Tim on Leadership

Musings on Management and Leadership from Tim Parker

Venting In Public

[Tim's Note: this was written after some negative comments were posted on various sites on the Web, blasting some executives of the company and some of the people in the R&D group.  Whether the comments were justified or not, the general approach of posting internal information and opinions of employees for public consumption is a sensitive one.]

As many in this company are aware, there have been a series of posts on several Web sites about working here.  For the most part the comments about the company and the working environment have been positive, but comments about the leadership of the company have been less than complimentary.

To some extent, this is inevitable.  As a quick read through any other company's comments on those sites show, there's a universal feeling that the executives of every company are out of touch, clueless, and only care about themselves.  The comments about our executives are echoed in just about every other company's reviews, too.  And do you really think the CXOs of all those companies are bad?  Or are perhaps misconceptions and misunderstanding the cause?

Having been in many large companies at the developer level, I can understand why many feel they do not know what the executive team is doing, or the issues they deal with.  Of course, there's always the issue of "they are paid so much more than me, and I can do their job just as well".  Almost everyone goes through that as a natural course.  What makes the CEO of a bank worth $30M a year when the people who work as tellers make $30K a year?  It is hard to understand when you're at the teller level.  The simple fact is more executives are in their positions through a combination of very hard work, specific skills, ability to think clearly and effectively, make the right decisions quickly and intuitively, and lead and inspire those who work with them.  The days of an executive (especially of a publically traded company) being a buffoon and surviving despite that are gone.  Responsibilities to shareholders, boards of directors, and peers and employees means the "bad" executives tend to have very short careers. 

What causes most vents is a mix of lack of understanding what the executives face in their roles, frustration at lack of advancement or movement in pay scales, direct management issues, and, sometimes, an ill-placed comment or two.  While it's easy for most to assume they know what a CXO does all day, few do until they have been exposed to that level of responsibilities and tasks.

There's no way the public vents will stop, of course, as people often feel the need to express their frustrations.  As long as the vents are not slanderous or damaging, venting is not a bad way to get frustrations out of our systems.  Having said that, each vent does damage to the company and all the people who work here.  Personally, I've never been a proponent of airing your dirty laundry in public, but it can never be stopped or controller.  Any attempt to stop it will just cause a worse backlash.

The best way to deal with any of these vents is to understand there's usually a grain of truth there, and that addressing those issues is going to help the situation.  There's also the old adage that one written comment represents what hundreds more are afraid to say, so vents can serve as a barometer of opinion (bearing in mind some vents are simply from a disgruntled person who won't say anything nice, no matter what, and those do not reflect the public opinion.)

Rereading the vents posted the past few months, on the whole they show a company that is a great place to work, that people are happy here, and that the environment is both positive and interesting.  Sure, the pay increase, bonuses, and promotions have not been what any of us (including the CXOs) would like, but we've come through a really tough couple of years and survived remarkably well.

Finally, on a personal observation, all our CXOs are genuinely good people who care about the company and its employees, as well as care about doing the best they can for this company.  Sometimes comments are made due to frustration, anger, or mood that perhaps should not be made, but the CXOs are as human as the rest of us and are under a great deal of pressure.  They are, after all, the public face of the company to our shareholders, and passion should never be stifled.  Off-hand comments are made by us all, but taken far more seriously when coming from a CXO.  I'm proud to be part of this company's executive layer, delighted to work with a great bunch of people in R&D, and while I will sometimes argue with each of the CXOs about something, I do always remember they are just as passionate and caring as I am about doing the right thing for the company, and they have been here a lot longer than I have and suffered while this company was growing.  For that, they will always have my respect.

I've worked with many large and small companies over the last 30 years, some world class and some not.  It's interesting looking at employees in every company, especially those with stable, solid, and high performance teams and comparing them with the average development company.  The former teams are the ones I love working with, but usually end up with the task of taking the latter and converting it to the former over a period of a year or two.  And that is rewarding in and of itself.