Monday, December 12, 2005

An equal and opposite reaction

Monday, November 7, 2005, 6:00PM
Steve's house

I was so happy for Lila, and so relieved that things worked out well on her first day, that I let myself ignore the obvious problems with what I heard.

Lila managed to clear a week's worth of backlog in a four-employee department on her first day. She got a softare bug fixed on a program that is used by 20 people or more across the company. She's a good employee, but not that good. There's no WAY there should have been that much easy work laying around. Just what the hell was everyone else doing?

I need to address it, but I haven't yet. I need Kevin to tell me how a 19-year-old, in her first eight hours in a brand-new job, was able to clear so much work. What if Lila never got hired? How long would the problems that she solved have gone on?

My phone rings. It's Lila.



The line goes so quiet that it seems we've been disconnected.



"You ok, Lila?"

She heaves a weary sigh, as if she's been digging ditches all day.


"I probably shouldn't even tell you this. I want to solve my own problems! But-"


"It's not going well at work."

"I thought it was going great!"

"It is, but it's not."

"Well then I'm happy and sad for you!" A great line from Real Genius. Rent it!

"Steve, I'm serious! Those girls are giving me a hard time!"

"The three girls that work with you? Alexandra and them?"

"Yeah. Alexandra is the team lead, and ever since my first day she's been catty and bitchy with me. She calls me 'Wonder Woman' or 'Teacher's Pet'. They all do."

"Wonder Woman? Why?"

"Remember that first day, when I did all that work? They saw me with that big pile on my desk and they just laughed at me. It's like, they just sit around drinking coffee and eating bagels all frigging day, and they thought it was funny that I was working so hard. How do you think I got that much work done? It's because they don't do shit!"

"So what have you done to solve it?"

"I just tell them that I'm there to work and I don't care what they say."

"I've got a better idea. Ignore them totally. When they laugh or call you 'Teacher's Pet' pretend you don't hear. Keep producing work like you have been, and you're gonna make them all look bad. Make them look bad, and their jobs will be in jeopardy. Especially Alexandra, who is supposed to be leading the four of you."

"That's it?"

"That's all. Just keep setting the bar high and you'll force them to keep up."

"But that's gonna be hard! It kinda sucks listening to them."

"Get used to people resenting you. It's going to happen. But this is a great opportunity for you and I don't want to see you miss out on it."

"OK, Steve."

I punch keys furiously as soon as I get a dial tone, and hit Kevin's extension. "Kevin, Steve. See me in my office first thing tomorrow morning." CLICK.


Tuesday, November 8, 2005, 8:45AM
Steve's office

"Steve, Kevin from underwriting is here to see you," Bonnie says.


He sits in the chair across from me, squinting inquisitively. Kevin is about 5'10", with a mop of unruly brown hair and little round Harry Potter glasses.

"Kevin, I should have asked you some of this a couple of weeks ago, but obviously it's a bad time of year for conversation."

"I know. I've got a pretty full plate myself-"

"Let me ask you a question. How is it that a 19-year-old girl clears a week's worth of backlog in a day? In less than a day?"

He sits up straighter in his chair, adjusting his glasses, answering me before I'm done talking. "Now, when they're reviewing an application, Steve, they have to make a couple of calculations. Now, the calculation is usually made by InsurePro. But InsurePro has that bug, I mean, had that bug, where you couldn't save it halfway through. So they were making all the calculations by hand. It took a lot longer. Once she got the software fixed, it went much faster."

"She was the only one using it after it got fixed?"

"We've had lots of problems with InsurePro. So when she told me it was fixed, I told her to just do a few on her own to make sure it was ok. She ended up doing the whole pile."

"So they couldn't save their work halfway through. But they normally don't stop halfway through anyway, do they?"

"Not usually."

"So why did they stop using it?"

"The program autosaves every five minutes. You can't shut that off. And every time it tried to autosave it would crash. InsurePro is screwed up."

"So all that time the program was down, we were working at 50% capacity? Or less?"

"Now, we had a service ticket open with the software folks, Steve. They had been working on it for days."

"How did Lila manage to get that escalated?"

"I- I don't know, Steve. She's good, I guess."

I look at him for a long moment, turning my lips this way and that. "Kevin, you got shown up by a 19-year-old. You all did."


"I'm hearing through the grapevine that those girls are giving her a very hard time. Calling her names, like they're in junior high school. Apparently, they don't like the fact that she works so hard. I asked Lila, and she says everything is fine, but of course, she wouldn't tell me if it wasn't. I'm counting on you to take care of it, whatever it is. And don't be afraid to rip someone's head off if they're taking too long to help you. No way those software people should have taken that long."

"I will. And I know, those girls are kinda, rough over there sometimes. I didn't think it was that bad. I'm sorry, Steve."

"Don't apologize, just make sure it's ok. All right?"


"I get productivity reports every month for the underwriting teams. Check this out," I say, handing him a wide sheet of green and white-lined paper with tractor-feed holes on the sides.

"Alexandra's team is in last place out of five. But the software-"

"All the teams had the same software issue Alex's did. Her team's numbers weren't horribly bad, but they were bad enough. They did just enough work to get by. They took advantage of the situation. Next month, I want them to move up. Significantly. Let them know."

"I will."

"And let them know that I better not hear any more about any name-calling. They ought to be learning something from Lila, not ridiculing her. Apparently, she's the only one who knows what the hell is going on over there," I say, emphasizing the word "hell" like a priest at an exorcism.

"Yeah, yeah, now, she's really good, Steve, I mean, she's excellent out there. I know she's gonna be a team lead someday. I'll make sure there's no more issues."

"Do that."