All the feels. At work.

The most appalling behavior I have witnessed in leaders is when negotiating pay, valuation or equity. I include myself in this analysis and admit we lose our collective minds when someone quantifies our value, writes it down and offers it to us.

In a growing organization where founders and early team members feel ownership of their creation, an equity stake quantifies just how much credit one deserves. Our creativity, relationships, care, time and sacrifices are boiled down to a single figure that says “this is what you’re worth.” It rarely feels like enough.

In a manufacturing economy, stuff gets made. Variables are fixed or, at least, understandable — commodity price fluctuations, union strikes and weather can be accounted for, if not anticipated. A common definition of success can be agreed upon: we’d like to get x with y. If we get more x with less y, even better. Logical, tidy, complete, it’s a hard habit to break.

A client recently explained the business model of a company he believed to be my competitor; their “value differentiator” is quantifying human capital through standard business metrics. I nearly choked — this, to me, is the Frankenstein monster of bad ideas — ignoring complexity and drawing straight lines between ideas and output.

We’re in transition on this issue, applying historically proven management practices to irrelevant situations and suffering cultural destruction as a result. Large organizations have iterated rather than upended traditional management by metrics. Replaced tonnage of wasted raw material with percentage regrettable attrition; production per headcount with employee engagement. As simple, identifiable metrics are applied to knowledge workers in complex environments they become inaccurate proxies for the unquantifiable.

These proxies stand in for the emotional conversations we aren’t used to having at work. A bonus number for a year of one’s life; a valuation the sum of a founder’s identity. We should “leave emotion out of it” when that is an impossible task: we bring our whole selves to work but systems of measurement can not account for our layers. So, we calibrate our feelings about our place and our co-workers to the numbers we’re boiled down to.

In a world where humans are the machines and behavior is the product, the drumbeat of measurement and reward is out of synch. Let’s consider, instead, how we design for connectedness and move from:

competition => collaboration

knowledge gathering => understanding

raw execution => exploration

achievement => contribution

We must value synthesis over measurement. We must recognize those who are making sense from a mountain of content, applying knowledge to evolve their perspectives, finding opportunities in complexity. Those who are highly self aware and able to reflect and adapt their own behavior.

Humans love shortcuts. Measurement is comfortable because it reduces to the essential, purporting to create efficiency. Instead, let’s embrace novelty and experimentation, actually creating flexibility.

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All the feels. At work.

Three months of work, gone.

I wasn’t in a hurry. I wasn’t multitasking. I wasn’t tired. I was just a dumb-ass for a few seconds.
Since November, I’ve been collecting ideas for a project in a tab of a spreadsheet. When I sent the spreadsheet to a designer, I deleted that tab because it wasn’t relevant for him. Then, I saved over the original.
(Here’s the part where you ask me if I tried the sixty-five ways to recover an old version. Yes.)
I was furious, pacing, red-faced. Three months of ideas, creative randomness, middle-of-the-night-inspiration, vanished.
I tried breathing – ‘inhale for 6, exhale for 8.’
I tried coaching myself – ‘let’s reframe this as an opportunity to think about the project in new ways.’
I tried rationalizing – ‘these are my ideas, I can always recreate them.’
I tried stepping away – ‘I’m going to enjoy this lunch with my friend Chris and I’ll sort it out later.’
The tactics failed. A growling, critical, internal voice overwhelmed these efforts. Do you know that Voice? Its the one that does not tolerate an honest mistake, assigns meaning to a simple error. That Voice reminds me of past failings, present stupidity, and idiocy yet to come. It’s a harbinger of gloom – particularly fond of the refrain that my best days are behind me. Because, you know, I didn’t exercise proper version control.
I’m trained to recognize the Voice, gain distance from it, evaluate its rhetoric and help others do the same. Today, I became entangled. I thought “crap, this is going to sandbag my day.” And then I had an idea…
I’ve know one of my best friends, Mimi (*not her real name), for more than half of our lives. She is one of four humans who are uber-special to me.
Mimi is not an alpha. She is a thoughtful woman who doesn’t start fights or bully others. She thinks and feels deeply and still manages to give people the benefit of the doubt. She does not need my protection but I have always (and may forever) feel compelled to defend her from even minor threats.
During college, we attended a party at a good friend’s. The other revelers were friends and acquaintances. Except one idiot who kept hitting on her. She was polite, then not so polite, but his behavior escalated. Thoroughly irritated, she came to find me.
I asked her to point him out in the sea of drunken partiers. I found him and asked him to leave. He sneered and disappeared into the crowd so I turned off the music, stood on a chair and asked for everyone’s attention. I pointed to him and people began to back away, forming an empty space around him.
(In my camp counselor voice – friendly, loud, commanding):
“Is this guy anyone’s friend?”
Silence.
“Does anyone want him here?”
Silence.
“The people have spoken, dude. You gotta go.”
A path to the door emerged and fifty pairs of glassy eyes watched (there may have been some slow clapping) as he stumbled out of the party. The music came back on, the dancing continued.
Today, when the Voice began to berate me, I thought about how I would feel if it were directed at Mimi. How stupefied I would be at the inaccuracy and unfairness of the accusations leveled. I thought about how, if someone said the things to her that I was saying to myself I would stand on a chair, look him in the eye, and make him leave.
And just like that, welcome Silence replaced the Voice. Also, I found a printed copy of the deleted tab in my file cabinet.
Three months of work, gone.