appearances are everything
Friday, January 28 2000
During the Friday evening motivational ritual known as "Energy," the Grand Pooh Bah made the stunning announcement that our company had just acquired another 60-employee operation based in San Francisco. This acquired company's product is something we've been coveting for a long time. We had even initiated a project (albeit small) to "embrace and extend" this product (build an inferior copy while propagandistically claiming to be adding features).
Kevin the DBA and I were off by ourselves talking about this development immediately after the announcement and Kevin suddenly saw purpose in some seemingly scatter-brained demands made by the Grand Pooh Bah in the preceding months. These demands had to do with the collecting of certain member data without giving any purpose for how that data would be used. Now, it seemed clear to Kevin, this data was being collected as a weapon, perhaps to help with negotiating today's acquisition. The same is true for the effort to copy this company's chief project. Perhaps all the Grand Pooh Bah really wanted was a stack of data and some screen shots to be used for intimidation purposes. Whatever he did (and I'm sure it was ruthless), it obviously worked. Now the "embrace and extend" effort can be scrapped. It must suck to have been working on that project.
In business, I'm learning, appearance is far more important than substance. This applies on every level. Take, for instance, the controversial employee rating system, where everyone in our company is ranked on a curve in terms of their purportedly "objectively-measured" value to the company. The fact that this list is no longer posted in large fonts by the front door, but in small fonts in the kitchen, indicates the timidness with which it is held up as an actual measure of anything. But then, when you actually get up close and look at it, even more absurdities come into view. When you look at the break-down of what people lie in which resource groups, you realize these assignments were made specifically to cushion the impact of the results. Thus, for example, Dmitri, a mid-level manager, had the misfortune to rank poorly among product developers, and he was arbitrarily lumped in with a small subset of developers, DBAs and networkers called "engineering," whose scores were fairly high on average but with whom he had previously never been classified. In this grouping, his being at the bottom doesn't look quite as bad and serves to cushion the "engineer" immediately above him. Similarly, we have three graphic designers, but only one of them, Sherms, was placed in my group ("product"), because the other graphic designer's rankings served better purposes with other groups. This all sounds arbitrary and capricious, and it is, but now we're being told that rank within our group is what counts, not rank overall. For the record, my rank is in the dead center of the "product resource," directly above the Queen of Statistics (well known for her all-nighters) and directly below Jay (also well known for his all-nighters, as well as for being the boyfriend of the Queen of Statistics).
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