Friday, 5 September 2008

My Job Manifesto

I need to change my job from my current employer to another one for a variety of reasons, mainly around the lack of viability of the company itself, its senior management and their strategic direction. On the one hand this means that I need to find another job somewhere else as quickly as I can, but on the other hand I have been through enough jobs and employers by now to know that many of them are the same and very few better than the others. So this time I really want to get it right, even if it ends up taking longer, because I don't want to have to change job again in the future. I'm not saying I won't end up changing job again, because nothing is ever guaranteed or fixed forever in this world. But I want a really significant chance that this next job could last a long time, and that the company is a 'good' one and a strong one. And that means being clear on my part what I want from an 'ideal' job and employer. Hence my job manifesto, that I am listing here.

No large corporations

Large companies suffer from all kinds of inherent problems, as far as I am concerned. The main ones being that they only exist to funnel money up into the pockets of the senior management and the president and vice-president, while the real workers only ever receive fixed, standard wages, and they become very inflexible with many highly organised levels of management (really just an overhead imposed on the workers) with associated rules and processes and procedures and job titles and grading systems.

Preferably a small focussed company

Following on from what I have said about company size and what it does, I think a company of about 100 or less people is the ideal size. There is a rule of thumb that you can know, work and directly communicate with about 100 people. Beyond that magic size the company will fragment into separate departments, which only communicate directly within themselves. It is then left up to management to communicate across the groups. People end up with a smaller view of the company rather than a complete view. I am not saying that all companies should be this small. But there can be advantages to being a small focussed company in terms of internal efficiencies.

Short, small and knowledgeable management chains

Good companies keep the management chains short and the hierarchy flat. And the management should know and understand what the company does, its products and what each employee does. The worst situation is when the managers spend most of their time managing each other in group meetings, and reporting up to their managers and following company procedures.

A manager who understands what I do or no manager at all

Okay, maybe I cannot avoid having a manager at all, as that is just the way companies run themselves. But if the manager does not truly understand what it is that I do, then I cannot ever have a meaningful discussion with them, and they cannot make sensible decisions. Generic career managers add little or no value to the employee as far as I am concerned. How can they review situations and priorities and make valid decisions when they lack knowledge about exactly what their employees are doing each day? I have been in this situation and I literally ended up with nothing to say to my line manager, as he could never understand the points I raised about the work I was doing. I ended up trying to ignore and avoid him as much as I could, as he just could not add any value for me in any way.

Measure me by results not by effort (time)

I'm sick and tired of companies measuring me by time in the office, as if it correlates to the results achieved in any way. Tell me what you want done, then let me get on with it. To put this another way – if you measure me by time in the office then my productivity will drop like a stone because you have made it clear that productivity is not relevant and you don't measure it, and as a result everything I do will take as long as possible because it makes no difference to me either way. I'll be spending the same amount of time in the office and be paid the same either way.

Not 9 to 5, but achievements

And on the same basis, why constrain me to 9 to 5? If you want good results let me come in early and leave early – say 8 to 4. Or do 8 to 6 for 4 days and take each Friday off. If the results I achieve are the same, why does it matter that they were done between 9am and 5pm from Monday to Friday? If anything, the freedom to manage the work myself, and go home early if I finish the work early will actually serve to motivate me. Forcing me to only work between 9 and 5 provides no motivation whatsoever to produce either better quality work, or be more productive and finish sooner. Either way I will still go home at 5pm and be back in the office tomorrow at 9am.

Be able to work from home and not always the office

I am not against offices – if they are done properly they should foster a place and environment where people can work together productively and be able to achieve things that they could not achieve elsewhere. But if the specific work I need to do tomorrow can all be done from home, whether that involves a computer or not, why do I need to drag myself into the office in the morning and then travel back home again at the end of the day? If the net result achieved is the same either way, why should I be wasting my time travelling into the office on an unnecessary journey?

I don't want to work from home every day, but I do want the flexibility to be able to do it, if it was the right thing to be doing for the next piece of work that had to be done. Why are so few companies interested in doing this, and so improving employee morale and productivity as a result?

Adding direct value, and not just a revenue stream

I want to be recognised and needed by my employer for the work I do and the technical expertise I bring and use for them. I do not want to be employed simply because I am an income stream for them, either charged out on a daily basis or having things like sales targets to achieve. Once you cross this line you suddenly find that the amount of the revenue you bring in to the company is more important than your technical knowledge, expertise or quality of work. And the company will always want more, money that is, from its customers, and not better work or knowledge from you.

No travel other than getting to the office

Why would I want to spend a significant amount of time each day travelling to different places, possibly even staying away from home for several nights? Some people might want to do this, but I don't. I have a life outside of work, and want to be able to get on with it at every opportunity I can. I work because I have to in order to get money, because that is the only legal way I can, and not because I want to. So I will always seek to minimise the travel I have to do each day. If a job involves travel then I will be losing more than I am gaining as far as I am concerned.

Not in a large city centre

I live about 30 miles from London, and there are many, many jobs to be had in London. I could commute there each day, but the thought fills me with dread. Not the travel itself, but either doing it on congested roads or on packed public transport (buses, trains and underground railways) every day as hundreds of thousands of other people do the same journey. The train is the easiest and best option for London in many respects, but this still involves a number of changes between bus, train and underground to complete the journey, each of which will be packed full with many other people all shoulder to shoulder with each other. Travelling like sardines like this every day would be soul destroying to me. So no jobs in the middle of city centres please.

Good Holiday

When I want it. Almost no job is so critical that they cannot do without you for a while. I do not work in a factory or a production line or something similar. What would they do if I left, and what about before I joined them? Answer – they got by. So they can get by without me for a few days. I'm not asking to be paid more for doing less – just let me have unpaid holiday when I want it.

Not Consultancy or Sales

I have two main reasons for not wanting to work in these areas, even though jobs of these types exist like spades in the IT industry. One is because I am not particularly good at them. I can do them, but I would be much better at another type of role. So it seems silly to do a job that relies on my weakest attributes rather than my strongest ones, regardless of how much someone else says the job is 'good' and I should consider it. The other reason is that I do not want a job where I am measured by the quantity of money brought into the company and not by the quality of the work I do. And both of these jobs exist solely to bring money into the company – they are both about getting a customer to pay the company for something. Sure, some companies will need these kind of roles. But I am not interested in doing either of them.

Clarity of Purpose

Whoever the next employer is for me, it must be clear to everyone what it is they do. So that both the customers and I are clear on this. If I or any customer need to spend any time asking exactly what the company does, then it probably does not have a clear enough focus. And from knowing what the company does, it should also be clear where I fit in, what I do, and how I add value to the company. No woolliness or vagueness here please.

Not too diverse

On the one hand diversifying can help a company grow, and help it through turbulent times, such as when one product goes through a transition and its sales drop. On the other hand a company can diversify too far, and the product set become too varied. I have seen several companies fragment as a result of this, with stove piped departments that never shared anything with each other and always did their own thing. The worst thing was when customers would ask for information about the product set, and the company had to arrange a full day of different presenters to explain it all. Even the company itself could not come up with a single, coherent description of all the things it did.

No Microsoft systems or applications

This could be a book in its own right about all the many problems with the software Microsoft design, make and sell. But the bottom line is that Microsoft is not the way for me, and never will be. Their software is very poor, at best, for a number of reasons including its design, security, scalability, non-standard, heavily proprietary and closed (as opposed to open). My background is UNIX and Oracle, and they are far superior at what they do. So I've no interest in 'converting' and learning all the Microsoft development tools whatsoever. I'll leave the Microsoft software to other people to deal with, if they want to, and I'll stick to what I know.

No Human Resources

A personal thing, but I loathe and detest Human Resources and struggle to find any reason to have them in a company. What is it HR do that the line managers should not or could not be doing by themselves? I do not want HR sticking their nose into what I do for the company. If there is an issue I expect my manager to be able to deal with it, or their manager above them and so on. There should be no need to go sideways to another department. I have never seen any situation or company get better after the HR department got involved. In fact I have seen the morale in a company go steadily down as the result of the actions of HR and the new policies and procedures they have introduced.

Not driven by profit growth or share price

All companies need to make a profit, without exception. After costs have been deducted from the incoming revenue there must be something left over, otherwise the company is making a loss and it will simply go bust eventually. But once you are making a profit, does the amount of the profit really matter? I mean, yes, it needs to be a 'reasonable amount', whatever that is. But does a company need to be so focussed on year on year revenue and profit growth as so many are? Nothing can continue to grow forever, ad-infinitum! Surely it would be better to grow to a certain size, and then be a stable sized company continuing to make a healthy profit each year? The drive to make ever larger profits seems detrimental somehow to me. At some point this single mindedness tends to backfire, one way or another, with the company over stretching itself.

I don't really expect any of this, but I can dream, can't I?

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