Friday, October 22, 2010

Nerd OP: Feedback

I'm living in a world o nerd. I know, that's my normal state - but it feels unexpectedly over-nerdy at times, even on the biz-cas side of the house. As opposed to the "please wear shoes to the bathroom" side of the house - who sits in the next cube and clips his nails every week. Ew.

I was chatting with the other half of ThongCharm last night, and comparing our organizational politics situations. It seemed clear that I live in some sort of OP land where nerd rules dominate.  So, I thought I'd analyze it a bit. And there's one really remarkably prevalent feature of nerd op which has become clear to me: Really Bad Feedback.

Like most pseudo-democracies, our organization does a significant amount of internal soul-searching. We ask each other what could be better, and how processes can be fixed. We discuss potential remedies to what ails us. Occasionally, we even put them into practice.

When having these discussions, I operate on the assumption that all feedback should be:

a) actionable
b) cognizant of the perspective of the other actors in the situation
c) respectful
d) meaningful in its impact

Actionable, because what's the point in commenting that the color of the sky isn't going well with your outfit? So much organizational feedback has a "what if we change out the CxO and replace him with Bill?" quality of being entirely outside the control of the folks in the discussion. Further, these massive or distant changes tend to be perceived as being more impactful than they actually would be - or at least, there would be a slew of unintended consequences and complications.

Cognizant of other perspectives
, because there is a possibility that the person on the other side of the relationship has stresses or concerns of which you're unaware. Sometimes mean people just have bad stomach aches. Not always, but at a minimum, you have to accept the fact that from where they stand, their behavior may have been entirely in line with the stimuli they received.

Respectful, because feedback is better received when it isn't laden with cuss words. And I love to swear - so it extends beyond that. No one is stupid, inadequate, unmotivated, lame. That's talk for behind closed doors, with trusted friends. In a feedback situation, I'd sooner say "He's a great mime, but I'm not sure whether singing is his calling."

Meaningful, because I'm too busy to spend time discussing the redesign of the internal web site. I'm sure whoever is doing that has a full time job doing that, which is more than I can possibly comment on in 10 minutes - and I can't really see how my life would be significantly better if I had more SharePoint in it. Maybe that's just me.

Nerd OP doesn't actually follow these rules at all. Bracing for an epic battle at work (which I'm blissfully unavailable to attend), we get feedback that roughly nets out to:

I think we should re-org the Y team under "Guy-who-was-explicitly-removed-from-that-position" again. It is horrible, ineffective, and the bane of my every day existence. And you need to know that "Guy-who-created-the-Y-team." Your baby is ugly. Not just ugly - there's a large and growing plastic surgery budget already collected from poor orphans worldwide just to fix that level of ugly. GWWERFTP - why can't you get the job you failed to get??? The Y group's job is so easy, a trained monkey could do it. Also, it would be better if they managed the whole thing on Sharepoint.

I truly wish I were kidding. I have heard dozens of these, and can already write the dialogue for the meeting I'm missing next week. Part of me wishes I could be there, just to watch the stupid. But most of me thanks my lucky stars that I have an analyst meeting. And I'll NEVER say that again!


Shannon C said...

Speechless... No. Not really. More like ROTFLMAO. We should catch up.

PD said...

My working theory is that the reason for this behavior is you're dealing with a set of people that:

A) Rarely if ever have had productive social relationships. Where there are people, there is conflict. To have a productive relationship with people, conflict will happen and therefore conflict management is key. People have shades of grey and if/then statements just don't always apply. The strongest relationships are those with the shades of grey, because that's who we people really are.

B) As nerds, the only negative feedback they've ever received is "Compile Failed" or "It's not you, it's me". In their minds, it's either there or it's not.

C) Geek culture is all about trashing other people's code or design. Flaming. Platform wars.