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.
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.