December 21, 2010

I'm the bitch, Round 2

One of the 'perks' of managing others is that there are times to be kind and times where kindness won't work.

I didn't have time to write about it when it happened, but during the madness of the last conference I worked on, I had to fire one of the contractors. He kept making mistakes and worked very slowly. I can do semi-slow and meticulous, but slow with mistakes wasn't ok given how much signage we'd be generating in the two subsequent weeks. I learned a long time ago from my mother (when she consulted me on how to say 'no' to someone who loved me), "Don't give false hope, it's the cruelest way because it makes the emotions linger." When I fired the contractor, I tried to blame it all on the fact that it wasn't a good fit. We have fast-flowing chaos and he seems like a designer who needs quiet order. I didn't promise him future work and I didn't give him another chance (I didn't have time, and based on what I'd seen, if he were under more pressure, he'd just make more mistakes). It wasn't fun, I was shaking a little when I asked him to step into an empty office, but I was able to be firm and clear and not give false hope. I'd written out my script to make sure I'd be clear. I didn't have it with me in the room, but it helped to know ahead of time what I should say. He was obviously upset and shocked, but took it very professionally. I really respected his attitude (and conveyed that to the placement agency).

Last Friday, I got to have another round of being the hard-ass manager. We're working on a response for a client (R F P) that's due right after Christmas. During the madhouse of the last conference, one of the designers I hired was assigned to work over on the execut1ves' side of the building and do Powerpoints and presentations for them. They loved his work on an earlier R F P (let's call him Tall and Earnest). When this new R F P came through, the execs specifically asked for Tall and Earnest. He's been working on it for the past week and a half.

Friday evening, Tall and Earnest had already gone home when the door to the design studio burst open and Short Fiery exec burst into the room along with our Gala Guru. Short Fiery exclaimed, "Is Tall and Earnest still here?" And my 'no' she said, "You've got to call him. He put the entire book of the last R F P we worked on on his website!! Doesn't he understand that it belongs to us not him? That's got sensitive pricing on it. What the f___ was he thinking?! I just got called by a prospective employee who'd Googled the event and started talking to me about our fun ideas. WTF!!??"

I called him and he agreed to take it down. Then Short Fiery went on, "You have to get this to him in writing. He signed a non-d1sclosure agreement, he obviously doesn't have a clue what that means."

I defended him by pointing out that he's young and excited, but that I'd email him. I sent him an email that included phrases like, "I can't tell you how violated this made us feel". Unfortunately for him, he's responded since in ways that are both very arrogant and very young. He wrote back to me to say, "I took it down. I'm sorry about that. I didn't think it was that big a deal." Um, yeah, obviously! Not an effective apology to your employer... A little while later he asked if he should apologize to Short Fiery and Gala Guru. I wrote back to say, "Yes. You need to say that you're sorry, you were excited about your design, you made a grievous mistake and it won't happen again. Do NOT say you didn't think it was a big deal."

When he came in on Monday we discussed it further and he had the audacity to say, "Well, if I'm not able to use what I make here to further my career, then I might need to go with other offers."

He's a good fit for what we're doing right now and I don't want the hassle of bringing someone else up to speed right aro, but again, NOT a good answer. It felt so arrogant. I spoke about the situation with one of our long-time freelancers who was horrified, "Does he not know that he could get sued!? Does he also not know not to piss off the big fish? And you all are definitely big fish. His whole job is to keep you happy." Turns out this second freelancer doesn't use ANYTHING he creates for his clients. His business is all word of mouth, he doesn't even have a website since he can't show most of his work. Once a booth or conference is produced, all that work is then in the public domain, but any proposed work can never be shown.

Last night, my Dad also weighed in, "This kid really needs to have a chat with a lawyer. He has no idea how deep the water is does he?" Honestly, I hadn't even thought about the legal issue until both the second freelancer AND my Dad thought about it as their first reaction. I realized I needed to make sure Tall and Earnest understood the situation.

On a side note, I have to say that one of the fun things about this job has been discussing it all with my Dad. He's more of a Mr. Fixit than a Mr. Empathy, so when I'm pouring out my emotional troubles it doesn't always work as well, but anything business related, he's great. He graduated from Harvard with a focus on contract law and worked for an international corporation as their Employee Relations Manager. Management, business and the law? He's great.

Anyway, I just sent off an email to Tall and Earnest explaining the situation. Telling him that I understand learning curves, but trying to fill him in so he can learn from the mistake and not just think it's me being a b1tch or our company being parano1d. Sil1con Vall3y/San Franc1sco are small worlds, all the companies overlap, everyone is working on something cutting-edge and secret. If you're not discreet, you won't have work. I don't think he realized that.

I don't like having to be the mean Boss Lady, but I'm really grateful for my years working with messed up kids. I had to learn there how to be the villain in the piece and how to shrug off the toxicity and keep loving them after. I hope it doesn't make me a callous manager, but I'm glad I'm not afraid to do the hard, but necessary, tasks.


Lori said...

Not to come down on the kid, but it's truly the next logical step in the progression we see in universities and colleges. It's so hard to get students to understand that when we have deadlines for work, or when we come down on plagiarism, or whatever, it's not about us wanting to make their lives that much harder, but about equipping them to work for people who will pay them money. Nonetheless, come this time of year, the emails about how they did the best they could, or couldn't find the (website/handout/whatever) X that had the information about the Y, or how we're just not being *fair* when we enforce the rules just come pouring in. I don't know where we lose them, but by the time they've gotten to college the damage is done.


Sam said...

After reading this I am totally terrified to become a grownup and get a real job. Maybe I should do what my mom did and work out of my house doing my own business.

Aimee said...

I admire you for being able to do that. I struggle on the smallest of scales in correcting people. Kudos!

Inkling said...

Wow. So huge. With my dad being a chemist working on research and development, I'm familiar with the need to be discreet on inventions or other products not yet out in the public domain. Some things are so sensitive, it's not even possible to say what suppliers are used or even what country said supplier is in. I was surprised that my dad told me as much as he di the last time I talked to him about a project he's working on. That usually never happens until it's published. So when you wrote about this guy, I was pretty shocked too.

You are doing him a favor educating him. It doesn't sound like he understands he should be appreciating your words and kissing your feet, but hopefully he will get the clue and not screw up his whole career. You know, maybe he should watch 13 going on 30, if he really needs a basic, juvenile introduction to why it's important to keep developing things under tight wraps.

I'm glad you've got your dad as a sounding board. And I'm impressed you had the guts to do what I'd be too chicken to do.

OTR sister said...

I keep wondering why a proposal would be considered a good design example. So my first thought wasn't the legal stupidity as much as, "Really? You don't have anything better for your portfolio?"

I'm sorry that you have to work so much leading up to the holiday.

And I might have to start calling you Boss Lady.

Anonymous said...

Yep, we fired someone for that very reason once. We make students that come in to just sit with us for a day sign a nondisclosure that they can not even discuss designs or product that they see when they are here.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your resolve and your fairness -- and the fact that you've already graduated into an exclusive group. You're able to fire a person and do it cleanly and well. That's a rare skill. Do you realize that many prominent people are incapable of doing what you have just done? For example, FDR was incapable of firing anyone.

Also, as a supervisor, you have the responsibility to compensate for inept parenting and schooling. Sometimes, you have to take a 30, 40 or 50 year-old and give them their first spanking.

Anonymous said...

I just read your caption.

You are not the bitch.

Don't think of yourself that way. Don't let others talk of you that way.

You're a responsible supervisor -- understanding, fair, impartial, and firm. The supervisory role is absolutely essential in a functioning society.

Do you remember Art McKechnie? He taught me a great wisdom. Draw a vertical, slender diamond. That's your work crew. At the top are the conscientious, capable workers. At the bottom are the goof-offs, the careless workers, the mean SOB's.
In the middle are the regular, ordinary people -- who will follow the people at the top or bottom of the diamond -- whichever dominates the group.

The primary job of a supervisor is to aid, encourage, and promote the people at the top -- and to discipline, control, or discharge the people at the bottom.

Go get em, tiger.

michiganme said...

His indiscretion was one thing---I agree that his inexperience contributed to that.

It's his response to his mistakes that magnify his immaturity and arrogance.

(Oh, and my favorite supervisors are the ones with high expectations for everyone!) MIME