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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Political Considerations

Startup Engineering Management deliberately excluded politics from its discussion of management. Since I'm a lousy politician by nature, I felt unqualified to write about it. A couple of my friends are good politicians, but I can't persuade either of them to write a book (or even a blog post) about engineering politics at large corporations, which I think is a pity.

Recently, however, I was made aware of a couple of political situations at a well-known large corporation that merits discussion in a blog post.

Exec A: Having worked himself up into a senior executive position on the major product at Corporation X, he was told upon a reorganization that he was now going to run a different area of the company. While important, this was not as critical and he recognized it as a demotion. He immediately tendered his resignation, and was only persuaded to stay long enough to make a transition smoother by the CEO.

Exec B: Was at corporation Y since the early days as an early employee, and was instrumental in many of the design decisions behind the property. After a political stumble, she was asked to leave her current role as the major design driver behind the the product and take on a newer "emerging" product. This was widely recognized as a demotion, but the executive stayed on anyway, while the emerging product team started working around and ignoring her because she clearly no longer had the ability to effect change.

One could say that this is a possible difference in style between the way men and women approach status changes, but I'd argue that in this case, staying is the wrong decision. When you've lost political clout, staying on signals that you will accept further demotions in the future, which is debilitating for your future career. By contrast, leaving immediately signals that you will not accept further degradation, and if you've got a proven track record, also sends a message to your future employer. These political considerations are not fun to think about and demand self-awareness and total honestly about your current position. The penalties of not assessing your current position honesty could easily end up with you being ineffectual at your job, which is not very satisfying. Don Neufeld at Obvious a few weeks ago said this to me, "Most people have a loss aversion about losing their jobs. Startup people have a loss aversion about wasting their time." To me, sitting in a position, no matter how lucrative, when you're ineffectual is a complete waste of time and should be avoided.

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