Blog: May 2024

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Unforced failures: employee motivation

My employer does a thing where, for round-number anniversaries, they collect congratulatory messages from your coworkers and then deliver an online compilation on the day. Commenters are encouraged (I know from having been solicited) to share praise, stories, and other positive stuff. It's a low-cost, low-effort (for them) way of sending warm fuzzies. If they didn't do this at all, no one would miss it. Since they do do it, naturally people expect it to be a positive experience for the recipient. (I assume that comments are moderated.)

When my fifth anniversary was approaching, the way the system worked is that some automated system sent a link to the recipient's manager several weeks in advance, with instructions to forward the link to the recipient's coworkers and ask people to participate. (Everybody with the link could see what comments had been left so far.) I've responded to a number of these over the years and have seen compilations with messages from across the organization. When I got mine, it had... a generic message from an HR person I didn't know, a brief message from my manager, and nice messages from two other members of my immediate (doc) team. (I later learned that some other team members hadn't been notified in time.) I was at the time working with two or three cross-functional teams of developers, QA folks, and product managers, but my manager didn't send it to any of them. Eh, whatever, I guess?

We've been acquired since then so the systems have changed. I recently got an automated message about a coworker's upcoming fifth anniversary, as opposed to a message from a manager. I do not know if the manager was asked to choose recipients, or if the system is somehow choosing based on reporting relationships, or what. I've only seen one invitation under the new system so far. As with the older system, anybody with the link can see the comments.

Yesterday was my tenth anniversary, and I had email this morning with a link. I looked and found...a generic message from the CEO. I looked around the site a bit, thinking other comments must be in a different place, but I didn't find any. I then thought to look at the link for that coworker's upcoming anniversary, and saw the same CEO message and my comment.

So, um, nobody commented? Nobody at all, not even my manager? And their system didn't detect that and, you know, send a nag message to the manager and if necessary delay sharing the link with me?

So many avoidable failures, starting with: don't do stuff like this if you aren't set up to make it a positive experience. This is worse than doing nothing. Not only is this not motivational, but it's actually demotivational. The message it sends is: "we care about looking like we care".

(No, I do not plan to be here for the fifteenth to see if they've gotten their act together.)

Garden lineup

I just finished putting seedlings in containers. Let's see what survives. This year I learned about companion plants so I'm giving that a try in the big pots. And I also bought some liquid plant food to see if that helps with the bounty.

The pickings for cucumbers were pretty slim and mostly marked "thrives in ground". I found one hybrid bush that said it's suitable for containers. The seedling looks like it's struggling a bit, but we'll see what happens with room and food. Meanwhile, I'll keep looking for another.

I'm trying tomatoes again despite the loss to critters last year. Apparently basil is a good companion plant for tomatoes: the core of Caprese salad in one pot! (But just in case, I also have basil in a separate pot.)

Leaving the nest

Four weeks ago I had a robin's nest with three eggs on a rafter outside my back door. For the last couple weeks I've caught occasional glimpses of beaks or even heads over the edge of the nest. (The nest is above eye level.) The adult birds have been very adamant when we enter or leave, even though I try to do that gently and non-threateningly.

In the last few days I've seen young nestlings standing on the edge of the nest and even on the rafter. I've watched them flap their wings vigorously without getting lift yet.

Yesterday, by virtue of lucky timing -- looking out the window at just the right times -- I got to see two of them fledge. Neat! This morning there was no activity around the nest so I got the ladder and held my phone up, aiming down, to check on the state of the nest -- empty. So number three seems to have figured it out too.

It's been fun watching them grow and learn to use their wings, and watching the family (or the parts I could see at that angle) for the last few weeks. Simple serendipitous joys of urban life. If it happens again I need to figure out how to do a nest cam.

Ya'aleh v'yavo hit me hard during Pesach

During the festivals and some other special times throughout the year, we add or adjust prayers to reflect these special times. This includes specifying the day -- we call Pesach by name and also refer to it as z'man cheruteinu, the season of our freedom.

One of the additions is a prayer called Ya'aleh v'yavo, where we ask for specific kindnesses from the Almighty. And so it was that during Pesach, z'man cheruteinu, I found myself saying roughly:

Our God and God of our fathers, show us your care and concern. Remember our ancestors, recall your anointed, protect Yerushalayim your holy city, and exalt all your people Yisrael with life and well-being, contentment and peace, on this Festival of Matzot. Grant us life and blessing, and remember us for good. Recall your promise of mercy and redemption. [...]

There I was praying for life and prosperity and well-being in the season of our freedom, and even more than what has become usual since October 7, the discordance hit me hard. We who can stand in synagogues and pray these words have life and well-being and, I hope, some measure of contentment and peace, unlike our fellow Jews who for over 200 days now have faced cruelty rivaling that of Paro in Mitzrayim, and while many in the world (and close to home) celebrate the cruelty and call for more suffering and pain and pogroms. I knew all of that in my head and we've all seen it play out for months, and then there I was, praying Ya'aleh v'yavo in freedom, and... bam. This year it is not about my freedom when (as the haggadah tells us) I went out of Egypt's cruel oppression. This year it is about the victims of today's evil oppressors. I pray that the next time I say these words, it will be in celebration of everyone's freedom from the cruel reign of Hamas.