No room for complacency

As part of my assessment of my new organization, I reviewed the length of employment for each employee. This, in combination with many other factors, is part of an assessment of the work we do, how we do it, and where I’d like to focus my energies for 2012. I wanted data to support my hypothesis that we need more “new” ideas and outside influence on how we do our job. I believe that we not only need to market and present what we’re doing outside of the company, but we need to participate and contribute to the work happening in our field. This may be meetups, research, conferences, or simply thinking differently about something we’ve accepted in the past as “the way things work”. As the graph below shows, the org is very mature, with the average length of employment over 10 years. This is not necessarily a problem, as long as we are continuing to bring new ideas and solutions to our challenges.

Length of employment in years by %

We recently recognized several employees for both 10 and 15 year anniversaries. These talented people have intimate knowledge of our systems and technologies, they have the context for why decisions were made, and we rely on them to keep our services running smoothly. These are smart, seasoned people who have wonderful ideas and loads of experience. A risk I see is that these veterans become complacent because they are comfortable in their positions, comfortable with those around them, and we (the leadership team) are comfortable with them.

We need to strike a healthy balance of sustaining engineering and new design work. Finding this balance of senior contributors to journeyman work is a delicate one. Not all of the work we have is befitting of a principal systems administrator. I need passionate junior level employees who can feel rewarded because they are learning new systems and excited to be working on large scale consumer web sites to cover the day to day support of our environments. I need the more senior staff to be thinking of larger, value added improvements and how we transform the work we do or operate more effectively.

To be a healthy organization we need to reward new ways of thinking, even if we don’t implement the specific idea presented. We need to create a climate that challenges the accepted ways of doing things, especially those for legacy systems. We don’t have the luxury of starting over and creating new environments wholesale, but we do have the ability to make incremental changes to our procedures, so that new hosts, applications, and services are advancing along a computing evolution. In some fashion I’ll be evaluating our work through these types of lens for 2012 and creating goals that support advancing new thoughts and for quelling complacency in our organization.


4 thoughts on “No room for complacency

  1. Good topic! Intriguing thoughts on veteran employees and how complacency can set up shop. Although, I feel that you started to go down a road and didn’t quite make it to the end. There was something there in the beginning that started my thoughts spinning, but then it fell off; almost as if you wanted to state a personal inference but couldn’t bring yourself to do it.

    BTW, have you thought of collecting just the senior admin types that have been there for over 10-15 years into a room or an off-site and ask them:
    1. Do you feel like you are getting complacent in technology innovation?
    2. If, so why do you feel that way?
    3. If so, how would you break the mold for complacency?
    If not, then how would you approach innovation or the concept of sparking innovation exchanges in the org?
    4. Did you envision yourself working 15 years with an organization and still being a Sr. Admin?

    Just my thoughts on the topic at hand.

    BTW again, this blog of your is a great concept and is a great brainwave starter kit!! Keep it up!


  2. James,

    Nice post, I too have experienced this at a different company. One thing I did was to ensure all knew and did challenge the prevaling wisdom. “That’s how we do things” is the enemy of growth and progress of an organization. All organizations can grow, adapt and change, if they don’t the will become the anchor that drags on a company.

    Drive, creative thought, self motivation and intelligent thought are found in people of all types including time of employment.

    Looking forward to future posts.


    1. Thought provoking. Appreciate the data as well, as it puts things in a better context.

      Have also been considering this lately, especially as it relates to a “spirit of rotation”. Concept being contributors are asked to keep their skills portable, and move throughout the org in a way which keeps them fresh, and continually cross-pollinates ideas and best practices.

      Haven’t implemented anything, but certainly top of mind, as it’s quite easy to become professionally “comfortable” in a way which may become limiting over time.

      I know that for myself, I learn a lot more about myself and work in those situations where comfort isn’t always present and challenges are plentiful.


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