowly shift to our Indian experience. All but one colleague at the table went to the Bangalore tour of duty. The VP started with his Indian experience and we all have funny stories to share.

There are some common theme in our Indian experience. After we come back to Canada, we really appreciate the clean air and quiet living that we take for granted. We all wonder whether the highway between the guest house and the Bangalore office is still under construction. We have many stories of the India super inefficient labor intensive way of task management. Anything that we use computer or machine to automate, they use extensive man power in India. Construction workers chip gravel from a big rock with sledge hammer instead of power tools. The page number of engineering lab book is hand stamped instead of machine printed. The Indian experience connects everyone and light up the atmosphere as we recall how our trip to India. Usually you would want to end this kind of business dinner as soon as possible, but we sat at the restaurant, chatted and laughed for almost an hour after the dinner.

Greener grass

My colleague sit next to me just resign. He quits his job to start his own business. My first response is congratulate him getting out of this hell. The executives find new ways to lower the employees’ morale every week, it’s just a matter of time before someone said that’s enough. The current economy downturn and the lack of opportunities in Vancouver hi-tech industry in may silence some complaints, we are all realist after all. The colleague who quit is the one whom the VP asked his where about last weekend when I am working overtime. I would be really funny if I know he is quitting last weekend, so that I can tell the VP why he is not working overtime on weekend. I really want to see the look of the VP upon he hear the response.

I wonder is it just the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I envy my colleague who have the guts to make such a bold decision. As we know feeling is unreliable, decisions should be made with rational proofs. Six Signs It’s Time to Move On is a good article with useful guidelines to examine my career growth in the company. Here is the six guidelines:

1. You’re treading water, not swimming forward.
2. You’re not learning anymore.
3. You find yourself watching your back.
4. The future is fuzzy.
5. Your boss isn’t boss material.
6. The intern fits in better than you.

Weekend overtime

Weekend overtime only means one thing, the incompetent of the management. This weekend I have to work overtime. It is not just checking emails or dealing with unexpected emergencies. I was asked to come into the office and work like a work day. A block in the project is really late, so I am parachuted to help out in the crunch time. When I was in the office, our VP came by and check who is working overtime. He even ask how come the guy sit next to me is not in today! Gee, didn’t he realize it’s a weekend. He sounds like I should work overtime because the project is late. I bet it never come across his mind that the project late because he made some bad decision 6 months ago.

The block I am working on is a very complicate block and it is understaffed since the beginning. The management only assign two engineers working on it, and ignore their screaming for help since day one. Two months before the project deadline, they suddenly wake up and realize the block is on critical path. So they pile 13 people to work on the block. A task requires 1 man working 2 months won’t get done with 8 men in 1 week. It takes 9 months for a woman to give birth to a baby, 9 women won’t give birth to a baby in 1 month. It seems the management never learn important the lessons of mythical man months and the employees have to pay for their mistake by working work time.

How to demoralize your employees

My company just make a perfect demonstration on how to demoralize your employees. The economy is bad, everywhere is cutting jobs or costs, our company is the same. However, there are two ways of cost cutting, the smart way or the stupid way. Other than usual cost reduction deals like cut down the travel budget, lay off some employees and box Kleenex, the CEO just inform us there are two unusual cuts. The first cut is the company RRSP contribution, the retire fund, which roughly equal to 5% of pay cut. This one is understandable, we are unhappy about it, but doesn’t cause too much grief. The second cut is like dropping a fire ball into the crowd.

According to BC law, employees who got laid off get about 1 month per year of employment in severance package. It is quite expensive for the company to lay off anyone here. The CEO want us sign a new contract, limiting the severance to 2 weeks per year and capped at 6 months total. The new contract is so far so good if it is given enough incentive. However, the only benefit for signing the new contract is we are allow to keep our stock options, which is worthless anyways. Anyone with a right mind will not sign the contract. You forfeit half of your severance package for virtually nothing!

The new contract on its own is just plain stupid, but the CEO’s Q&A session make it out-outrageous. It is obvious we will ask why should we sign such as stupid contract. The CEO replied that the cost of doing business is too high in Canada. He threaten us that too expensive to lay people off will make the company stop having further investment in Canada. He pull up some statistic citing it is really too expensive. If we read the number, the Canada is about the same as other developed countries, like UK, Germany, France, Japan, the only exception is US. The most outrageous part is that the CEO present it in such a way that if we sign the contract, we will have better job security, but it doesn’t make sense at all. How can you get more job security by making the company easier to lay you off?

I think his threat is just a bluff. The investment decision won’t affect by whether or not we all sign the new contract. The new hire has to sign the new contracts. US is cheaper to lay people off, but more expensive to hire. Most employee in our Silicon Valley office is already laid off. Our cost is still too high comparing to India or China even if we sign the new contract If we are really too expensive, the jobs will go to India or China regardless whether we sign the new contract. Signing the new contract will only the cut happen sooner than later, if the cut is inevitable.

If the company really want us to sign the new contract, they should give us some incentive, say a buy out of $1000 per year of employment. Treating us like idiots and try to use an empty threat to make us sign the new contract really hurt the moral in the company. I guess the lost of productivity is already more expensive than the saving they could even get from the new contract.

Box Kleenex is gone, what’s next?

In a recession market, it is understandable for a company trying its best to cut its budget in order to stay afloat. However, cutting the supply of box Kleenex to the employees is way too cheap. Not only the box Kleenex won’t save the company much money, it also send the wrong signal to the employee. There is a fine line between financial conservative and simply stingy, cutting the box Kleenex definitely had crossed the line.

Now box Kleenex is gone, what’s next? I am pretty sure the company is seriously considering cutting the toilet paper. Maybe that’s why they send us to India, prepare us for a paperless toilet. Instead of having toilet paper in the toilet, they will put a small bucket in each stall like in the Indian office. After you done your business, you can fill up the bucket with water and then use it to clean your bottom. Then maybe they will cut the utensils in cafeteria. Why waste money on plastic forks or money to wash the metal forks. We can eat with our hands too! The only thing that you have to remember is the left hand is the toilet hand, the right hand is the eating hand. Don’t mix up!