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.


Anonymous said...

This is a great observation, and I really think it's because of Focal. The keep the business running work as you called it seems to rarely, if ever, really count when it comes to promo's or recognition- especially when compared to the more exciting projects & roles. But as you point out, it is this stuff that really keeps our business together. When I hired on 6 yrs ago fresh out of college, I had a lot of respect for Intel. Most of that respect has been lost since then as I've been regularly disappointed with far too much of the management of Intel. That's not to say that the company isn't packed full of very intelligent folks, or some great managers, but overall, I was hoping for more.

Anonymous said...

In my view the visibility of the mundane tasks, and those who do them, has always been an issue at Intel. SImply because the FOCAL culture rewards and demands that the "big" accomplishments be highlighted, along with made-up stats on their "impact" or "results".

I had this problem myself in my 9 years at Intel. I did a lot of the mundane tasks, and some of the visible ones too, in my various roles. I had a horrible Santa Clara manager for a couple of years (I was in Oregon) who liked to take credit for everything I did, so I got NO credit, and suffered for that. Things turned around immediately after he left that role, and my FOCAL popped right back up to where it had been. Of course, he left the position because several of his direct reports had horrible FOCALs, and so management was beginning to see that the problem was with HIM as a MANAGER, rather than with his people. He got out and moved on while the getting was good.

But the simple fact remains, that it is the people who do the mundane tasks, who are the ones who really make the company run day to day. And the glory-seekers, ICs and managers who refuse to do much in the way of mundane tasks, focusing on the visible/glory tasks, who get the promotions and sponge off the backs of those who do the actual work every day.

It's a sad but true and fundamental flaw of INtel culture. People who actually do the bulk of the heavy lifting, rarely get recognized for it. And they suffer in FOCAL because how do you quantify mundane tasks?

I'm no longer with INtel, having left many months ago long before all this layoff stuff came about, but I have heard in recent weeks from at least a dozen people who were former colleagues and co-workers who are TO A PERSON *VERY* competent individuals, who got good FOCAL reviews, who were at the company 8-10+ years.

The BEST people already have jobs and have moved on, and they are better off (i.e. new job, higher salary, better work conditions, better benefits, more responsibility, etc.). They, like I, have realized that life OUTSIDE of INtel is far superior to that INSIDE Intel. The rest of the people still at Intel have either drank too much Kool-Aid, have been there long enough that their options are still work something (a dwindling population, to be sure), or somehow thrive on the victimizing/passive aggressive INtel culture....or are just plain naiive.

To those thousands in Oregon who are looking for new jobs, GOOD LUCK. Your life will be better in the future than it was at Intel, believe me. Just give it time, and life will work out well for you.

Again good luck !!!

Intel IT Guy said...

I agree there's an issue with Focal (Intel's annual performance review process.) Notice that at the end of this post I mentioned that the next couple of entries will be about focal. I think it drives a lot of what we're talking about.

Anonymous said...

I think this is normal and has been around since the beginning of business and welcome to the real world of working. You think that manager cares about you or your job? Nah, he/she cares about their kids soccer game/getting a raise(maybe)/getting promoted/his/her spouse/etc. We are all just cogs in a wheel dude. At IBM I had a second line manager tell me that IBM was no Red Cross, other words they weren't there to help me, they are in the business of making money for stockholders, I was at IBM 4 years and WOW! that was a wakeup call. You are only worth what it costs to replace you. It takes time to grow up and be an adult and recognize that business is business/job is a job, nothing more nothing less. Welcome to the big time. As for the dude who thinks life is better outside of Intel, maybe but where you working? and how long? after I left IBM and went to Moto - jeez you would have thought the sun rose of MOTO, but then after a few years... it's just like IBM :) I lose repect for management in general. If you think Intel management sucks, don't and I repeat do NOT work at IBM.

PS - from all I know, Intel management isn't any better/worse than IBM's or AMD's. (and i know a lot about working at all 3 of them if you get the drift).

Intel IT Guy said...

I think you may have missed the point of my post. Of course Intel is in business to make money, just like every other company. I have no expectation that Intel is going to coddle their employees, nor do I want to do so as a manager. Intel can be a particularly brutal environment - every year a certain percentage of the population gets told they're doing a bad job. (I'll blog on this shortly.)

I'm talking about Intel keeping the right people - not just as a people issue, but from a productivity perspective. To remain successful, we need to keep the people who are willing to do the mundane work, who do it without being asked, and who do it well. Despite the depressed stock price, Intel is a wildly successful company. I chalk this up to Intel managing to a good set of corporate values, and to the people Intel can attract and retain. (I'll write about this later as well.)

Anonymous said...

this post is appropriate for even today's earning news (1/16/07)

Intel was really good to me over the years- but when the package was offered this time I snapped it up over jumping into the pool. I was good enough to have perhaps socked it out and found a position if there was one...but like those above had said- life is better after [today's] Intel.

I predict they will have to reduce to 60-70k in headcount to be competitive. BTW I have been right on 5/5 every prediction so far in the 06-08 rounds of layoffs including when layoffs would start after all budget freezes back at end of 05.

with few exceptions (like IPF) Intel is like a stock trader who buys a blue chip stock and sells it in knee jerk reaction when it drops a point.

Management will sell their grandmothers to the circus to avoid showing a loss to wall street and this mentality is a deadly burn on cash and talent.

They can layoff all the worker bees they want- it won't change the process that got them here; it's the guys at the top and upper middle who have ran this company into the ground. They were largely untouched in the 1000 mgr layoff. Expect no turn around until several senior positions are filled with managers from companies who know how to compete in a tough industry.

Good luck to those who are still there- make sure you know where the exit doors are at.