Forums

My company is an IT consulting shop that provides Infrastructure and development solutions. Our solutions, and our entire business model, are based on the product stack of one particular software ISV; we'll call this ISV "Acme". Acme's existence and products are essential to our business, and we are in the elite ranks of their channel partner status. We are huge advocates of them, and they of us.

I recently stumbled across the personal, public, blog of one of my developers. I've copied some snippets below (my edits are in brackets):

"C'mon [Acme]- We know it's the year 2007 because we're smart. You know it's the year 2007 because you released this next version of [product] and called it [product] 2007. So what's the excuse for the horrific simplicity and mid-90's 'features' that are browser based forms within [product] 2007? Like for example the horrendously simplistic table layout control."

And

"Yeah yeah yeah - I know that you can always drop to using webparts or full ASPX pages for this stuff but why should you? [product] is a pretty rich tool for forms filling - so why should we be expected the reinvent the wheel when all we want is to fill in forms?"

I found this blog this morning about an hour before my O3 with this developer, so I brought it up during our O3. My comments to him were that if someone from Acme stumbled across his blog, they could begin to question his personal motivation and passion for their products, and they could even request that this developer not be placed on any high profile projects. I also asked him to consider what one of his customers might think if they stumbled across this. For example, our customer could conceivably see this and wonder if they selected the right product stack, because according this blog it seems like there are a lot of bugs and technical challenges built into the product. My attempt was for him to see the situation from the point of view of how this could potentially impact him personally.

His rebuttal, in classic IT techie fashion, was that everything on his blog was technically accurate and in fact his blog demonstrates his abilities to solve complex problems (he has numerous samples of code and descriptions of solutions, and he is in fact a very good developer). My point was that a non-technical reader of his blog wouldn't care about the technical accuracy, but the language he used certainly may raise some eyebrows.

In the end, we didn't see eye to eye. Does anyone have any recommendations as to how I could provide feedback that would encourage him to tone down the overall negative tone of these posts?

attmonk's picture

I would start with the classic feedback..."when you do this here's what happens" and list the things that happen, ask what he can do differently.

If he doesnt see it and the blog becomes a problem then at the very least you have tried to get him to change

WillDuke's picture

Feedback: When you publicly criticize the products that we develop for our high-profile clients you are casting doubts onto the quality of our product. If the client doubts the quality of our product, they might get a different developer. If they get a different developer, you're out of a job. What do you think you could do differently?

(Just wanted to practice my feedback a bit. Come Sept. 7, I'll be a LOT better.)

What purpose does the blog serve? Why is he making this complaint? Is he making development suggestions that aren't being heard? Does he have a personal beef against Acme?

jclishe's picture

[quote="WillDuke"]
What purpose does the blog serve? Why is he making this complaint? Is he making development suggestions that aren't being heard? Does he have a personal beef against Acme?[/quote]

The purpose of his blog is to share development practices and lessons learned with the public developer community.

He is making this complaint because he is working with a new product from "Acme" that he feels has been poorly coded in certain aspects. He has no personal beef against this company. According to him, he is not "complaining", he's merely posting solutions to technical problems that he's solved, for the greater good of the developer community. It just so happens that he's included a lot of negative adjectives along with his technical solutions.

"Acme" is a MONSTER software ISV (Care to guess? :) ) He's not necessarily making development suggestions that aren't being heard, because getting a hearing ear from the product team at "Acme" is an extremely difficult thing to do.

asteriskrntt1's picture

We recently had a discussion on a similar issue.... someone seeing employee or volunteer MySpace of Facebook pages that referenced the company. Very unprofessional. What do you do with other non-professional behaviour that costs the company business?

*RNTT

WillDuke's picture

So asking him not to Blog isn't the answer, there is a legitimate purpose to blog.

I would approach this with the assumption that he has no ill intention. Then explore the ramifications of simple word choice. I suspect this guy probably has communication issues with coworkers as well. If so, you could put it back into that larger context that you're already covering in the O3.

If he insists on his stance that nothing is untrue, don't fight that fight. Instead, what purpose is served by the negative comments? What purpose is served by identifying acme in particular?

If he were instead to ask "How do you get people to understand that their choices are short-sighted..." that would be acceptable.

Be logical, and don't let him set the topic. I'd be happy to role-play this with you if you'd like. I've spent a lot of time with technical people. (I used to do internal training for a very large software company. Everyone was always trying to one-up the teacher.)

jclishe's picture

[quote="WillDuke"] Instead, what purpose is served by the negative comments? [/quote]

Great point! That's a great question that I can pose in my next O3 with him.

[quote="WillDuke"] What purpose is served by identifying acme in particular? [/quote]

The nature of his blog is to share specific lessons learned about environments that he's developing in. He can't give advice and workarounds without identifying what products his workarounds apply to :)

[quote="WillDuke"] I've spent a lot of time with technical people. (I used to do internal training for a very large software company. Everyone was always trying to one-up the teacher.)[/quote]

I *AM* a technical person. :) Been in IT 13 years, I'm all too familiar with the nuances of my people. :)

WillDuke's picture

If you're technical too, then you'll understand a term I use a lot: "Geek Aggressive." I suppose M&M would say that the person was a High D; maybe 30 - 0 - 0 - 0.

I didn't mean to imply you didn't understand your people, was just offering myself up as a sounding board.

akinsgre's picture

OK, I found and read the blog.

From a fellow geek's perspective, this doesn't seem that bad. However, I can understand as an ISV it doesn't necessarily present the image you want for your company.

Not sure what the MT advice might be; but I think my personal advice to him would be that he needs to be careful about what he puts on the web, and who might read it in the future. Whatever...

If I were in your position, I might ask him to contribute content to your corporate publications. Which would encourage him to develop his writing/technical skills in a more positive/helpful manner.

sklosky's picture

I think this is about the Bottom Line .

When he writes posts like this and vents publicly it negatively impacts the company's ability to make $

When the company reviews his performance, this type of behaviour will be evaluated.

LouFlorence's picture

Hi Jason-

This is a very interesting thread!

From a non-techie perspective, here are my thoughts:
This is an employee who is publicly criticizing your primary customer. Either he or she stops and removes the offending material or they will no longer have a job.

Does that seem a bit harsh? I just don't see what other action would be appropriate. This blog potentially impacts the customer's reputation. The employee is certainly free to do that, but not while employed by your company.

Lou

rthibode's picture

Jason,

I agree with Lou, and I'm also not a techie.

I thought all the answers would be something like "show him the door." What is it about the culture of your field/company that would allow someone to publicly criticize it in this way? Even though he's only criticizing a product, that product was made by people.

I'm trying to imagine writing a blog that provided "technical" solutions for some of the poor teaching practices at my university. I could point out how poorly Prof X teaches intro physics, and suggest a few obvious things he could do to improve. Physics courses are one of my organization's "products."

[quote]So what's the excuse for the horrific simplicity and mid-90's 'features' that are browser based forms within [product] 2007? Like for example the horrendously simplistic table layout control.
[/quote]

"So what's the excuse for the horrifically confusing lectures and out-of-date examples? Like for example the horrendously complex blankity-blank."

This DR's language doesn't merely offer a technical solution. It uses a childish and insulting tone in a public rant against one of the organizations biggest partners. I'm pretty sure I'd be fired.

jhack's picture

Technical managers face a tough choice. There is a discontinuity in skills; very good programmers are ten times as productive as good ones (yes, there are studies that back up this claim). They're hard to find and they dramatically improve a team's productivity.

So it's like firing 10 programmers at once. The impact on productivity goes beyond simply replacing one person.

The deeper challenge is to establish processes and skills in your team so that no one person is too important to lose. Then this type of implicit blackmail (let me do anything I want or lose my productivity) will no longer work. Your feedback will be backed up by the knowledge that you can exercise your ultimate authority. If he knows you can't fire him, your feedback, however well crafted, may not work. The rewards he gets from his blog may outweigh all your influence on him.

thaGUma's picture

You need him at the absolute minimum to avoid linking his name to your company name.
Respect his freedom of speech in relation to his views on Acme.
Ask him to respect your company's concerns over fall-out from his blog - Acme will react to the company rather than the individual.

Task him with writing up his concerns over Acme product 2007 in a way that can be discussed internally and perhaps relayed to Acme as part of a Customer Care strategy. Use his abilty.

If he fails to act sensibly, promote someone obviously his junior to manage him and watch his blog.... :twisted:

Chris

Mark's picture

You can't stop him. As Napoleon said, do not prohibit that which you cannot prevent.

To me, the blog isn't effective. It reads sophomorically, with vagueness and a certain rant quality. I'd give him LOTS of feedback about what he's saying and HOW he is saying it. The question asking technique wouldn't be tolerated in an internal meeting - it would be perceived as whining.

I would definitely let him know that this puts him at risk. A senior person seeing this might take offense and figure out how to punish him indirectly. On the other hand, there are many blogs that are not all wine and roses that are tolerated...but they have to be professional, and specific, and in a tone that is helpful. This one isn't.

Mark

tcomeau's picture

One part of Mark's comment struck me as particularly helpful:

[quote="mahorstman"]...The question asking technique wouldn't be tolerated in an internal meeting - it would be perceived as whining.
[/quote]

Elsewhere somebody commented that "you aren't two people." In the office or out, you are the same person. Your audience, however, differs at times, and you have to adjust for the audience.

In some cases the occasional whine in an all-hands meeting is not only tolerable, it's helpful to give my bosses feedback on what is really bothering people. Those meetings, though, are internal. The same whine in a meeting with the NASA people would generate a rather frank discussion of appropriate language and message. A blog entry is somewhere in between.

If this were one of my guys, I'd treat the blog the same as I'd treat any other communication (emails, meetings, concalls or reading groups) and give feedback without any real regard for the medium.

While none of my staff currently do their own podcasts, some have been part of (or quoted in) other people's podcasts. (As have I.) I would give feedback, positive or negative, about blog or podcast statements just as I would for a TV or radio interview, or a journal paper or letter.

Blogs aren't any different from any other publication, except you can't usually be saved by a friendly editor.

And as I've said before, if I want to publish something my employer might find offensive, I use my Secret Identity, so that it is not associated with my employer.

US41's picture

I have a personal blog out there myself. It has everything from fiction story chapters posted to technology critiques. But mostly I stick to my particular topic of interest.

I have a couple of rules for writing on it:

1. I never mention my company's name EVER

2. I never mention or write commentary about our products or products of vendors or partners that we use.

3. I never criticize anyone by name.

My management is very aware of my blog and the book that I have published, and they've read both and have no problems with either of them - mostly because there is nothing out there work-related.

Imo, venting about your current employer, their customers, or their suppliers publicly in writing or verbally where names are named (company names or people's names) at any time is unprofessional.