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.


fakir005 said...

Intel is having a lot of problems. I'm not surprised that Intel would do things it is not supposed to do with the thinking that no body would discover it. It gets discovered and Intel is in hot water. Intel is not unique. HP lost its chairman over matters like this and there is a lot of Governmental inquiry. One day both ntel and HP would wake up and decide enough is enough and stop taking illegal short cuts to move ahead.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. In my experience, if you stand up for what's right, you're always successful. Don't equate success with advancing in company you're ashamed of. Count it by how you feel when you look in the mirror.

Another Inteler, although probably very short term

Chris said...

It was poor for HR to make such a promise. Are managers supposed to forget what they have already seen, ridiculous? Of course it did prove to highlight the lack of integrity of those whose word is not to be trusted. And these untrustworthy folks are still around. Perhaps their names should be provided to HR.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the wrong two people left. It seems to me the people who got us in our current mess (100K employees) are still going to be running the show. I don't feel much accountability high up and I don't think anyone is able to convince upper management that this entire process that is going to stretch out until mid-2007 is terrible. I long for the days of Andy and Gordon. Decisions were made and that was it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an Intel insider. I know several folks that work there. It seems to me that not many of them have much job security right now. A couple of these guys are/were totaly "Intel-ized" at one time. They would have considered selling any of their Intel stock as sacralige, even though it was what they were advised by many to do. Why this loyalty to a company (any company) that has no similar loyalty to the employees? They don't pay more than they believe that they have to in order to get/keep the folks that they need. When a company the size of Intel lays off a group of folks, say chip designers, what is the job market for them like with so many of them being unemployed at the same time? I'm not faulting Intel, they have a duty to the shareholders to run the company well. The addiction to chip speed when that isn't what the customers were seeking will take a while to overcome. The company seems a bit bloated with employees anyway.

Anonymous said...

you got it right. The Intel of old had a lot more people willing to challenge the bullshit that went on. And a lot less political BS.

Now, too many just sit back for fear of losing their jobs. Many of the good people have left ... most of the bullshit managers still remain. Politics/political correctness trump doing the right thing ... that is why Intel is in the bad position it is in today. And promotions I see aren't who is necessarily the best for the job, its who you know and who you can trust to CYA. This may sound racist, but from my experience and observations, the large population of Indians at Intel (of which there is a huge % of today compared to 5-10 yrs ago) are notorious for much of this political crap. Must be their culture.

And the way I hear this restructuring is going, where many in the ivory towers making the decisions had a hand in making bad decisions that got us in this mess, I would expect it to get worse before it gets better. I think the BOD may need to clean house w/some or all of the Executive Staff. However, I wonder if they have the balls to do so, or are the in bed people they view as "cronies" instead of "subordinates".

I see people, especially those close to the magic "rule of 75" retirement age (where Intel gives you a modest medical retirement savings account and you can pull out your Pension Sharing $) playing politics trying to protect their turf so they can reach this milestone. They are making bad decisions for Intel and inhibiting the growth of the people under them .

I'm at a point where I'm seriously consider leaving after Jan 1st. Life is too short to deal w/all of this nonsense.

Intel IT Guy said...

The example I gave here is far different than what HP did to find their leaks. HP appears to have broken this law. The people I'm describing made bad choices, but I can't see how their actions were illegal.

Anonymous said...

I find it really disgusting that MM1&2 still work for Intel. It is not the first time that I have heard of such things happening. But I do know that eventually those types will be outed to someone they cannot manipulate and they will be ex employees. You can only tweak the system so long before your hand gets slapped. I can't believe that Intel would reward that behavior for long. As the spouse of a current Intel employee who is very close to the rule of 75, he is weighing his options now. I think that Intel should do more to recognize those long term employees that have helped to make the company what it is today. How many long term employees do you work with? What knowledge can you learn from them if you asked? I don't see all the people near or in the rule of 75 ruining it for the people under them. I see those people as having made a long term committment to a company and continuing to work hard and not complaining about it.

Intel IT Guy said...

You know, managers are human too and sometimes make bad decisions. MM 2 is an ok guy, and I think a decent manager. He's not my favorite, but I don't think he's bad. Based on other behavior I've seen, I think Intel would be better of if MM 1 didn't work here. But I think bad behavior eventually catches up with people, even if some get away with it for longer than they should.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Intel managers, it seems like people who are on IR/BE have been able to transfer to other departments fairly easily. Hiring managers have full access to these employees' past focal reports and are free to talk to the employees' current managers, but I guess many choose to not use this to evaluate internal hires. It seems like the least controversial way to do layoffs at Intel right now would be to eliminate the 5-10% of the folks on IR/BE.

Anonymous said...

To the previous posting about the idea just laying off the bottom 10% from the focal process, think about this: in the old Merced days, all the new-hire engineers would be automatically slotted to the bottom 10% in their first focal, no matter what you did in the first year with Intel. Many of the Merced managers are still there, sadly.

Anonymous said...

This example really hits home with me. I see way too many middle managers who have learned to play the game (and 9 times out of 10, are typically rewarded nicely for it). I can't stand the game. The game is basically trying to make yourself look as good as you can (regardless of any real results) and doing what ever management expects- typically w/o ever questioning whether or not it's the right business decision. The focal process has been an absolute mess for the 6 years that I've been here. Hopefully the changes that have been mentioned by Paul & Co. will improve things, but we still have middle managers who will have a hard time changing.