Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Scoutmaster Mike: My Company's Golden Rule


As many of you know, my alter ego from being a dedicated and long-winded tester is to also be a dedicated and long-winded Scoutmaster. Last night, I had a chance to share a "Scoutmaster Minute" with my Troop, as I frequently do each week. This time, I had a chance to discuss something that I've internalized at Socialtext, and something I believe is worth defending from encroachment. I felt that it would be good for the Troop to consider it as well.



So as many of you know, I recently changed jobs. I joined a company down in Palo Alto to be part of their testing team, as well as to adopt a different approach to developing software. That's all well and good, but that's not the part I want to talk about. Today I'd like to discuss the central policy of our company, the one "rule" that we have and that we all agree to follow. It's just one rule, but it encompasses so much:

"Be an adult!"

That's it. Seriously. 

OK, that's not entirely true. We work for a corporation, and therefore we have to state in legal documents certain conditions and policies that are mandatory for any company, but when you boil it all down and cut through the legalese and rhetoric, there still stands one primary rule. Be an adult. 

If you need to take a day for personal stuff, take it. Post your absence in a spot where everyone knows to look and can see you won't be there. Let us know if you'll be available in case of an emergency or not. Want to work on something else because you're getting burnt out? Have a conversation with the stakeholders, and explain what you need to do and why. Be an adult. Do you have a misunderstanding with someone? Go talk it out with them, resolve it and move on. Be an adult.

For those of you who are in Scouting, we have what we call the Scout Oath, the Scout Law, the Scout Motto and the Scout Slogan. For all practical purposes, those are the entirety of our bylaws. If what you want to do fits within those four statements, then it's doable*, and we encourage it. If it doesn't, then we as a Troop will not pursue it. It's that simple. When we start wrapping ourselves with layer upon layer of rules, we are saying, fundamentally, "you can't trust me. You must set me in a fenced area with a wall of rules so I will do what is needed". 

If you are one who thinks that way, stop it. Now! "Be an Adult!" Even if you aren't an adult, seek to work and live in a way that you do not need to have "more rules" placed upon you. Do be aware, this is a lot harder than it sounds. With rules you can abdicate creativity and responsibility to someone else. Without them, or with a very simple one or two rules, then the sterling conduct required is all on you. Trust me, though it is indeed hard, you'll greatly prefer it to the alternative.


* Yeah, Scouting is a Corporation of sorts too, and as such they do actually have something that overrides those bylaws. That's the "Guide to Safe Scouting"... so let me rephrase, If what you want to do fits within those four statements (and is not expressly prohibited by the Guide to Safe Scouting) then it's doable, and we encourage it.
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