Chapter 7: How Hard Can it Be? – Catalogs, Services and Portfolios

CHAPTER 7: HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

As soon as Lee and I turned the hall corner, I said, ‘Are you sure that was a good idea? I don’t know any more about the details behind provisioning new employees than you do. My hands are full with the Rubber Boots project. I won’t have time for it.’

Lee didn’t even look at me. ‘You’ll have plenty of time for this. I haven’t told you yet, but at his request, I’ve given the Rubber Boots project to Crayton. He’s much better suited to bringing that project in successfully. I don’t know why they didn’t give him the whole thing from the beginning.’

‘What? Crayton asked for it? But I was assigned that project by Jason himself. Are you telling me you can change his decision? Why didn’t you at least ask my opinion’?

Lee stopped and scowled at me. ‘I am your boss. The fact that I tell you that your work has changed, should be more than sufficient. I don’t appreciate being challenged by you. Do you realize that some weaker managers would consider that insubordination, and grounds for firing you on the spot’?

I bit back on my frustration and anger. ‘It’s just that I think I could have contributed more at the meeting if I had known what you were signing me up for beforehand.’

‘You do not understand,’ said Lee. ‘Just because I am lenient with you, does not mean we are equals. Your job is to execute the assignments I see fit to give you. That’s why I am your boss, and you work for me. Your role here was to watch and learn, not to offer your ideas, unless requested.’ Lee stopped and put his hand on my shoulder. ‘I’m not saying you have nothing worthwhile to say. But the fact is, that most of the issues and concerns you have are things that are self-limiting and holding you back, and we need to squash those. They are things I already know, and will reinforce in you by my direction. It is part of the mentoring process. It’s like exercise. It may hurt a little, but it’s a good hurt, because of what you get in the long run.’

It was easy for Lee to make commitments for me since it was my job he was putting on the line, not his. But what choice did I have? If he had the connections to get a respected and long-term peer, fired within two weeks of getting here, then he could probably have me out the door with just a nod and a wink.

I was determined not to end up like Ramesh. Right now, having a job was more important than my pride. I needed to turn this around. ‘I must give you credit at how quickly you got Jacob on your side. I was expecting a full-on beat-down.’

Lee nodded his head and grunted, acting surprised I would even consider he would not be successful.

‘I was a little surprised that you made IT the bad guys,’ I said. ‘There is plenty of blame to go around. All the field has to do is fill out the tickets properly, and far enough in advance. Besides, you’re part of IT now, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you defend IT? Isn’t that part of your job? Can you help me understand that’?

Lee huffed in frustration. ‘You have so far to go. Building links to a client is based on establishing an area of commonality … a common experience, whether good or bad, goes a long way to building those bridges. And I’ll be blunt, it doesn’t matter how well, or how poor, IT is doing provisioning services. Every IT group has some service area where they could be better at focusing on the needs of the business in the field.’

Lee’s phone buzzed. As he answered it, he said, ‘Now get out of here and get to work. I want results, not a lot of chatter. Prove to me that you are worthy to work here.’

‘But where should I start’?

Lee covered his phone and said, ‘Wrong question. I expect you to tell me where you started, when you come back with some positive results. Like the Spartans used to say, ‘Come home with the deal, or not at all. Get to work.’

I walked off, thinking that didn’t sound like something the Spartans would have said, but it did sound rather hard charging. I heard Lee turn on the charm with the person on the other end of his phone conversation, like he was flipping a switch. ‘Hi, sorry about the disruption. I was coaching one of my less-experienced employees and they needed some extra guidance.’

I walked over to Sean’s cube. If anyone knew where to start, he would. He’d been here long enough, and involved in so many things, he probably had a role in implementing the whole provisioning system. He’d been a great deal of help getting me through my issues with the incident, change, and problem management processes.

Sean sat with his back to me. He had two screens lit up on his desk, and I counted two laptops and one desktop computer on his desk. He was working a tablet, as he read data off the screens. I never understood how Sean got away with it. It was against company policy for employees to have more than one working computer, yet he always seemed to have more gear than a repair depot on his desk.

I knocked on the metal strip on top of his cube wall, but he didn’t respond. He had one of those fish-eye mirrors to see who was behind him, so I knew he could see me.

‘Sean, I need to speak with you. I need some help.’

No response, just the clacking of keys, and the gentle thump of taps on his tablet.

In the past, I might have taken his lack of response to indicate it was better not to disturb him, and come back later, but not this time. Perhaps it was Lee’s influence, or maybe I was just feeling more confident in my role. I sat down in a chair behind Sean and said, ‘Your car is on fire in the parking lot and they are giving away hundred dollar bills in the break room.’

Without missing a beat, Sean said, ‘Let the car burn, just be a friend and go get me enough hundreds from the break room for me to buy a new car.’ Sean turned around. ‘You’ve gotten awfully pushy since you started working for that bag of gas from the field, Lee.’

I leaned across the desk. ‘I would be careful what I said about Lee. Did you know he got Ramesh set free to pursue more success elsewhere’?

Sean scowled. ‘Don’t give me that corporate double-talk. It’s not even a good euphemism. I’ll bet you don’t even know why they fired him, do you’?

‘No one ever talks about that. It’s out of respect for the individual’s privacy.’

Sean rolled his eyes. ‘Give me a break. And here I thought you actually had a clue. Do you really think the leadership cares about any privacy besides their own? They want to keep the reason a mystery from those remaining behind; to keep them guessing what unwritten rule the recently departed had violated; to keep the survivors always second-guessing their actions, and working to err on the side of caution, rather than confrontation with the dictates of the leadership.’

‘You’re crazy,’ I said. Now he was starting to talk like Ramesh. ‘There may be some strange characters in the leadership, but no more than anywhere else in the company. There is no way they could benefit from not being transparent.’

Sean laughed. ‘By keeping information from workers, it is easier to keep them under control, and focused on their tasks. Our leadership is a group of ultra-competitive, high-performing super achievers. Their real objective is collecting more relative power than their peers. Being able to do that well, was how they got to where they are. But having spent so much time focusing on that skill, they’re no longer comfortable doing anything else.’

‘The only way to measure their performance against their peers is through relative power. And information is the currency of power in corporations. So while leading the company is their role, it is only a means to the end. Their real objective is showing their leaders that they have accumulated more power through their actions than their peers. That is the goal of our leadership.’

‘You’ve had too much coffee and need to get out among real people more often. Or at least keep your soapbox in check.’

‘Fine. Ignore what I’ve learned. Why are you disturbing me’?

‘Where should I start? Who can help me understand what’s going on with provisioning technology equipment for new employees? You’ve been here a long time. You must know who owns that service. I’ve been through the organization charts, and I can’t find any group, much less any person, responsible for it.’

Sean seemed a little perplexed by the question. Actually, it was the first time I’d asked him a question, and not received an immediate flip answer. The fact that he wasn’t making fun of my question had me worried.

‘Depends on what you mean by provisioning. It’s not a simple answer. There’s a computer, phone, physical access, secure remote access, secure local access, domain assignment, applications; the list just keeps going. You’re going to have to talk to each of the groups.’

‘That makes no sense. Who’s accountable if it goes wrong? Who gets their performance measured, and gets rewarded if it gets better’?

‘When you find them, let me know. I have a few other miracles I need worked,’ he laughed. ‘Do you seriously think that IT is so overstaffed we can dedicate people to doing nothing more than watching to see if other IT groups are working in concert with each other? And don’t forget, IT doesn’t even own a lot of the tasks you’re talking about. Keep this up and I’ll begin to think you’re really Lee in disguise. We have a lot of smart, responsible leaders in IT … people who have the users’ best interests at heart. And when people involved in provisioning new employees get task requests, you can be sure that one of them will step up … even though it is outside their area of expertise … and make sure the work gets done end to end. That’s how we provide service to the business and leverage them for success.’

At least he was making fun of my questions again, but if his comments were true, they were a big reason for the gaps in delivery. The only question was how to fix it, because he was absolutely right. IT could never get dedicated bodies to manage it, and if no one was held accountable for it, then things could go wrong and never get addressed … or even done the same way twice.

‘You still here’? asked Sean with a smile. ‘I suppose you won’t leave my cube until I tell you where to go. Okay, start with Ian. He’s in charge of asset management. He has to track everything for the accountants, so he should be able to at least tell you who has which piece. Now go away. I have real work to do.’

I headed down the main isle of the cube farm towards Ian’s office. As owner of asset management, he could tell me which assets were given to which employees, and that would provide me with a pattern for how things were being handled. I’d arranged for us to have lunch off-site, so I could have some time picking his brain without interruptions.

Part of me was hoping that he was also responsible for ensuring no tools were left with departing employees, and that their access was cut off the day they left. Usually things went well, although there had been a couple of incidents where employee access had been cut off by Ian’s overzealous staff before the employee even knew they were being let go. It was a miserable way to find out you were being fired. I bet Lee and Jacob hadn’t even thought of that final humiliation for the soon departing.

I walked quickly. The idea of knowing something Sean didn’t, and being able to rub his nose in it, was very appealing. And as Jacob and Lee had insisted, there was no sense in having employees here if they didn’t have the tools they needed to do their job. I was more than a little surprised that I was actually starting to enjoy this assignment.

Ian and his team sat in an area of cubicles that were former raised floor data centre space. It had been converted into a cube farm, by simply laying down some carpet, and adding cubes. The raised floor was still in place, even after all the cabling had been removed, leaving the plenum as an empty, resonating cavern, much like the box of an acoustic speaker. In a few spots, orange safety cones identified the booby traps of broken floor panels that hadn’t yet been repaired. Judging by the dust on them, they weren’t likely to be repaired anytime soon.

I turned into Ian’s cube and almost ran down Zoey. She was the new administrative assistant for Jason, our Senior VP of sales and marketing. Zoey was peppering Ian with questions in a non-stop flow that made them nearly rhetorical. She didn’t seem very interested in answers, only demands.

‘Where are the systems for our new hires,’ demanded Zoey, stomping a foot against the floor, hard enough to make it echo.

‘How hard can it be’? she demanded. ‘These are 12 new sales associates. They each need a smart phone, tablet and laptop.’ She gestured across Ian’s cube. ‘They don’t need much, because unlike some employees, they are out in the field actually generating revenue, so you can sit in here on your rear every day.’

Ian began to sift through the online equipment request data. ‘Just a minute, let me check.’

‘You’re just checking now! These requests were loaded weeks ago.’ Zoey waived a sheaf of papers at him. ‘My boss thinks I goofed up and forgot it. I am not going to take the fall for your failure.’

‘Look, I’ll be happy to talk to him and explain the circumstances,’ offered Ian. ‘Just let me get the dates and times, and estimated completions, first. I’m doing this as a favor to you. I’m not accountable for new employee gear you know.’

I shook my head. That was not the situation I’d hoped for.

‘Do you think he is any more interested in excuses than I am’? She slapped her hands down on Ian’s desk, and loomed over it towards him. ‘I want that technology in place today, and if not, there will be repercussions you will not like.’

With that, she turned around so hard I thought she’d get whiplash. ‘Excuse me,’ she snarled, shoving past me and into the hall.

I smiled at Ian and said, ‘Glad you’re having fun.’

Ian glared at me. ‘This is insane. Can we go to lunch now, before someone else comes to beat me up’?

We walked quickly toward the parking lot. Ian seemed to check each row before we crossed, as if he were looking to ensure no one else was waiting to ambush him. We were only a couple of rows from the door when Ian finally relaxed a little.

‘You don’t have anything like this,’ he said. ‘Every flipping request seems to work differently. I get one kind of form from some people for new employee set-up. Then I get requests from the service desk for a set-up, but no one seems to know if it is the same one or not. Then I get people like Zoey, cube-bombing me with more demands. Half of them are so detailed I doubt anyone outside of IT could fill them out, and the rest are so vague that no one could figure out what was really needed. And the worst part is, they are all probably for the same people, and most don’t make any sense.’

‘Well, who is supposed to feed you those requests’? I asked. ‘Somebody must own this. Who’s accountable’?

Before he could respond, Adrianna came running up behind us. ‘Just the person I was looking for. Where are we on those set-ups for the new employees? Are they ready yet’?

Tips that would have helped Chris

Don’t be surprised if you encounter processes or procedures that have been established with great rigor, but without follow-up performance goals in the future. People may take a project view of processes, with the deliverable being the initiation of the process, rather than its ongoing performance.

During development, and even operation of any process, you will become involved in situations that are frustrating, or upset you. Try not to let anger or frustrations drive your actions, you will regret later. Try to take a step back and focus on making fact-based decisions. When people you are working with fall into this trap, do what you can to help lead them back to the facts. Once they get there, they will thank you.

When developing new process, or analyzing existing, you will often need to hunt down connections and data flows. Don’t be shy about following the dots and asking for help and directions from each person you encounter. You will usually end up with a number of dead ends, but those are valuable, too. They help you eliminate areas not worth further investigation.