How well do you know what members of your team do on a regular basis? Consider this parable of one employee’s interactions with his supervisor. It’s part one in a three part piece on the importance of transparency between leaders and their team. We begin with a reflection on the peaceful nights so many individual contributors experience…
Jonathon woke to his Blackberry ringing. Rolling over, still blurry-eyed, he saw the alarm clock glaring back with “3:05 AM”. This couldn’t be good, he thought to himself as he sat upright and tried to clear his throat before answering. “Hello, Jonathon here.”
“Hi Jon, it’s Jerry, down at the Data Center. I’m afraid we’ve got a problem. It seems one of the servers crashed and we can’t get it to stay up.”
“Which one?” Jonathon asked, hoping it was a low value system so he could continue sleeping.
“Ah, crap…” Jonathon interrupted. This was the production server where financial system batch jobs ran nightly. Usually that’s not that big of a deal and it can be fixed in the morning, but this was the end of the quarter. If the financial systems didn’t update properly by the morning, the finance and accounting teams couldn’t close out the books on schedule. “All right, hang on Jerry, I’m going to boot up.”
Moments later, Jon was sitting in his kitchen, trying to be quiet, so as not to disturb his wife or young daughter sleeping down the hall. “Alright Jerry, give me the low down”.
“Well here’s the deal – it was running really slow and although we tried clearing the cache and all the usual preventative measures, it still crashed. It’s been down for about 15 minutes now.
The two went back and forth for a couple hours, bringing the server back to life by about 6:00 AM – just in time to get Jonathon’s daughter ready for school. He still had to file a report of the incident and notify some of the financial system users that their data may be a bit late, but that could wait until after his daughter was on the bus.
With his daughter off to school, Jonathon got dressed and headed to the office. Although he was running a late, he figured his boss would understand. However, as he walked in the office, his supervisor, Michelle, saw him and looked quite unhappy. Brushing it off, Jon sat at his desk and began running through his plans for the day.
Although not typically his job, Jon knew he had to complete an estimate for Michelle by noon. The team lost credibility recently, due to some particularly poor estimates that created significant gaps in project budgets. As a result, when this project request came in, Michelle asked him to personally oversee it, to ensure accuracy. After a quick check of email to ensure there were no critical requests, Jon was submerged in creating the report.
Socializing with Friends
Shortly after starting the report, Jon’s instant messenger blinked. It was Eric, his friend in product development who recently helped him and Michelle with a critical fix they needed. “Jon buddy, old pal, good friend…” Eric was still typing, but it was clear to Jonathon that a significant favor was about to be requested. “It seems one of the new marketing applications I wrote has a bug in the code. I can’t get access to the system, but you know that system too and can resolve it before many more customers see it. Any chance you can help me fix it?”
Jon’s eyes glanced down to the start of his estimate for Michelle and back at the instant messenger window, blinking impatiently. Jon knew he owed Eric and undoubtedly, would need to call upon him again soon. “Sure Eric, I’ll take a look, but time is tight, so we have to be quick”. Eric and Jon began reviewing the details of the problem. The problem turned out to be a bit more challenging than anticipated though and before he knew it, Michelle was standing in Jon’s door, looking for the estimate – “was it noon already?!” he thought to himself.
“I’m sorry Michelle, something came up last night and Eric needed a fix first thing this morning, so I-”
“Damn it Jon. I really needed those numbers. I’ve got a meeting with our VP of Marketing at noon and I promised him I’d have it for him by then.” Michelle was visibly frustrated and Jonathon was at a loss for words. He didn’t realize she had a meeting at noon to share the data, he thought it was – His thoughts were interrupted again by Michelle. “I think we have an issue Jon. You need to start reevaluating how you prioritize and improve upon meeting deadlines.”
“I understand and I’ll work on it Michelle” Jon, said, too tired to explain and feeling a bit defeated.
“Right, well, that’s all I ask. Thank you. So when can you have the estimate completed?”
“Certainly by the end of the day today, maybe sooner.”
“Alright then, I’ll tell him to expect the report on his desk in the morning. Thank you Jon.” Michelle said, not really meaning it, as she turned and walked away.
“Well, there goes lunch”, Jon thought to himself.
Jonathon wrapped up his help with Eric soon after the confrontation with Michelle and began working on her estimate. He had to attend several meetings that afternoon, but managed to multi-task and work in enough time to get something presentable for Michelle completed by five o’clock. It still was not the slam dunk he wanted though, so he called to ensure his wife could pick up their daughter from rehearsal. “Sure, Jon. Working late again tonight, huh?”
“Yeah, sorry, I promise, this should be the last time this week.”
“Uh-huh” his wife said, unconvinced.
At 5:30, Jon saw Michelle leave the office. “Geeze”, he thought to himself, sarcastically, “I sure am glad she works so hard”. Regardless, he was making progress on the estimate report and he knew it would be just what she needed to impress the Vice President.
8:30 PM and the report was perfect. The estimates included many different options, spelled out in great detail, so the business could decide which solution they wanted and even pick from a variety of options within each solution. Every option included price ranges with a degree of accuracy attributed to it. The report would have impressed Michelle too, if it had been done by noon. Jon’s email to Michelle that night read:
Here is the estimate you requested. I apologize this was late, but there was a production issue last night and Eric needed some help this morning.
Let me know if you need any revisions, I will be online when I get home later tonight.
As Jon hit “send” he thought to himself, I wish Michelle understood better how busy I am and how hard I try. Michelle’s email came back on Jon’s Blackberry as he pulled into his driveway at nine o’clock:
Thanks Jon. Looks great. No questions.
NOTE: This deviation from the usual format is part 1 in a 3 part series on the necessity of transparency between team members and their leadership. I welcome your comments and feedback on this foray into business parables. Part 2, “A Day in the Life of Your Boss” is now available.
This is a very familiar parable, Ben, with all the players — Jon, Michelle, even Jerry — working hard and putting in the extra hours to keep up, but still apparently suffering from chronic disappointment. Are they letting each other down, or themselves? Looking forward to the next installment.
(BTW, What am I doing up an 4 AM? Waiting to join a con call about a failed server.)
Thanks for the feedback Al. I hope you got the server back up in time for the "financial jobs" to complete and "Michelle" understood and valued your dedicated contributions?
I'm working on the wrap to the 3 part series now. Interested in your feedback and hoping to meet you in Indianapolis soon.
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