Fez is a senior engineer who works for me. He’s fictional, but you know Fez. He’s the guy who wrote that piece of code nine million years ago that everyone is dependent on, but no one knows what exactly it does because Fez didn’t bother to comment a single line… oh yeah and he wrote it in Forth.
Fez has his own office and he nods a lot. It’s the nod of a man who believes he’s got rock solid job security because his technology is critical. Fez bugs a lot of people, but when it hits the fan, Fez saves the day because he’s carefully cordoned off a critical path that his and his alone.
Each year Fez and I sit down and I present his focal review. I set the stage by asking about his aspirations and he responds with vague nodding.
Sounds good, boss.
Fez is not hearing a word of our discussion because Fez has heard this focal review mumbo jumbo for twelve years straight. He believes he’s immune.
The Fez approach is a rock solid way to become irrelevant and, more importantly, become unemployed.
The definition of a healthy business is a business which is growing and by growing I mean it is making more money each year. There a bazillion different ways that a company can create this growth, but the basic law of business physics that you should never forget is “as a business grows, so shall it’s employees”.
The manner by which business prunes the employees who aren’t growing is horrifically efficient. Employees who have consistently demonstrated an inability to grow are first shoved out of the mainstream… out of the products/services which matter. Some static employees find this banishment to be comforting… “aaaahh… no more fire-drills… the execs don’t even care about this project, so I can cruise.” That’s right. They don’t care about that particular division because it’s not strategic which means the second it’s time to tighten the budgetary belt, it’s the first group to be nuked. Poof. Welcome to unemployment. Did you learn your lesson, yet? Probably should have taken the time to figure out what XML stood for.
But wait, maybe you’re Fez. Maybe you’ve grown complacent with the knowledge that you are the only person who has a particular skill or set of knowledge. It’s a powerful position to be in… for awhile. Be warned, your complacency has been noted by those who are dependent on you and they are growing increasingly frustrated with your selfish attitude.
Maybe the execs can’t fire you because of your essential knowledge, but, I guarantee, those who are dependent on your black box of knowledge are concocting a devious plan to replace you and your knowledge because THEY WANT TO GROW. Incidentally, you will be the last person to figure out you’ve been replaced because you’re too busy handing down proclamations from your fragile knowledge pedestal. Sorry about that.
Whether it’s by organizational evolution or revolution, complacency is a job killer. Right this second, three guys down the hall have rewritten Fez’s code in C and they’re secretly demonstrating their work to interested parties. Building support, building a revolution and if you’re following me, you’re thinking Fez blew it.
I blew it by not not convincing Fez that growth is life.
In my next column, I’ll explain the most important tool a manager has to avoid the Fez.