Feedback is Fun

Feedback was the most exciting part of the day for me today. It was in a meeting and everything, so what could be better?!

If you detect sarcasm there, oddly… you’d be wrong.

Our 12 person leadership team was doing an exercise with a 9-Box Model and our Head of Engineering tasked us to prepare a self-evaluation and feedback for others as well. Our 9-Box classified Leadership Potential along the horizontal axis, and Performance in the role on the vertical axis. It was a bit daunting.

I spent some time Wednesday evening shuffling names around in lists, trying to work out what made sense. I wrote a whole host of notes for the meeting for everyone. And then I didn’t use any of it when push came to shove.

The feedback session was a mix of some different levels of the Org Chart, which was an interesting concept. Listening to Manager Tools teaches one rule about Feedback above all else: “You do not give Feedback to your Boss”. So of course, I proceeded to give constructive feedback to both my boss, and my boss’ boss.

I think the way this session creeps through the eye of the Manager Tools needle is that this was probably not technically feedback in the sense that they use, in that from bottom to top there is no implicit expectation that all feedback must get taken up. Details.

It was fun though, and incredibly constructive.

Giving and taking feedback can be hard, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. It feels uncomfortable because nobody does it enough. It’s the proverbial rusty wheel of management.

For my part, two things stood out (there were other noteworthy items, that need more time to percolate):

  • I have probably not been mingling enough with everyone, shown by the fact most people had trouble finding feedback (and it’s not because I’m perfect already, thanks mom).
  • I make things sound more complicated than they actually are by over-explaining. Although I do suspect that there are times when I don’t explain enough of the intermediate steps of my reasoning as well in my excitement to draw people to the conclusion. I blame Scott from my previous job for just being too damn quick at keeping up with everyone.

The latter point is definitely the harder for me to fix.

When I get questions, my first instinct is to try to explain the full nuance of the subject in one go. Which isn’t helpful. But then… I hate the idea of people falling into pitfalls I could have warned them against.

I guess until we get neural up-links with better bandwidth than a human voice I’ll have to settle for being Mozart, because my skills are definitely not adequate to being Bach.

(If you don’t recognize the Douglas Adams reference in the last paragraph, click through… it’s probably my favourite quote of his… the whooshing deadlines one is seriously overrated).

CM Goes Fiji

Despite being an accomplished airplane passenger, I must admit, after such a long time of not crossing any oceans I felt a little unsettled to be on a plane that was going to be crossing four hours of Pacific. But between my podcasts and my Kindle it whooshed by in the blink of a moment.

It is impossible to complain when your employer flies you to Fiji for 4 days to meet all your international co-workers face-to-face. Thanks Ben, Dave and Alex, and Campaign Monitor in general!

As first impressions go, Fiji leaves an interesting mix.

Landing against a backdrop of sharp volcanic teeth biting into fluffy clouds rouses an expectation of something raw and elemental. But that has proven more a set-piece to a pleasantly relaxed and hospitable stay.

The first step off the plane greets me with a blast of warm humid air. I quickly dispose of my jacket and sweater and drape them over my arm as I wind my way through the customs queue. The walkways into the airport feel improvised and the customs desks themselves seem accidentally placed in the middle of an otherwise bare carpeted room, more so than a well-planned line of border security. I guess there’s just not a lot worth worrying about.

Even the x-ray of my bag seems more cargo-cult formality than security per-se, when nobody questions the contents of the bundle of jackets, wallets and miscellaneous electronics I carry right past the machine through a striking absence of detectors.

And that’s just the first taste of an interesting contrast between a laid-back culture and signs of tourism-induced modernity along the way to the resort.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Hibiscus

The entire landscape leaves an impression of barely-tamed nature on the verge of consuming what civilization has been built among it. The place looks incredibly green everywhere, except where it is a natural yellow from the reedy grass. Strangely absent are flowers other than an occasional spray of hibiscus. Green is the colour of nature. It is the only colour omni-present.

Even the road looks like a merely temporary encroachment on nature, ready to be swallowed up by the grass if I look away for a moment… Don’t Blink!

Unnaturally narrow railway tracks follow the contours of the roads through the cane fields. My curiosity over the stability of any passenger train on these tracks is resolved when I spot the carriage packed with what I first mistook for bundles of twigs. The rail seems only intended for the sugar cane that grows everywhere.

And then every once in a while a cow.

Grassy field… Cow. Cane field, cane field,… cow. Bend in the road… group of cows blocking our way. I am completely desensitised to random cows now. It’s all good. Relax. Fiji time!

And then the resort.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Village

It looks like a little village in the jungle at the side of the bluest lagoon you’ve ever seen. It’s almost a shame to be “working”. But this is an incredible opportunity to make connections when working in a company with co-workers all over the US and Europe.

I have been chatting my ass off trying to put faces to HipChat aliases while drinks just keep materialising from smiling faces. I may recall about half, but that’s half more than I knew before. I think I’ve spoken to at least half of our international support team. And I had a few great conversations with members of the GetFeedback team (like SurveyMonkey, only much cooler, now with 99% less monkey). And a good number of the sales and marketing teams besides.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Shirts

And in between social events we have had an awesome All-Hands meeting with most of the company here. Our core values are now expressed everywhere through the medium of interpretative t-shirts. The thing indelibly impressed upon my mind from that session is that the head of sales has the energy of a pack of toddlers on red cordial.

Yesterday we went out into the community to build desks and tables for a school in a nearby village to kick of CMs new Community program which sponsors up to 4 days a year of community work for each staff member. I thought I had reached peak-pride in my employer, but there always seems to be more “up” there. We each brought a book for their library as well, which is now stocked with 150-odd new English books.

That’s another fact about Fiji that surprised me. English is the official language. It’s so strange to arrive on a tropical island and see all the street signs, and roadside shops advertise in English.

Sadly, I missed out on the great Team Building experience this morning. I woke up at about 7:30am with a migraine from what the bed had done to my freshly massaged back. I had to take some Panadol and another 4 hours sleep, rolling straight into lunch-time at the beach. I wish I could have joined in the fun.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Path

And the last day is left for free time to mingle.

Part of which I squandered wisely learning how to play “Up-and-down-the-river” with some of my Engineering friends (thanks Trips, T4, Rich, Ken and TJ). Apparently it has many other names, but I personally call it “screw over whomever you can; the game where someone always loses – the beginnening (part 1)”. I may have had a few drinks though, so it might be called something else tomorrow. I did poorly, but I screwed a whole bunch of people over so that’s winning in a way, innit?

To an introvert a holiday like this is a little like work. But an incredibly worthwhile time, and hopefully reason enough to repeat the exercise next year when we’ve grown even further!

Bula!

Oh, and the best time to join Campaign Monitor is obviously last week (everyone gets to come along; plenty of bemused three-week-hires floating around)… but the second best time to join is right now, so go and have a look at our Careers Page and apply!

2015-07-16 - Fiji Buggy

Smooth Transitions

As of Monday I am once again in charge of a team.

Exactly the same day that I had my 3-Month review in the afternoon. I felt fairly confident my review was going to be okay. I’ve definitely set myself a high bar to beat for the 6-Month review.

Today, my second day, was the day for one-on-ones with everyone. Also, interviewing a Product Manager. Also, a one-on-one with the CEO. Only lunch wasn’t technically a meeting, even though it kinda is.

It was great to talk with everybody and for them to be so positive and enthusiastic about the changing of the guard. It didn’t seem to take anyone by surprise, which is kinda surprising in its own right. If this goes pear-shaped it won’t be for lack of support from my team. I’m sure my previous two years of juggling/cat-herding/crisis-management will serve me well.

And then ending the day catching up with the CEO (a standard with all new employees, I believe)… Congratulations on getting the team lead so soon in my tenure. Emphasising how important the team’s work is to the success of the organisation (no pressure… really). And an opportunity to ask some questions.

And yet again… all ’round, so much support and enthusiasm from everyone in the company.

So…
What’s Next?

Exclusive Membership

I still have to catch up with a few posts rattling in my brain; had a fun 24-hour challenge at work last week that I need to write about, and this week has left me with some thoughts to put to paper* as well.

But for now… I just have to share the awesome team I am a member of.

2015-04-22 - Blackbeard

We are Team Blackbeard!
(named for our fearless(?) team captain)

*Please print out this post before reading, for the sake of accuracy.

Campaign Monitor – 8 Weeks In

I can’t quite decide whether to say “I cannot believe it’s only been 8 weeks” or “I cannot believe it’s been 8 weeks already”. Both interpretations have merit.

The change was unbelievably effortless. One week in I felt at home, two weeks in I felt like I could do something to add value, and three weeks in I was throwing all my crazy first ideas into the ring without regard for what people might think. It is liberating in the most wonderful way.

Despite diving in the deep end of the Web Technology pool, learning all the required AngularJS, ASP.NET, and how-to-order-my-coffee-online has felt somewhat effortless as well. I should have gone head-first into Web 2.0 long ago; the first four weeks at CM got me further along than two years of miscellaneous dabbling in my own time.

And the first four weeks flew by; I was holding off for the longest time fearful of the draining commute to Sutherland, but I think I probably should have made the call sooner. Alas, that is the nature of Unknown Quantities; even things that look great on paper are a little scary when they require getting out of one’s comfort zone. Had I known how much I was going to enjoy the work itself (to the point of dabbling and studying quite significantly in my own time as well), I would have given it a second thought.

And then, we moved to the CBD and things got better still.

2015-04-09 - In The Clouds

Cozy offices turned into a spectacular office. It is easy to get a bit blase about the view 38 floors above Sydney. The first week I’d take a few minutes to admire the view before starting work, but now that tends to come later in the day. At some point my mind will briefly not be stuck with a problem and I’ll catch the view, and then it catches me.

The view over Hyde Park and the Harbour are strangely disorienting. The perspective does strange things to my sense of distance. I could swear Darlinghurst is but a brief stroll away from Hyde Park by the look of it from up here. And everything looks like a game of The Sims. It feels like I somehow should be able to control the weather. Maybe there’s a switch I haven’t found yet. I should ask the OPS team.

The days go by in a pleasant productive rush. After some experimenting, I’m finding an early commute in and out most comfortable. I get up at 6:50am, have a quick shower, get dressed, 7:05am when I feed the cats, 7:15am I am stepping onto a train to work at the station.

That may sound like a rush, but I genuinely have little to do before heading out. Breakfast and lunch are both catered, so I have really nothing to prepare for.

I walk into the office at about 8:15am, boot up the laptop and have a quick look around the HipChat rooms for anything interesting, and go through any overnight emails. By about 8:20am the internal coffee ordering system comes on, and I punch in my large cappuccino.

Breakfast is 8:30am, featuring bacon and eggs, and whatever else our amazing chefs throw into the mix. This week I have been unable to resist the pancakes with poached plums. Between 8:40am – 9:10am I get back to whatever problem I left behind the previous evening.

Why 9:10? … well… that’s when we have our daily 10 minute stand-up with the team. A quick run around of what we did the previous day and what we will work on today. A chance to keep the team in the loop and to ask for help or clarifications where needed with broad input.

Then 9:20 through 12:30 rushes by faster than I can believe. A mix of learning and programming, leaning more and more towards the latter.

It is easy to tell when 12:30 comes around because by 12:35 the floor is almost empty. Many rush to try and beat the lunch queue.

Catered lunch is amazing. More amazing than I could have realised. It obviously saves some money (more or less depending on a propensity to buy lunches otherwise). But more than that, my lunch has never before been this varied. I’m probably eating healthier even if it is a tad more than I perhaps should… more gym for me.

And that is not uncommon either; there are various groups of employees that go running together or see a trainer before lunch, etc. On the flip-side, there is a page on the Wiki that chronicles the weight-gain that people experienced upon first starting at Campaign Monitor. The chefs are hard to resist.

Then, after lunch, more programming till about 16:45 which is my cut-off to make it on the last not-completely-packed train back home. Soon I will start experimenting with taking a gym class in the city before going home so that hopefully I can catch a train after the peak eases off again on those days. Luckily there is a lot of flexibility in the hours, as long as I make the 8-a-day excluding lunch, and I am available for all the important meetings.

Somewhere around 14:00 there is another round of coffee orders, and most days there is some kind of pastry or dessert on offer as well. Today was an apple crumble that did full honour to its name; I forgot my cutlery and it resisted my attempts to eat it most valiantly.

2015-04-09 - Hyde Park Below

Four more weeks and I’ll hit my 3-month review point.
But I am sure the 6-month mark will arrive in just another blink or two as well.

Everything about what the job demands and gives back just fits together perfectly to keep me energized and motivated, and feeling on top of the world in all the senses possible.

Agility

I joined Blackbeard only recently.

I was looking for a new challenge, and I found it in the Inn where he was resting his party with Friday beers and cheese platters. He was looking to take on an Epic quest, and could use all the skilled hands he could get.

His party was an unfamiliar mix of classes to me, which has something to do with agility and sprinting. I cannot argue with the results of a mixed party I have seen so far.

It is still early days, and I joined well into the current campaign. But the Stories of our Epic goal are enough to inspire a renewed sense of purpose in me.

I’m part of Team Blackbeard, our quest is bringing flawless E-Mayl to the masses.
(I think it’s a precious stone or something. I’m not entirely clear yet.)

Culture

Great corporate culture is easy to spot; just count the happy employees. I’m sure there are studies into the benefits of a positive culture, but I doubt you need studies to be convinced anyway.

Creating a great culture can be incredibly hard though. And regaining it after losing it is just as hard itself. It is like exercise; the amount of effort it takes to regain condition after sitting on your ass for a month disproportionately overshadows the effort it would have taken to maintain the routine for that same period. It’s rolling that boulder back up-hill.

So, I guess the first rule of Culture Club is: maintain culture for all it’s worth.

What makes culture hard is that you cannot afford words and actions to become misaligned. Intent alone is not enough, because perception beats intent every day; if employees don’t believe it, you’ve lost already.

Which means that the second rule of Culture Club is: make sure you pick a culture you are prepared to stand behind with every action, pick the culture you mean, be specific… platitudes do more harm than good. Everyone wants to be the “company full of smart empowered and pro-active individuals”, but just don’t say it unless you’re prepared to live by it.

I mean, look at McDonalds… there are manuals and procedures for everything. No need for anyone to be empowered or pro-active. But at least everyone is on the same page regarding what McDonalds culture is like. Which means that nobody ends up complaining about it. It Does What It Says On The Label.

And there are many stops along the spectrum from completely running on process* to completely running on people*, so pick the spot that is right for your organisation and live and breathe it.

And that would be the third rule of Culture Club: once you have a culture that is realistic for your organisation, everyone has to work at keeping it there. You have to look for things slipping and nudge them back where your culture says it belongs.

I suspect that may well be one of the biggest purposes that the playful decor at a place like Google has in maintaining their culture. It’s not a direct part of the culture, but it serves as an overt reminder not to take things too seriously. Breaking traditional corporatey-officey rules in the way you decorate immediately makes clear not to make assumptions about how things work around the place.

And I couldn’t be happier at Campaign Monitor; it comes with a great built-in culture close to the People-based end of the spectrum. And I’ll actively be doing my bit to help keep it there along with everyone else.

Just a little ongoing maintenance is all it takes.


* It is almost impossible to maintain a culture that is purely process-based or purely people-based. The more process-based a culture, the better it is to have a publicly acknowledged “why” for each rule and process; it helps the “people”-people. The more people-based a culture, the better it is to make clear that not being sure of how to handle something is okay, and a process to follow to find the right person to help; because you’re going to have “process”-people as well.

Starting at Campaign Monitor

Commute

I made the right call when I was first offered the job late 2013; that is not to say that there is anything wrong with the job per-se, because Campaign Monitor has already proven an awesome place to work. The commute would have killed me 6 months in.

Tuesday - fresh muffins with breakfast
Tuesday – fresh muffins with breakfast

On Monday morning, I made it from home to work in 70 minutes, door to door. Not bad, but not quite the 60 minutes I thought achievable. My manager suggested I try a different route home, which due to evening traffic also came to 70 minutes, and sadly a missed Pilates class.

Then this morning, Google told me to expect 1h42m, to which I scoffed “No Way”.
Alas, “Yes Way”… multiple incidents and accidents, hints and allegations later, 90 minutes door-to-door.

I am somewhat hopeful after a 60-minute commute this afternoon that I can fine-tune this a little further for the next 4 weeks after which the office will move to a gorgeous new CBD location. I am considering waking up at the not-a-real-time of 6:30am so that I can start early, finish early, and hopefully mostly avoid the traffic both ways.

A small limited-duration sacrifice to the sleep gods may be warranted. And limiting my gym classes to Tuesday evening and the weekend for now.

Food

This job comes with breakfast and lunch included.

And not just something quickly thrown-together either. The Three Chefs start their day at 7am, first to make breakfast and coffee orders for 8:30am, then to make lunch for 12:30pm, and finally an afternoon snack and coffee at 2:30pm.

Tuesdays' menu - I can still smell the lamb ribs on my t-shirt
Tuesdays’ menu – I can still smell the lamb ribs on my t-shirt

It’s definitely better fare than I’d be able to buy myself for an average $10, and it’s not costing me anything. It’s also a great time to sit down and chat with co-workers. Sadly I am horrendous with names, and I’m sure I’ll have to be reminded for a while longer… but it’s a great way to get to know my coworkers.

There is an internal web page where the menu for the week is published, and from what I understand the chefs do not like repeating themselves, so I am looking forward to never having the same lunch again. Also, probably healthier than I’d otherwise eat (mostly).

Learning Curve

Getting started is always a bit intimidating, when you come in feeling like you know nothing. The Engineering department has a buddy system in place though, so I have someone to ask when I need to figure something out.

There have been a few false starts where I needed a hand, but otherwise, the internal Wiki is amazingly comprehensive. I have learned an awful lot already in only two days from just poking around.

DiSC - 6515 - Creative (apparently!)
DiSC – 6515 – Creative (apparently!)

Today I had my first one-on-one with my team lead. Having used Manager Tools myself, I already knew what to expect. And I had seen many staff with DiSC profiles displayed in their windows, so I asked if I should get one of those done as well.

“Oh sure, there is a Wiki page, and here are the credit card details… just make sure you send an invoice to myself and the accountant when you’ve bought something.”

*blink* … no red tape indeed!

Culture

Which brings me to CM culture.

Friendly and relaxed does not even begin to describe it. “We’re all smart adults here” might as well be the company motto. The change feels a little disorienting to me, but I’m sure I will adapt quickly enough.

Dress code is: “whatever you are comfortable in” (within reason, of course, see “smart adult” above), but there are plenty of staff in t-shirts, shorts and no-shoes.

Tomorrow's Lunch - Sous Vide chicken.
Tomorrow’s Lunch – Sous Vide chicken.

I have been invited to try ping-pong, XBox, after-work trainer sessions… So far, I have politely declined while I get my bearings a bit more and work out my commute and sleep patterns.

But I already know, I’m right at home.

Last Day

I cannot exactly say that 8 weeks felt like the blink of an eye. They definitely felt like A-Long-Time-tm.

And I feel a little guilty about how little of consequence I have done with it, but not too much.

I have managed to re-establish a workable gym routine that had been suffering from too many interruptions last year from around August till November. I can actually do Body Attack again without dying, and my legs feel mostly okay after an hour.

I have read a half dozen fairly lengthy books from the large pile I was indirectly gifted by my former co-workers (a gift certificate well spent!)

I have watched way too many movies, way too much TV, and had a few nice do-nothing days along the way too.

And most importantly, I feel completely relaxed.
Which bodes well for tomorrow, the coming month, and the years beyond.

Campaign Monitor, here I come!
I must remember to take pictures along the way.

My Campaign Monitor Adventure – Soon

The original plan would have been to start at my new job in the CBD last Monday (2nd Feb), but speaking to the recruiter uncovered that the interior decorating in the CBD was running later than anticipated, to the tune of early March. He suggested splitting the difference and starting Feb 16th, which sounded fine to me.

I’m starting to get back into a working frame-of-mind.

Yesterday I had a social engagement in the CBD and Abbey and I decided to take the Parramatta ferry in for a nice slow ride, and I took the opportunity to snap some shots of what I believe are our offices-to-be… there aren’t that many buildings around Hyde Park high enough.

Corner of Elizabeth and Park
Corner of Elizabeth and Park

I’m looking forward to these offices. The CBD is too far from where I live to spend much time there, but there is a lot of charm to the idea of being able to spend some time over lunch in Hyde Park… it’s right outside the door after all.

Well-used park
Well-used park

And I like the fact that city-dwellers actually use the park as well. Late in the afternoon the lawns were littered with people by themselves and in small groups reading or talking. And a larger group gathering near the reflecting pond seemed to be getting ready for exercise. I didn’t wait around to find out for sure though.

Plenty of shade among the massive trees.
Plenty of shade among the massive trees.

And the park has some wonderful shade as well. It was overcast yesterday, but I’m sure even on a sunny day a skin-safe spot can be found on one of the many benches strewn about the walkways.

But first… three weeks of commuting to Sutherland by car.

I’m sure I’ll be too engrossed in getting up to speed to notice much of it, and it’ll be a nice opportunity to spend some time in their original offices before they become “former”.

“Sadly”, the new offices will apparently not have personal offices, but be organised around teams from what I understand. I look forward to finding out what that looks like.

Despite the many articles recently floating around the internet slamming open-plan offices, I’m not too worried either way. I just came from open-plan and I’m sure I will be able to find the occasional quiet corner for deep thoughts to be thought; it’s just a matter of picking up the laptop and going for a walk.

Worst-case scenario I guess I could wander into the park, although I’m not sure the WiFi will reach all the way down.