Monday, June 25, 2007

Ding of the Month

Four years ago, we were in the process of moving our primary database server – a large, enterprise class box – from one rack at our data center to another. Given our architecture back then, we didn't have any way to accomplish this without at least an hour of downtime, so we planned the move carefully, with checklists galore. The time came for the move, we shut everything down, rolled the server down the hall and into the new cage, racked it – and then tried to plug it in. That's when we discovered that our hosting company had provisioned the cage with the wrong 220 plug.

A week later, after our second attempt at the move had proven successful, we took the original plug, mounted it on a small wood pedestal, and turned it into a trophy, awarded monthly. The recipient of this trophy is the person who makes the most boneheaded mistake over the course of the previous month. Like you would expect at any fast-moving, dynamic company, there's no shortage of nominees. J

The point of the award, of course, is not to kick people while they're down – it's intended to be an (admittedly perverse) way to communicate trust. It's a way to let people know that it's OK to make mistakes – indeed, encouraged – and it's fully in the spirit of the award that I've been one of the recipients (for deleting an active employee's AD account and Exchange mailbox in one fell swoop – while the employee was looking over my shoulder, no less). We would never give the award to somebody who was on a performance plan or whose performance we were otherwise seriously questioning – we'd handle that privately.

The interesting thing is that it's usually the very best employees who are the most frequent recipients. It's smart folks who are working their asses off, putting in the hours, trying to get their next project out the door on time, who are most likely to make a mistake. Nobody likes these mistakes, of course, but we want to encourage the conditions (hard work, moving fast) that make them possible, even inevitable; if we're not moving fast enough to make mistakes, we've ignored the reality of our space and the advantage of being relatively small and nimble. So giving people the chance to nominate each other over the course of the month, publicly reciting the nominees at our monthly All Tech meeting, and waiting for the applause and cat calls to die down between each name and description, is a way to "draw the poison from the wound" and balance both sides.

One note: we also have a "Save of the Month," awarded to the person whose spectacular efforts or intelligence have helped the company out the most. And trust me: those efforts are appreciated. But awarding a Save isn't nearly as much fun as a Ding.

A second note: managers aren't eligible for "Saves," but they most definitely are eligible for "Dings."

A third note: pictured below is our most recent "Ding" recipient, Jeff Malek, our VP of Product Development, who won for a bug in our decompression code that he managed to hide for three years.


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