Thursday, 16 February 2012

Why it pays to keep rats on a starvation diet

Full credit to Dennis Howlett for this title. I tried to locate the very tweet he sent out years ago, but failed. If memory serves me correctly, he compared enterprise employees to rats being kept on a starvation diet.
Why enterprise employees? Maybe because they come by the tens of thousands, I guess. But I vividly saw the image in front of me

I often hear people complain about the way they are rewarded at their job - usually financially. And when I say people, I don't mean the top 1-2% in an enterprise that surf ahead of the wave and automagically keep their feet dry when it drops on everyone else

Somehow I always used to have a bit more data than the people around me. Or the same, and I would turn it into information. Tables, graphs, the works; visualising the trends, discrepancies, similarities, etcetera: I had data on years of retention, acquisition, profit and loss and revenue, per business unit, country, continent. Salary, rate, hours worked - I attracted it like a magnet, and then people start coming to you with a few tables of flat data - "Hey can you do some fun stuff with this?"

Oh my, fun I had. Imagine the feeling you have X-ray eyes and can see through people? Well, I had that with quite a few people around me. Transparency is all swell and such, but some information better just stays hidden, trust me

VP's and CxO's would state something like "Country A is still suffering from slow revenue growth" and I'd show them some stats and say "Well don't forget to mention that their profit has grown 35% last year and almost back to normal - oh and btw your country's profit growth got stuck at 14%".
People would come to me and say "You know, I'm 39 now. Been with this company for 12 years, and only making 60K a year. When TF am I going to hit that magical 100K, if ever? And how many people have outrun me by now?"

Data is on the streets. Forget Big Data, data has always been big and present in abundance, but most people can't turn it into information - and that problem will remain the same. Big Data? Companies like IBM will again make tons of money selling you sexy and offensively expensive hardware and software that really does round up data like cattle, and leave it up to you to turn that very Data into Information - or offer $500 an hour consultants who'll do it for you. Nothing ever really changes, does it? Of course not - unless you do so first

Anywayz, I could turn data into information on the fly, and still can. I would take this person aside and give him a round through the stats. I'd shuffle my data a bit, sort some to the left, hide some to the right, multiply some others to get them into the same graph, and give him a one-page handout like right above

"There", I'd say, "there you are" and I'd point at a spec on the map. Your salary is this, thus your daily rate is that, your average daily rate should be X, and people with your salary are on average 43 and have 13 years of work experience. "There's the 100K barrier and those people are on average 53, with 25 years of work experience".
They'd look at the stats.
They'd ask about the next salary level, and the one after that.
I'd answer all their questions, including showing in which percentiles they were - they usually were in the top 10, or even 5

"Hmmmm", they'd go. "Well... not too bad then, I guess. Right?" and there'd be a little smirk on their face even

Amazing. Right in front of me these people would turn from dissatisfied into satisfied. And I hadn't even tried to make them happy or keep them unhappy, I just showed them the stats.
I hadn't even said "You know, with such a rate you might as well be 5 salary levels up, or down", pointing at the odd yet stubbornly repetitive pattern the actual rate shows. Nor did I show them the exceptions, like the 60-year old on a salary that would be average for a 37-year old, or the odd 35-year old who'd make a top salary

I merely showed them the stats. And they'd go on, and stay at the company for many years to come. And I'd think of my wife's quote "The company's goal is to keep their employees just not dissatisfied enough".
Transparency is a b*tch

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