Thursday, April 20, 2017

Marking Time


As I leave Reed Group to start a new adventure, I find myself wondering: how do you measure 7 ½ years of work and life together?

I could measure it in accomplishments, I suppose:
  • We built 4 SaaS products and showed the absence management market how technology could be a differentiator.
  • We grew a software business from the ground up that now serves 1500 employers, 10 MM employees, and counting. In the process, we went from the chaos of a first release by “those IT guys” to a professional technology organization with over 300 people worldwide.
  • We grew a small family business from 225 people to the 2000-employee-strong international company that it is today
That all looks great on a resume (or a LinkedIn profile), but it’s unsatisfying to me. Here’s how I really want to measure my time since 2009: in the moments and personal milestone we shared.
There are the hundreds of people who joined our technology team over the years, and while some left (hey, it’s a hot market), I’m proudest of those “boomerangs” who came back after seeing that we had something special at Reed Group that they couldn’t find elsewhere. There are the 70 peer-nominated “Reed Group Excellence Awards” (the Groupies) that allowed people to recognize the efforts of those around them. And when we needed to encourage a “quality first” mindset, there were the stuffed “Seals of Quality” that our CTO chucked at recipients during the all-hands meetings.

One of the things I find interesting about working in technology is how people handle the stress, because no matter how well you plan or how smart you are, sometimes the complexity (or the client’s schedule) wins. In the late nights and long weekends of “crunch time” or “release night,” the facade cracks and you see the true person underneath, and then you get to deal with them. In those times, I’ve been proud to see the humor, compassion, and determination to do what’s right come out in my teams. I’ve enjoyed the zany humor of release night videos and pranks, one of which led to me coming in on Monday morning to find my pictures of my face plastered all over the office. That was a weird day.

Of course, not everyone handles stress so well. I’ve gotten to broker disputes, ghost-write apologies, and explain strange habits that made people nervous. I’ve also had the privilege of handing many people a tissue when the pressure was too much and they just needed a private place to cry for a few minutes. At last count, that number was 53 in 7 years, but I only made 5 of them cry and only one was a client. For the record, I apologized to each of them and made sure that the relationship survived the moment of frustration.

I’m proud to say that we created an environment where we passionately pursued the best solution to every problem. Sometimes, that passion looked like arguing, but I was always able to explain to new people that “we aren’t fighting: we’re designing.” In our whiteboard sessions, every voice carried the same weight, and the solution mattered more than the titles. Humility is critical in those circumstances, and a willingness to recognize the right answer no matter where it comes from. I think that we did that well.

We also remembered that laughter and celebration are an essential part of life together. We had 33 happy hours and release parties, and probably could have used a few more. I’m not sure why people kept running me into the guardrails during the go-cart races, but they seemed to be happy, so I’ll let it go.

And speaking of making people happy: the count for “quarterly all-hands meetings delivered through interpretive dances” stands at one, but I say that putting on those pink leg warmers was worth it for the laughter and smiles at the end of a rough quarter, and I’d do it again.

While we work, life keeps happening around us. I got to celebrate the births of 9 children and grandchildren and mourn the death of one. We went through sickness, divorce, and major life changes together. We mourned with our community after the Aurora movie theater shootings, and we joined together to “Take Back the Movies” by buying and giving away thousands of movie tickets to try to bring joy back. We held the great “Toys for Tots Happy Hour” and filled an SUV with toys when we heard that they didn’t have enough to go around. And when I asked my colleagues to help me “turn on the light” in 2016, they responded with acts of kindness both large and small.

I’m grateful to everyone at Reed Group for going on this journey with me, for giving me your trust when I deserved it and for challenging me when I didn’t. Don’t be strangers, and don’t be afraid to be a little strange when the moment requires it. Nothing passes the time like a little bit of laughter.