Shane is me

Expect No Loyalty

February 06, 2023

My elder generation taught me to put in my time at a company, the loyalty will pay off in the end they said. That didn't turn out to be the case for even their generation, and everyone has wised up to that fact. Companies like to talk about people being their most important asset, some even calling them family, but they're consistently surprised when their people leave after a couple years to find more money, opportunities, better teams or leadership, the list goes on. They're surprised that people no longer give them loyalty, even when they're laying off percentages of their company that equate to thousands of people.

I expect no loyalty from the company I work for, and I expect no loyalty from the people that I manage. This clarifies what I want and what I need from the place I work and the people I work with. I will never hold it against someone when they give me their resignation, especially given historical precedent. There is no motivation for a person to remain in a role & company because companies don't give a reason to be motivated, in fact they do the opposite.

Leapfrog culture

Even when companies are flush with cash and growth will never stop, most need to go somewhere else to move their career forward. In many situations this can be a good thing, but when the average person in tech is leaving a job after a couple years this is something more systemic. The reasons why are not necessarily unique to tech, but perhaps exacerbated by the high salaries.

I got into management for a lot of reasons, but one of the primary ones was understanding the mystery of promotions and pay raises. I'm now on the other side and can see the numbers, the negotiations, the reasoning. I still don't understand why a company will refuse to pay someone what they're worth just because they were hired at the wrong number because pushing them to what they're worth makes an equation turn a spreadsheet cell red. The consequences to this are dire and obvious. They leave with all their hard-won company-specific experience and knowledge then a new person comes in, who is probably great in their own way, but are making what the previous person wanted or much more. The expense of just that is enough to make me do a double take, but the cost of recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, training, and more add up to so much more than the previous person was asking for. If you can explain it to me and make me understand why it's better, systemically, I'm happy to be proven wrong.

Each time I bring up pay in situations like this, it's the same tune by the business. Money isn't everything, we can offer things other places can't. Perhaps that's true, but most of those things don't pay for keeping a roof over one's head. Yes, the team you work with is important, as well as your manager, people leave when those go wrong. However in a vast field of companies that can afford to attract solid programmers, your culture isn't as unique as you might think.

The unintended, or perhaps intended, consequence is to leapfrog your entire career. I cannot fault people for participating in it. In fact, I have consulted people that report to me when it would be seen as a positive on their résumé. The sad part about this is it would generally be cheaper to give people the motivation to stay, and it would be better for people to stay, grow, and learn new things or try new projects. It would help everyone level up by staying longer and going deeper on problems to give them the necessary knowledge of rising up to the heights possible with their careers.

Companies that foster this type of environment will still lose people and gain people at a steady rate, but this should be a trickle relative to your size. New fresh eyes are critical at all levels of seniority, but if you have so few people with significant tenure that it's not even a percentage of a percent of your workforce you should ask yourself if your way is easier.

Failure without consequences

The ebb and flow of capitalism is built right in, you're welcome. There are always winners and losers when things don't go as planned. Times like these tend to err on the side of "surprise leadership team, you horribly overestimated that metric you bet the farm on!". When those very leaders finally make the decision to "reduce workforce", or whatever they're calling firing a percentage of your people these days, I'm sure it's a difficult decision. When it's over they say they take full responsibility for bringing us to failure, but few take any consequences.

My personal philosophy at work is to foster a no-blame culture. Making mistakes at work can be easily fixed if you own it, learn from it, and share it so that others might glean some sliver to help them in the future. As a software developer, a good mistake might take down production for a bit (or a long bit). The whole team can get together and find out how we could have discovered the issue earlier, and how can we block people from making the same mistake again. As a manager when I make mistakes, and I have, generally they have to be tended to in private. However in the times that I've made an error publicly or said something wrong, I circle back and own it while giving credit to those that helped fix me to make sure trust is maintained.

If you're in a leadership team, whether C-Suite, VPs, GMs, etc., you are no different, yet I look around at all the news and it seems like they think otherwise. Did the strategic bet you made fall through causing another reorganization? Get out in front of it and take the heat away from front-line managers by getting out in the open and answering to the entire company. The worse the mistake, the more open and vulnerable you'll need to be so that you can hope your team comes back around to trusting you again. When you take your company down a road that requires a significant portion of the people doing your work to be cut out without warning, this is coming right up to gross negligence. There is not enough transparent clear communication and genuflection that you can do to earn trust back. If you send out a press release effectively saying "I take full responsibility" and nothing else, you've failed again with more lost trust.

Those taking the consequences of your failure are those that came to work for you and do the work you asked them to do. These are the people that will watch you be rewarded with higher stock prices and bonuses for saving shareholders some money while they interview for months without end. For those that survived back at work, things will feel surreal for a time, but the never-ending list of tasks will eventually blur that strange feeling into something of a new normal. Perhaps now they're starting to reply to recruiters because nothing is the same. All the talk about how "we're a family" and the myths of big tech culture have eroded away when your peers received an email letting them know they're no longer needed.

Sailing into the wind

In times like these how does one manage a team successfully? To be frank, I'm still figuring that out.

As a baby manager (one with only a couple years experience), I used to say that so far I haven't had to do anything hard. What I meant by that was I have teams of people that are highly motivated and decently paid building cool things. There wasn't much I had to do other than make sure projects were buttoned up and the odd breakdown in logic was handled, normal stuff. Recently though, I did have to do something hard. I was tasked with letting someone on my team go during a layoff. It affected me enough that I had difficulty sleeping leading up to the meeting for several days, and I still had a job at the end.

Survivor's guilt crept up quickly, as I think it does for everyone who survived the cut. In some ways you can manage a layoff similarly to other difficult events that effect everyone: transparency, open communication, commiseration, the list goes on. Yet it still hits different. Everyone starts to question what could have been done differently, "what if's" start fluttering through your mind.

In the aftermath some might say to double down on the work, the minutia will save your mind from spinning too much. That might work for some, but I went the opposite tack with my teams. There was communication and commiseration of course, but there was also space given to reset and reflect. Time off was encouraged, and I modeled this by taking time off myself. I made sure that while I was off I was disconnected so that I could also reset and reflect.

Upon our return I spoke to each of my people individually and let them know that I have chosen to reset my expectations and desires with the company so that I take keep track of things honestly and to ensure positive changes are happening - however slow they might be. I encouraged them to do the same, however I'm sure to point out that if this is impossible for whatever reason I fully support their desire to take care of themselves first and foremost because of what we witnessed. I'm happy to be your manager from onboarding to offboarding. If you need help I'll do anything in my power to make sure the next stage of your career is fantastic, whether it's with me or not. I'll share my network, give tips on what to look for in a job req, or write a letter of recommendation.

I end the conversation by looking forward assuming they will stay. These are the things we will have fun together building, here's where we can take your career together. We do these things in spite of the company sometimes. We do these things because they are right for us at this moment, and gives us some satisfaction in ourselves. We can be proud of the things we do with our teammates regardless of the company we happen to all randomly work for. This is good enough for me, I expect no loyalty.

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