Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, August 1, 2016

When your office resembles high school

We grow up but never out of high school
When I was a high school student, I had an irrational fantasy about being an adult.  I truly believed when I left school, I would enter an adult world and be surrounded by grown-ups acting in grown up ways.  In the thirty years since high school, I have been bitterly disappointed. This week a few thoughts about how your office resembles high school.

Any American who attended a public high school knows that the students live in a social and cultural limbo. Over achieving strivers are wedged together with cheerleaders.  Hard rock students in black concert shirts walk the hallways with people into hip-hop wearing track suites.  The public high school is one of the few places where people from different economic circumstances, races, and levels of educational acumen are forces to interact with each other.  Naturally, they self-separated and create tribes.

As a dorky kid, I was both outcast and court jester for the insular and sad world.  Eventually, I found a niche in forensics to develop my public speaking and in JROTC to improve my self-discipline. The formative time shaped me into what I am today.

To my surprise, the mean girls who tormented me in school would resurface as marketing, human resources, and project management professionals.  The homecoming kings and athletes would transform into sales professionals and executives.  The dorky people who said not to drugs, studies hard, and developed insane technical skills.  We still answer to these monster in corporate environments.  No wonder so many of us become entrepreneurs.

The first thing I have learned is that mean girls grow up to be mean woman.  I have also learned that mean people are not worth your emotional energy.  They are going to remain mean so the best strategy is to ignore them or treat them with the contempt they deserve.  Telling someone they are being a jerk is the first step in getting them to change.  It is also good to point out to their bosses that the mean person’s attitude is why projects are not getting done on time or on budget.  You will be pleasantly surprised what happens next.  A good leader will fix that situation immediately.

As for the athletes and popular people who become executives, I have found listening to sports radio and watching ESPN sports center gives me enough knowledge to talk sports without sounding totally clueless.  It also allows you to use sports metaphors to describe technical situations.  For instance, I was building a web site and running into problems with the corporate active directory.  I told a boss that the situation was like a basketball team with a player who won’t pass the ball.  A few phone calls later my issue was fixed.

I am not suggesting that you become a tattle tale but I have discovered that when interpersonal issues prevent a project getting completed leaders behave like a high school principle and step in.  It is not pretty but in a world where dollars and cents count.  The person who gets work done is always going to receive preferential treatment over the person preventing that from happening.

So none of us really escape high school but hopefully as adults we can deal with the people who act like they are still in it.

Until next time.