big business question.

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big business question.

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:58 pm

I got a job a little while back at a large company with large company dynamics.

How the hell does somebody as low as my level (or hell, even a senior principal engineer) make enough noise (or, more correctly, the right noise) to elevate issues that every brilliant engineer in the company, sees and talks about but middle management denies/won't risk acting on?

I know a lot of you work at giant defense companies, giant software companies, and other giant industry companies. How do you guys deal with bureaucracy and effectively communicate the financially viable, moral raising ideas that don't follow the "my job will be safe at the end of the next fiscal year" mentality that seems to plague enormous companies? Especially without losing your job, that would help.
SpotTheCat
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 8:18 pm

If chain of command and anonymous reporting have failed you, it's on you to choose to take the risk- but most executives/presidents will tell you that they have an 'open door policy'. They're lying, but that doesn't make the policy useless; just make sure that whatever you have is extremely well documented, and be prepared to defend your position on the issue and within the company.

This is obvious, of course, but I feel it needs to be said to be appreciated. Also, wear a flame suit when pouring fuel on a fire that you're all standing around :).
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:42 pm

Airmantharp wrote:If chain of command and anonymous reporting have failed you, it's on you to choose to take the risk- but most executives/presidents will tell you that they have an 'open door policy'. They're lying, but that doesn't make the policy useless; just make sure that whatever you have is extremely well documented, and be prepared to defend your position on the issue and within the company.

This is obvious, of course, but I feel it needs to be said to be appreciated. Also, wear a flame suit when pouring fuel on a fire that you're all standing around :).

Don't get me wrong, this is not a whistle-blower type problem. I'm not looking for 'CYA then put it on the line' type solutions, I have not seen those problems.
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:52 pm

SpotTheCat wrote:Don't get me wrong, this is not a whistle-blower type problem. I'm not looking for 'CYA then put it on the line' type solutions, I have not seen those problems.

You need to show your designated middle-management type exactly how your proposal will not only help him meet the targets assigned to him from above, but will allow him to beat his targets by more than any other middle-manager. It's the only thing they understand and it's the only currency to which they will listen.
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:01 pm

Captain Ned wrote:
SpotTheCat wrote:Don't get me wrong, this is not a whistle-blower type problem. I'm not looking for 'CYA then put it on the line' type solutions, I have not seen those problems.

You need to show your designated middle-management type exactly how your proposal will not only help him meet the targets assigned to him from above, but will allow him to beat his targets by more than any other middle-manager. It's the only thing they understand and it's the only currency to which they will listen.

That is the correct way of looking at it, and I will do a better job of it with every opportunity I get. One of the problems is that each department seems over-defined (and thus limited).
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:02 pm

I didn't think it was; at the same time, the basic process applies. Hitting up bosses' bosses with something broadly pertinent until you get someone that listens is either eventually effective, or the company is headed for the chopping block. Documentation remains key, including your part in whatever the issue is.
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:57 pm

SpotTheCat wrote:I got a job a little while back at a large company with large company dynamics.

How the hell does somebody as low as my level (or hell, even a senior principal engineer) make enough noise (or, more correctly, the right noise) to elevate issues that every brilliant engineer in the company, sees and talks about but middle management denies/won't risk acting on?

I know a lot of you work at giant defense companies, giant software companies, and other giant industry companies. How do you guys deal with bureaucracy and effectively communicate the financially viable, moral raising ideas that don't follow the "my job will be safe at the end of the next fiscal year" mentality that seems to plague enormous companies? Especially without losing your job, that would help.


Go work for a small company. :wink:

As was pointed out and you found, you have to figure out what drive the bureaucracy and then frame your idea in those terms. Or really, go work for a small company...

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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:10 am

Small companies aren't a panacea, they come with their own sets of issues. (FWIW the company I work for isn't large, they're more of a mid-sized company. The business unit I work for is in the process of being sold to a large multi-national though...)

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. I don't think there's a clear recipe for how to deal with stuff like this; it really depdends on the politics within your particular organization. A good manager (they do exist... really!) should be willing to pass these types of concerns up the chain of command. Unfortunately, if you don't work for such a manager (or have the ear of one in a closely related department), then you need to make a decision: do you do something that could end up being a "career limiting move" or do you just play the CYA game to ensure you don't get blamed if/when the brown stuff hits the rotating blades...

A lot also depends on how much you care about staying in this job.
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Sun Dec 02, 2012 1:06 pm

If your chain command fails you use the Open door policy. Get on that VPs calender even if its for 10 minutes. Be very prepared for that 10 min meeting so you don't get sidetracked by pleasantries or talking about the weather or sports. Dont go into too much detail but stay at a high level talk about the problem and how it can be resolved. If a resolution will save the company money or affect the bottom line be prepared to state a number. After that short meeting they should decide if they want to discuss more and will set up another followup meeting.

If that fails, ambush them. Get close to their Admin and see where and when they will be. Most of the times VPs tend to get early or late hours at the office and that's the perfect time to knock on the door.

Lastly, and this is the most important, make sure you have exhausted all middle management routes. Why? That VP will ask who you have told or informed. You might see this as 'throwing those middle managers under the bus' but if the cause is worth it so be it. (just don't gloat, just say succinctly, I have told this person, and this person, and this person, etc. No other commentary about them should be needed.)

I actually have a good manager and has in the past said to issues that I have raised have said "Well, lets go meet the VP and/or the CIO." He really is a great manager. I have messed up from time to time but his reaction is one of the best ones I haven't seen since being in the military and that's, "What have you learned from this and how are you going to ensure that this wont happen again?" Also my company actually has a way to get things like issues moved up the chain. We have a monthly forum where issues can be raised and the convening board is all of the VPs from all of the business areas from within the company so nothing is swept away. (You submit to an email address first and the board convenes every three weeks to review submissions and then once a month for a Open forum.) Once raised the board asks that individual to come and present, asks questions, then decides how to move forward. Sometimes if the 'issue' is large enough that employee may get a monetary spot award.

However you proceed I wish you luck.
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Sun Dec 02, 2012 1:20 pm

I suggest spending some time thinking more carefully about exactly *why* the middle managers won't act - try to learn a bit more about the politics at that level of the organization, so you can put yourself in their shoes. At the very least, this may help you frame your arguments to them in a way that aligns more with their interests.

In my last position, I encountered mystifying behavior by management, and some digging revealed that they were acting in that way because that is how they were directed/incentivized to act. If that is the case, the technical problem you are facing isn't the real underlying issue - the attitude of management is what really needs correcting (and good luck fighting that windmill).
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Re: big business question.

Postposted on Sun Dec 02, 2012 10:57 pm

You may have the best product idea in the world, but it probably won't happen if your management thinks it might cause any cost increases of any kind like hardware, software development or license fees, or be subject to additional government regulations or reporting requirements.

Cost increases, even small and/or temporary ones, are right now a management no-no for a lot of defense companies. New ideas are often dismissed quickly, and this is bad for the defense industry.
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