Eating dogfood

The strange thing about joining a new company is the strangeness of it. Everything is somewhat different from the known, but it is not completely unknown either. Some attributes of organizations tend to be present in all of them. Use of Microsoft Office is one example, having conference rooms, kitchen areas, photocopiers, and other office equipment is largely similar, so is the likelihood of enjoying a level of employee benefits. Similar organizational processes appear: a payroll system, expense and timesheet requirements, and phone numbers, business cards, and email addresses are part and parcel of most organizational life. But beyond these explicit and/or tangible aspects things are different, and it's getting to grips with those which are so fascinating.

I've just spent my first week on-site in the company I joined on April 2. So in this one there are some things that it seems I don't have to do:

  • Log in to my computer with my ID/smart card
  • Have my ID card on me to get into the building
  • Have an ID card (or a list of more than 20 passwords to get into the various organizational websites. In this organization I just have 2 so far).
  • Clear my desk in the evening (not that I have a desk because I'm going to be home based) but I'm just observing others who do have a desk on this one
  • Work out who is who in the hierarchy and how they are going to play their position – there's very little observable hierarchy including no private offices

Here are some things I do have to do

  • Use the company mugs of which there are hundreds in the kitchens to avoid disposable ones – the company is 'green' and appears to act on this rather than talk about it
  • Follow the standard signature block on my emails – in my previous organization there was no standardization whatsoever on this
  • Quickly learn to use the CRM system (totally new to me)
  • Get to grips with the company language and what it means in practice. For example: markets, studios, core teams, market managers, first Thursdays, BDIR (!), workplace strategy, transition planning, and so on
  • Start to attend various repeated meetings that are appearing in my calendar.
  • Trawl the intranet for useful history, and current goings on. (And also to match names and faces).

There's a fun convention of naming the conference rooms after jazz albums. So one evening in the week when I felt pretty brain dead I got out the floor plan – which is a tremendously useful document and You Tubed each of the conference room names and listened to a snippet of the album. Lots of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk but some were totally new (Muriel Grossman) to me and very worth listening to.

I was reminded of my days at British Airways were conference rooms were named after locations so when someone said they would see me (or someone else) in 'Rome' people often didn't know whether they meant the conference room or actually Rome, Italy because BA people were constantly traveling.

Not only is there the company geography to get to know, there's the local geography to understand – coffee shops, lunch places, running routes, etc.

Of course beyond getting to grips with 'the way we do things round here' in an informal sense there's the getting to grips with the work. And that's where I'm in the position of what is known as 'eating your own dogfood'. This phrase comes from the computer world, "One of the most important rules in software is to eat your own dog food. The concept is simple: If you have confidence in your product, you use it". On mashable there's a post about Google's senior management staff not using Google+ pointing out that they are not eating their own dogfood. The post is a restatement of a different one that gives more details

Why am I aiming to eat my own dogfood? My PhD dissertation was on senior people joining a new organization – what made them succeed or fail even when they appeared to have the right technical skills, experience, and knowledge to do the job they were hired to do. The outcome of the several years of research was that senior/executive level new hires had to

a. fit in socially i.e. rapidly create networks, reputation, good impression, and community rapport
b. get on and prove they could meet – or preferably exceed performance expectations

Generally they had to meet these two objectives simultaneously and within a short window – three months – or they would leave the organization by being indirectly eased out or directly asked to leave. I came up with a series of management checklists – published by the Chartered Management Institute and available from them – and a methodology for minimizing the risk of these people failing as failure at this level is very expensive not just in money but in reputation, time, motivation, and so on.

So here I am looking at the checklists again. There are ten of them in the first series (and a further ten in a second series) so that's salutary for a start: ten things to think about on how to join an organization. I'm re-reading them. Do I know how to handle the politics? Have I got the job I think I've got? Can I adjust my style? They seem full of perfectly sound advice and useful suggestions that I'd do well to pay attention to. I'm wondering if I have it in me to use the lists and will they help me succeed? Well, I do think that eating one's own dog food is a good thing to do. So I'm giving it a go. I'll find out within three months whether it's an effective diet.

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