Sorebrek's Musings and Ramblings

In search of the holy grail of an MBA (class of 2008 hopeful), this space will hopefully chronicle the search and my other quixotic pursuits.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Sufference of the Human Condition in the Valley

A largely unmodified version of a free-form reflection paper I wrote for a class I am taking:

(Be warned that it was written 5 hours before a 9AM class and comes with all of the accompanying weirdness typical of the hour.)

Applying to business school and evolving responsibilities at work had me reflecting, rather absent-mindedly (read, in the shower) about the state of technical organizations and their strained relationship with their employees. Last weekend forced me to organize some structure around these issues that I contend with on a day-to-day basis. I have always worked in Fortune 50 high-tech companies where we were told that the biggest asset of the company walks in the door every morning and leaves every evening, i.e. the employees; which makes the whole discussion more poignant. Why so? It is established common business-sense from the days of the smoke-stack economies that if you wanted to stay around, you need to protect your assets. Unfortunately, I am left with the overwhelming impression that there is a clear departure from this age-old wisdom in the tech-industry. Granted that these are not immovable assets like buildings or real-estate do make things complicated; however there is simply not enough effort, except knee-jerk attempts, to understand and retain the assets.
In such an environment, it is unenviable to play the role of a manager, especially a cross-functional manager. I have tried to list some typical challenges faced by people managers:

ECONOMY: Since the economy cannot talk back, at least not very vociferously, we can point fingers at it immediately. Seriously, the crests and troughs pattern of the recent economic times has put a lot of pressure on the average employee’s mind. Fear of retrenchment, salary cutbacks, end of soft-benefits (read free-lunch), loss of immigration status; the list goes on. Most employees on the receiving end are hunkered down in what they think is the best way to weather out a passing storm. Employers themselves have unfortunately not assuaged the concerns; rather, there is every indication to the contrary.

HUBRIS (or rock star syndrome): If I came out of MIT with a PhD in Computer Science at age 22, my manager must be a dim-wit if he is still pushing paper. And what is all this talk about business objectives? The only reason a feature needs to be added to the product is because it is so challenging that I am the only one who can do it without one's brains dripping out of the ears. It has nothing to do with what the customer wants.

WIN-WIN approach to management (I Win and then I win again): Whatever happened to old-fashioned leadership? It is the day and age of every man, women and child for themselves. During the roaring 2000s managers were applying top-notch thought on organization and leadership to a stock-gorged labor-force. Then irrational exuberance turned into calculated self-preservation. Not the best possible morale booster for the grass-roots employee.

CYNICISM (or yeah right with the eye roll): My observation is that cynicism is not only inevitable but is also accelerating. The amount of time it takes to curb a newcomer’s enthusiasm has fallen quicker than most dot-com stocks. Before you know it, the bright kid out of school is quipping about the state of the company and killing time wall-papering his cubicle with Dilbert strips.

The list could go on, but the thread that runs through is a clear lack of leadership that should have held steady during times of crises. Managers in the tech industry need to wake up to the reality that some things never change, for instance old-fashioned leadership.


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