Well, it’s that time of year again — the day of reckoning. The day of accounting. A time for sweating and the biting of nails. For some, the day of dread.
No, I’m not speaking of taxes (though it is that season) — it’s the time for annual reviews. In the midst of our scrambling around to get the new beta site working, the managers kept to the corporate schedule and gave us our reviews last week. I did much better than I had expected, but the day was so busy and stressful that I didn’t really have much time to process it. It was like trying to fight three different fires at the same time and having someone pull you aside to say “Great job!”, shake hands, and then rush back to the firefight.
In the past, those annual reviews used to make me rather uncomfortable, not because I’m lazy or anything, I just don’t really like to be examined or put into the spotlight. Who does? I try to work hard and always keep busy, even when there isn’t much going on (though I can’t remember what that’s like anymore!). However, these manager-employee meetings have become much more comfortable, mostly because they’re are not so infrequent and held only when something bad has occurred. Frequency and familiarity has made these meetings nothing to dread any longer.
One of the processes our department put in place a couple years ago was the practice of holding personal check-in meetings every other week. I forget the original reason behind the change, but I think it was to give us an opportunity to give direct (and somewhat confidential) feedback about the team, management, processes, and the environment, as well as providing a way to help us define and develop our career paths a bit more. Many times, we would see that something was wrong and knew why, but we either didn’t feel comfortable voicing it or didn’t even have a way to voice it. So instead of just grumbling about things and feeling disgruntled and letting the irritation grow, we were able to not only start talking about the issues, but also start working through them.
The way these check-in meetings work is that every two weeks, the manager and the employee meet and discuss how things are going, what’s working well in the team and what isn’t. Sometimes it gets rather candid, especially if another team member keeps dropping the ball and causing problems for the rest of the group. Other times we discuss what’s happening with the organization outside our team and how things are being perceived, and how accurate those perceptions really are. Lately as more teams have entered the fray, the meetings have been more focused on how to help us work with them better, or at least how to minimize their sometimes-negative impacts on our team.
It was a little awkward having these one-on-one meetings at first, because at most companies you only meet with your manager for annual reviews, downsizing, or reprimands (which are usually very seldom). We typically only have a meeting with our boss when something is wrong, right? Initially, I was worried that these check-in meetings would be like the meeting with the managers in “Office Space”, the quintessential movie about software developers and the strange (ie, dysfunctional) companies we often find ourselves working for.
While “Office Space” is rather crude in places, (“What the &%#@ is ‘PC Load Letter’?!”), it is pretty good about portraying how pointless or even life-sucking the corporate office environment can be at times. We office-workers don’t really have much direct influence in other peoples’ lives like teachers, trainers, or public servants do. We work to further the goals and agendas of our corporate employers and spend most of our time staring a monitor (or two or three!). In the movie, there are memorable characters like the Two Bobs, the Staple Guy, the Incompetent Boss, and of course, the angry nerd version of Michael Bolton. And then last but not least, there’s every office-worker’s dream scene of the Printer vs. Baseball-bat Showdown in the Field of Dreams… In our office, there’s a Jenkins build-server that has been an absolute nightmare for the past six months that is lucky to still be “alive”. Fortunately for Jenkins, the server is physically located somewhere deep in the bowels of a data-center in Portland, so it’s safe — for now.
Anyway, once we got past the initial awkwardness in those check-in meetings, the next question became, “How am I possibly going to fill up one full hour with career development talk?” or actually bring something useful to discuss to the table. Usually if I see something wrong, I’ll say something about it at the time, but sometimes I simply cannot because of the environment or the various dynamics in the office. Those are much better saved for these check-in meetings. Having a safe place to speak freely is invaluable to maintaining moral, especially with things being so crazy at the office as they are right now.
If anything, these check-in meetings have become a good way to not bury all those little irritations that tend to fester and grow over time. I think half the benefit of these meetings is just to be able to speak your mind and get things out into the open. No one likes to work with people who are disgruntled or have bad attitudes, and at least these biweekly meetings give us a chance to get things off our chest before they fester and cause even bigger problems. These meetings have lowered turnover on our team and have made things run much smoother, even though our group has been changing a lot over the past two years.
It struck me about a year ago that these bi-weekly meetings would have been very helpful in my own marriage — and would probably be very helpful in most marriages (troubled or not)! How helpful it could’ve been to set aside a regularly scheduled appointment with no electronic distractions, kids, or anything else and simply focus and talk with one another! Having check-in meetings on a regular basis in our home years ago could have solved (or at least improved) things a little — or perhaps even quite a bit!
Imagine having a completely confidential place with no other purpose than to talk about how things are going and catching up with each other as partners, co-laborers, and co-homemakers! Imagine just catching up with each other a little as people, as individuals, without interruption, chatter, and other distractions. And not at the end of the day when you’re both wiped out, either, but a regularly scheduled time that doesn’t catch you by surprise. Especially for younger parents, imagine escaping from sticky hands, runny noses, and dirty faces needing to be wiped and cleaned every other minute just for an hour or so. Imagine just getting a little time to reconnect with your partner and just be yourself instead of someone’s husband, wife, mother, father, chauffeur, coach, or mediator for a moment.
Not only do those meetings provide an avenue for discussing what’s going wrong or well in your relationship, they provide a platform for making improvements, for forging a path forward together, for laying out a new vision and new purpose for your relationship and family. What do we want to accomplish this year? What changes do we want to see in our relationship and our family? Get out of debt? Go visit someplace we haven’t been before? Teach the kids this skill or that? More family time and less Internet time? More responsibility and less dependency on Mom and Dad?
If I had the opportunity to redo some of my previous relationships — the foremost being my failed marriage — I’d be much more active, attentive, and assertive about having better communication and taking time out for my spouse as a person, not just as a spouse. Even now, I make sure I connect with each of my kids as people, as fellow family-members instead of merely children, and do my best to keep those lines of communication open, active, and flowing.
I won’t get the opportunity to fix my failures of the past, but I do have the opportunity to avoid similar failures in the future! I’ve made a lot of mistakes with people over the years, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep on making them. Though our past does impact our present and our future, it doesn’t necessarily have to define it — unless we let it. We have a choice: we can learn from our mistakes and move forward, or we can not and keep repeating them over and over and somehow still expect different results that will never occur. We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.
Now, if only I could have a crack at that Jenkins server with a baseball-bat, then my long career as a software developer would be complete!
“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” — Colossians 3:23-24