Friday, October 27, 2006

Missing Pieces

Some fallout that I didn't anticipate from the recent layoffs at Intel was that large gaps would start appearing in some areas. The recent layoff actions were skills based, and on paper the people with the lowest skills match to those Intel needs were let go. I know of several groups under 100 people that lost 40-75% of their people. When cutting this deeply, you're obviously going to lose highly skilled people along with those who are less skilled.

Within the teams I work with, which includes IT and some business groups, I'm starting to see that a percentage of the people let go were doing undesirable, low visibility, but nonetheless critical work. Now that people are gone I'm asking their managers how these tasks are going to get done. The answer is inevitably "we're working on it." The high visibility, sexy, fun stuff is already covered, but some of the ugly work that requires heavy lifting seems to have been dropped. It some cases it appears that managers either didn't know anything about this work, or they didn't value it. The gaps I'm seeing now are largely mundane background tasks that just seemed to magically happen.

We all know the "go-to" people in our workplace, whether it's Intel or any other company. Some people reliably get stuff done, and some don't. There are people who will see a gap and fill it themselves because they think it's important, because nobody else is doing it, and because they can. They'd rather just get it done than ask for permission, or ensure that it's prioritized, or wait for extra resources to appear. And I'm not talking about people who drop more important work to do what they want, but those who shoulder some extra work because nobody else has done so. Given the number of critical people that are gone and the number of gaps, I'm starting to wonder if the layoff process isn't seriously flawed. Keeping the right skills is important. But we're not adequately recognizing and valuing initiative, teamwork, and someone's willingness to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

Our value system for work often seems completely backwards to me. Year after year, I see people working on well funded, high profile projects get more praise, recognition, and rewards than those working on the more banal, day-to-day tasks needed to keep the company running. Anybody will work on the new stuff. It's far easier to work on something fun and interesting than it is to do KTBR (keep the business running) work. Working on highly visible projects is a reward in itself, so in effect we're doubly rewarding people who are working on the good stuff, and doubly penalizing people who work on KTBR.

Actually, when I look at some of the gaps that are emerging, I'd say that we're triple penalizing these people. The third penalty is that that we let them go because their "skills" didn't make them competitive enough. Willingness and ability to do this work is a skill, and one we've undervalued. I'll dig into this more deeply in my next couple of posts as I discuss Intel's infamous annual review process.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Parallax Blog

I almost can't believe that I'm going to blog about blogs, but I am. While I hate to divert eyeballs away from my own blog, I will risk it to mention a few recent blogs and blog entries that offer a different view of Intel and this blog. For any of you who haven't seen or read about it, Intel has some IT folks writing external blogs. And most amazingly, IT asked Jeff M. to be one of these bloggers. Jeff is known for writing an internal blog that is insightful, sardonic, sometimes hysterical, and that often pushes right through the envelope.

Josh of the (non-anonymous) TinyScreenfuls blog has decided to entertain all questions about Intel. You may want to swing by and see what kind of responses he's getting and posting. I expect it will generate a lot of interesting traffic. Kudos Josh.

And PentrinoIV of The Unofficial Intel Blog wrote a post about my post about this not being a free speech zone. I guess opinions are now like blogs, as everyone seems to have one.

I have to wonder (conceitedly) if the external blogs, and especially the inclusion of Jeff as a blogger, has anything to do with the rest of us out here blogging. Is it possible that someone at Intel decided that if people are going to read about Intel, that it may as well be on I have no idea, and I tend to doubt that there would be a direct cause and effect. But if there is, that's the best impact I could hope for.

And to answer a question I got in email, I don't know any of these bloggers personally. And while I appreciate the image, we don't all hang out together at Starbucks in our sweatpants, laptops open, blogging away in a caffeine fueled, techno-speaking geekfest. (And yes, I know it's possible for me to know Pentrino VI and not realize it since we're both anonymous. One thing you learn working with a ton of smart, competitive people who specialize in logic [aka nerds] is that if you aren't exact and explicit, you get called on it.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Leader of the Pack

Leadership is a funny thing at Intel. Ask most people about leadership and they'll give you fairly simple definitions, most having to do with others following willingly. But having followers doesn't seem to fit into the Intel definition of leadership. Over the last few years, Intel seems to be defining it as how well "leaders" can implement their management goals, tamp down dissent, and make projects look successful regardless of their actual state. To me, all of these seem to describe something other than true leadership.

There are clearly some management components to leadership, particularly in the corporate world. We need to work toward common goals. We all need to help make Intel successful. But just doing what you're told doesn't require much leadership. Being given positional power and authority does not make a leader. Any manager can order people to do something. It's how willingly they execute your orders and wishes that determines your leadership abilities. As does how you communicate, manage dissent, and allow people to develop and take risks. Leadership is about influencing people, winning trust, and gaining confidence, not giving orders. I see far to many managers (and some senior managers) managing only with their authority, rather than with leadership and influencing skills.

Intel managers sometimes hold "all hands" meetings where everyone in an organization is invited to attend. They are held to convey important messages, and to allow the group to engage in Q&A with their leadership. As Intel has been going through the recent efficiency efforts and lay-offs, these all-hands meetings have become more frequent. Over the past 8 months or so, the all-hands meetings in my group have been mandatory. Our general manager has decided that attending these meetings is not optional, and his assistant is tracking attendance. I wonder if it's ever occurred to him that if he's doing a good job, and is truly leading, that he wouldn't need to force people to attend. We should want to hear what our leaders have to say, and would welcome the opportunity to ask them direct questions.

I've noticed the same thing with our quarterly business update meetings. (These are meetings that Intel holds to review quarterly results and give business group updates.) These presentations are usually given by VPs, and some have made them mandatory. My first few years at Intel I looked forward to these and willingly attended. But then a few years ago they starting being uninteresting, and than they degraded to being difficult to sit through.

It took me a couple of quarters to realize the the problem was not the meeting or the materials, but the presenter. My group went from working for a dynamic, interesting, humorous VP to someone who was arrogant and seemed to go out of her way to alienate 1/2 the organization during these meetings. Quarter after quarter, at least 50% of the audience would leave feeling dejected, neglected, angry, and confused. And the worst part was that she seemed to be oblivious. She was only connected with specific people and projects, showed obvious favoritism, and simply wasn't a very good presenter. And in case you're wondering, I was usually in one of the groups that got her recognition. But it didn't feel any better to be falsely recognized than it did to be overlooked. After every meeting I wondered how this person could have been put in such a prominent leadership role, and how she could remain there.

When I spoke to one of her direct employees about this, someone tasked with trying to improve group morale, I was told "she doesn't always get the people aspect of her job." Then why the hell is she the one standing in front of 500 people giving a presentation? Why does my current general manager think it's necessary to force people to come hear him speak? Is he afraid to find out the if he doesn't make these meetings mandatory that we won't show up? If a leader calls a meeting and nobody attends, is he really a leader?

Intel clearly needs leaders who can deliver the work that needs to get done. But leaving a trail of disgruntled people in your wake should be a factor. If a large percentage of your organization doesn't want to follow you, or feels perpetually dejected, that's an indicator of poor leadership, regardless of your results. And if you look more carefully, you'll see that those with disgruntled people aren't getting nearly the results they could be getting with better leadership.

A couple of years ago I had a manager tell me during my annual review, for the only time, that my leadership abilities were in question. He had acknowledged that I was innovative, that my team willingly followed me, and that I focused on results over bureaucracy. And then he told me that all these things were irrelevant to leadership, and that true leadership was implementing his boss's visionahead of everything. More than anything else, I wanted to hand him a dictionary.

I don't know if this attitude about leadership at Intel is fostered anywhere - I've certainly never seen it documented. But it seems to be too easily tolerated. This kind of rigid "following" mentality, and a lack of consistent metrics to quantify leadership ability are allowing too many poor leaders to remain in sr. management positions. These people may add value to Intel, but they have no business leading us.

Monday, October 16, 2006

! Free Speech Zone

I've been doing some unexpected traveling which has kept me from posting regularly. I'll try to get a few posts in this week, but first I need to do more housekeeping. I'm still behind on e-mail, so if you haven't gotten a reply from me yet please be patient.

Moderated comments are enabled on this blog, so they don't become visible until I OK them. I can either publish them or ignore them, but I can't edit them. I went with moderated comments rather than just allowing them to automatically post due to a concern about people mentioning non-public figures sharing confidential information.

Over the weekend someone submitted a comment that I won't post. The commenter was recently laid off and was making a point about why he may have been targeted. I was sorry to read that he was redeployed, and his point was valid. But then he went on to make an judgmental comment about an unrelated group of people. I considered publishing the comment then responding to to it, but I caught myself. Anyone is free to think or write whatever they want about other people, but this isn't the place to do it. I won't post my political or religious views here and I won't allow them to be included in comments. This isn't a free speech zone.

A few have asked about getting an RSS feed from this blog, so I added a subscribe button on the right. There is also an email subscribe option for those who want it. I would opt to use something other than my work email address for this. Note that won't see any of these email addresses and won't do anything with them if I did.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Do the Right Thing (#1)

During my time at Intel I've experienced a lot of good and some not so good behaviour. I've seen people role model good working values and do the right thing many times. I've also witnessed some bad behavior, and I intend to discuss both over time. I'll start with an exchange that took place a few years ago and, for a number of reasons, was eye opening to me.

A short preamble: I've thought about whether or not I should share these experiences. They're all historical, not current. And I don't expect to change what happened or their effects. But I'm hoping to shed some light on how things can work at Intel, and how individuals can impact them. Keep in mind that any less than ideal behavior I describe is typically exceptional, and is based on the actions of specific people, not corporate policy.

I was a new manager in a staff meeting. I knew most of the other managers on the staff, and we worked for two guys who both managed the team (two-in-a-box). We were discussing the upcoming focal sessions (Intel's annual employee review process). A few weeks earlier we had gone through a skills assessment exercise which was used for downsizing in some groups. Many employees were concerned that the skills exercise would be used as part of the focal process, which would have been a big change.

To address these concerns, HR had made it clear to all employees, especially managers, that the skills assessments would not be used for focal, that people would be evaluated with the standard process. Below is a discussion that took place in this staff meeting. The two bosses were middle managers who I'll refer to as "MM 1" and "MM 2." They considered another manager on the team a cowboy, so I'll call him "CB."

MM 1: To get through focal more quickly, we're going to use the skills assessment scores as a starting point for ranking. It's just a starting point, and rankings can change as we talk about people. Any issues with this?
CB: Well, we're not supposed to be using the skills matrix for focal.
MM 1: Why not?
CB: Because we told people we wouldn't use it.
MM 1: How will they know? Are you going to tell them?
CB: No, but we told people we wouldn't do it.
MM 1: Well, MM 2 and I have talked about this and we think it's the most efficient way to get through focal.
CB: But we're not supposed to do it.
MM 2: I don't see why not.
CB: Because we told people we wouldn't.
MM 2: But they won't know. All they care about are the focal results, and this will help get us done faster.
CB: I'm not sure it's legal.
MM 1: What are you suggesting?
CB: That we don't use the skills data for focal.
MM 1: We'll have to re-design our entire focal process.
CB: If someone challenges their focal results it's going to be a problem.
MM 1: Will you be ok if we call HR and get them to approve it?
CB: Sure.

MM 1 calls our HR rep and gives some background, then asks the question:

MM 1: So can we use the skills data to get first cut at ranking, just to get started?
HR: Absolutely not.
MM 1: But we're not saying that ranking won't change, we're just using it as a starting point.
HR: We told people we wouldn't use the skills matrix for focal. You can't use it.
MM 1: Can we compare our ranking to the skills data to see how it matches up?
HR: No. You can't use the skills matrix for focal.
MM 1: Not even for validation?
HR: No.
MM 1: Ok, thanks.
MM 1: I think we should still use it.
MM 2: I don't think we can. We need to redo our focal process.

I was surprised by several things. I didn't expect someone to challenge their manager(s) and hold their ground. I didn't expect the managers to continue to argue for a something that was clearly ethically wrong. I was shocked when one of them recommended continuing with the plan after being told they couldn't by HR. It didn't occur to me at the time, but looking back I'm surprised that nobody else spoke up, including me.

Watching this conversation unfold was a great lesson for me. Someone took a stand to do what was right, when there was nothing in for him. In fact, all he could gain from this was the ire of his management but he did it anyway. As I've matured at Intel I've tried hard to be more like CB, and it's not easy. When Intel is laying people off, who wants to be seen as the person who tells their manager that they aren't acting ethically. It seems easier and safer to be politically correct.

Intel is far better off when we challenge each other to do the right thing. Bad personal ethics can only exist if we allow them to. But doing this can be risky, and I haven't found the perfect balance between speaking out and being successful.

MM 1 and MM 2 are still middle managers at Intel. CB left Intel a couple of years ago, as did the HR rep who agreed with him.