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Shields Down (2016) (randsinrepose.com)
55 points by mooreds on Dec 17, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 34 comments



>Your shields are officially down.

What's this bizarro metaphor about shields? Considering another job is not "putting your shields down". Yes, people will start doing calculations whether to do so or not, when they have another offer/chance/invite from a friend at another company or not. The bizarro part is describing this as "shields down". As if their existing job is something the person should "protect" against new offers / opportunities.

>To find and understand this shields-down moment, I ask, “When did you start looking?” Often the answers are a vague, “It kind’a just happened. I wasn’t really looking. I’m really happy here.” Bullshit. (...) It didn’t just happen. You chose. Maybe you weren’t looking, but once your shields dropped, you started looking.

So, not bullshit after all.

I don't get the defensive pose of the author. As the manager/HR person, he sounds like a slave owner, where he expects people to fight ("keep shields up") to keep working for them, and he feels betrayed if they do leave. The article sounds like trying to guilt people.

>Happy people don’t leave jobs they love.

Yes they do, if they'll be equally happy elsewhere and the pay is better, or the location more convenient, or they simply want to try something new. You don't need to be unhappy in your job to be tempted by those things.

Some people, might also perform perfectly rational calculations about the benefits of jumping job, whether they're happy with the current one or not. They don't just stick to a job just because they're happy there. E.g. to advance their career. The best moment to get a new job is when you already have one...


I'd argue there's no "shield" to begin with. The "shield" was thrown away when a real employer/employee relationship ceased to exist. When, regardless of slightly better offers, employees would stay due to such relationships. When businesses had downturns, they sheltered their dedicated employees by shielding with resources from past successes.

Today, pretty much every medium- to large-scale employer I've anecdotally interacted with is focused only on efficiency and ROI. You're a tool to drive business success and if you're not doing so or a slightly better tool is available: you're gone.

This culture shift means people really don't care about any sort of culture propoganda your business spews to them. They nod, smile, and play along because everyone involved knows it's merely a facade.

It's no longer true that happy employees don't leave jobs. Employees will seek their maximum ROI in the same fashion as businesses do and that culture was established by business practices.

As far as "loving" a job, very few people get paid and get paid well to do things they truly love. This alignment happens but it's not all that common. The fact is, survival in modern life is expensive and people will do whatever they need to do to pay their expenses. They'll do their best to find something enjoyable in that process but the vast majority will settle for something that doesn't make them miserable. The pigeonhole principle almost assures this (IMHO).

The bizarre shield metaphor is part of the never-ending push you see from HR trying to reestablish the illusion of a real employee/employer relationship. Maybe the people in HR really are decent human beings and do care, so they take the defensive position. What they need to realize is they're not really in charge and really just the face of business propoganda from upper management and investors.


Employers show zero loyalty towards their employees the world over so to have any form of loyalty back is to misunderstand the situation entirely. Money exchanges hands for time working. It is a contract just as the company wants it.

Anybody who thinks there is more to it than that has misunderstood the way any medium to large company operates. Small businesses however can and do show employee loyalty but that is due to the owner's inexperience, it will likely get beat out of them when the reality of a very fluid workplace kicks in. Jobs for life have been gone for a good while.


> I'd argue there's no "shield" to begin with. The "shield" was thrown away when a real employer/employee relationship ceased to exist

I agree. I feel privileged that I realized this fact very early, right when I started my career in the middle of a recession. I got the most pragmatic and down-to-earth education about how the employee/employer relationship works when people I sent code reviews in the morning were not working there anymore by noon.


I copied this from another submission/comment a while back, I wish I'd preserved the source. It's been my touchstone for my daily emotional rollercoaster of working at any job, and has helped me do a lot of this BS cutting.

> Loyalty in business has not been a thing for a long time. Where there's no loyalty, there's no betrayal. You're right to be angry about being lied to, but lies like this are so commonplace in the business world that I simply assume management is lying to me and do my own assessment of the situation.

> Take stock of your entire work situation. Don't just look at pay and benefits, but also intangibles like flexibility, do you like your coworkers, do you like what you're doing, commute time, etc. etc. Once you've done that, decide if the whole package still makes sense or if you're better off elsewhere.

> Most importantly IMO, let the anger go and coldly decide what's best for you and what you care about. This wasn't personal. This is simply a result of the political, economic, and cultural system we live in.


I completely agree with you, but looking at this from the perspective of a middle manager, especially a lower ranking one, rather than a shareholder or senior leadership view, it starts to make sense and isn't quite as cynical. A single IC or low ranking manager leaving a large or middle sized company will probably have no effect on the company ROI, but could seriously affect that managers goals. Outside of that the manager has a personal relationship and perhaps sees themself as a mentor to the employee that leaves, so they might take it as a personal loss even if they entirely understand the reason for departure.


It's an odd metaphor, but I think it is acknowledging that a good leader retains people voluntarily and it's his job to do that:

> The reason this reads cranky is because I, the leader of the humans, screwed up. Often you’ve forgotten this original thought in your subsequent intense job deliberations, but when I ask, when I dig, I usually find a basic values violation that dug in, stuck, and festered. Sometimes it’s a major values violation from months ago. Sometimes it’s a small violation that occurred at the worst possible time. In either case, your expectations of your company and your job were not met and when faced with opportunity elsewhere, you engaged.

The underlying idea is to retain people by making sure they have what they want. Asking the question "why can't we just effectively counteroffer everyone who wants to leave?" And the answer is that often it's extremely hard to know the true reason, or that the improvement is something that cannot be achieved through "managing upwards".


Once they have hit the point where they hand in a resignation you can't do much about it the time to have done something was before when they complained about something. The failure to fix the problem is where the problem lies and now it isn't just about the problem(s) but also how they were handled which has meant there is little trust. Maybe a higher pay offer retains them for 6 months but the wound is still there and its likely never going away.


I think you over-read the metaphor. The point is that when people are extremely content in their current job, they're likely to 'bounce' people who are asking them to coffee since it's usually seen as a waste of time. It seems legit to me to consider that there is a tipping point in a person's current job where those inbound requests start being responded to, since the person's mind is open to the idea of some kind of transition, however unlikely.


Shields aren't a particularly strange metaphor because changing jobs is about job security. One usually clings to the security of the current job until security of the next job suddenly removes the barriers to exit.


> >Your shields are officially down.

> What's this bizarro metaphor about shields?

I think it's a reference to Star Trek shields, which were typically let down when a ship trusted another ship: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shields_(Star_Trek)


I don't think you ever get full answers as to what is wrong other than the first time it gets raised. The very first "value violation" will get raised probably multiple times but it will usually be inconvenient to do anything about it. It then becomes a wound that starts to fester and it is probably the last time you hear about anything bad. All the little violations widen the wound and make it even worse and erode the trust.

Once the trust is gone and its gone the moment that "value violation" wasn't fixed (handled won't cut it here, a conversation isn't the solution just the holding pattern that ensures the trust will disappear) the trust starts eroding and so does the honest information flow. I think infected wounds is a much better analogy because they invite further infections, the coffee with a friend is just the result of someone offering a fresh set of skin without the emotional pain. The wound carrier also hides them under clothing so people don't see it, but they were still wounded and the person who wounded them isn't getting anything honest out of them again.


This was almost exactly my experience at an old startup job.

It was inconvenient to do anything about my compensation (which was lower than appropriate for my experience level), and the boss deflected the issue every time I raised it.

The "value violation" there hurt, because I liked the company and the tech well enough, I just wanted to get paid closer to market rate, but that never happened. Eventually, I realized (after raising the issue 3+ times) I was never going to get a meaningful raise, and tendered my resignation shortly thereafter.


> Happy people don’t leave jobs they love.

Happy people leave jobs they love for jobs they love more. That weighted list isn't a bunch of yes and no responses, each answer is a spectrum. "Fair compensation" is an obvious one that's so wrapped up in management-speak (excuse me, leadership-speak) you just have to know that it's referring to salary and benefits, which can be reduced not to "yes" or "no" but to a number of dollars, and if someone wants to offer me more for my work that's not unfair compensation it's just economics.

There is a cost to changing jobs. It's risky, it can be difficult, doing it too often is a mark on your resume, and you can get comfortable with the current rut you're riding in. Sounds like the author wants to make that rut as deep as possible, which would be bad for their employees: Increasing that rut through guilt and social manipulation means the author can pay less and increase their workload.

When did I let my shields down? The moment I walked in the door on the first day, and every day after that.

And they'll be down when I'm leaving, so if you want to change the equation to guilt me less, compensate me "more fairly", respect me more, give me a mix of interesting projects with time for education, and make me trust you as a leader by getting rid of this "shields" nonsense I'd be happy to return.


I'm also sure many a happy person has left their job....when the job decided that person needed to leave for some reason. This is article is a very one sided approach to a problem, but its nice to see someone at least acknowledge its an issue I suppose.


I think the OP is being harder on himself than he is on the departing employees. He understands their motives and challenges leaders to try harder.


Try harder to do what?

To change the employee/employer relationship from an economic exchange between two parties to one where there's a one-sided loyalty from the employee to the employer?


Try harder to do, among other things, the stuff he listed in his previous (linked) article:

> Keeping an interesting problem squarely in front of them.

> Let them experiment.

> They can only ‘take one for the team’ for so long.

> Protect their time. Embrace the ambiguity of their experiment.

> Aggressively remove noise. I

> Tell them what the hell is going on.

etc. He makes it quite clear over the two articles that this is not an all-encompassing list. He is not asking for blind loyalty, but instead trying to create environments where people will not be eager to consider other opportunities.


As a counter-point, I've never flat out turned down a potential opportunity due to being "happy" at work. I mean, if something that might be better comes along, I owe it to myself and my family to give it a shot.

When I'm unhappy, I'll seek out those opportunities, but when I'm happy I'll let them come to me. There's no way I'll tell someone "I don't want to meet with you" just because I'm too happy at my job, though.

Sometimes I move on, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I try to move on and then get convinced to stay...


> When I'm unhappy, I'll seek out those opportunities, but when I'm happy I'll let them come to me.

This sums it up perfectly.



Well, at least the answers are consistent. Not much has changed in three years.


Companies are welcome to offer a multiyear contracts, with clear requirements for early termination, and payouts in a structure that we can negotiate on, if they desire. You know, like they do for their various C level folks?

Instead, they offer the "right" to work at X number, in an open ended format where either party can cancel at anytime. In that system, it makes very little sense for either side to show anything but token loyalty, as it is a purely financial transaction.


Impressive: this managed to be wrong in the first paragraph.

He needs to consider the enemy within. I did not resign because "my shields dropped," I got shot in the back by the folks inside my "shield." Nobody presented me with an opportunity, I went looking for one when I realized that my loyalty was misplaced and my efforts wasted. At no point am I kidding myself about "curiosity:" I wanted out. Then investigation happened, I did not receive an email about coffee.

It's a strange take: we as employees are supposed to resist temptation like some kind of monk beset by lasciviousness. Let's go with this metaphor he loves: somehow, the burden falls upon us. Imagine standing there, day after day, holding a thirty pound shield before you. Tiresome.

The saying goes that people tend to quit bosses, not jobs, and this shields concept is a coping mechanism to not face the idea that bosses can screw up and frequently rely upon employee inertia instead of trying to tamp down their screwing-up frequency.


Impressive-- you had such a visceral reaction to the way it was phrased that you don't realize the whole point of what he was saying was what you yourself are talking about:

> The reason this reads cranky is because I, the leader of the humans, screwed up. Something in the construction of the team or the company nudged you at a critical moment. When that mail arrived gently asking you about coffee, you didn’t answer the way you answered the prior five similar mails with a brief, “Really happy here. Let’s get a drink some time!” You think you thought Hmmm… what the hell. It can’t hurt. What you actually thought or realized was:

> You know, I have no idea when I’m going to be a tech lead here.

> Getting yelled at two days ago still stings.

> I don’t believe a single thing senior leadership says.


No, that's putting the effect before the cause.

Nobody sent me any emails about "hey come have coffee." That did not happen. I went looking.

The shields concept has this idea behind it that employees are constantly awash in opportunities, splashing away as we diligently oar toward the latest corporate goal, headhunters on the phone, friendly requests in LinkedIn, and that the shield upheld turns away these opportunities which are apparently corrosive to the body of the company.

This was not true for me. I went looking in the complete absence of offers. I cannot emphasize that enough. I wasn't going anywhere out of "curiosity" and deceiving myself as to the point of meeting with someone at another company. I had no shield to raise in defense of these offers because they did not happen.

It's a terrible metaphor on so many fronts and the use of it suggests that it is my duty to hold my shield up. I didn't have a shield and I have no duty to hold it up even if I had one. I'm not some soldier in a phalanx who presses on for the glory of the Roman Empire, my shoulder straining to protect my fellows even as I fall to my knees, spear in my gut; I did not let my guard down and an "offer" slipped into my tender heart because I was almost willfully unaware.

The concept is a distraction from bosses screwing up because it suggests that an employee let their guard down.


> The shields concept has this idea behind it that employees are constantly awash in opportunities, splashing away as we diligently oar toward the latest corporate goal, headhunters on the phone, friendly requests in LinkedIn, and that the shield upheld turns away these opportunities which are apparently corrosive to the body of the compan

Well, many of us are.

> This was not true for me. I went looking in the complete absence of offers. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Sorry that you find that one way offensive, but that is just one way he poses the question. He alternatively poses it as "when did you start looking".

No matter how passive or active the job search is initially, most employees tend not to do it when they're happy.

> I didn't have a shield and I have no duty to hold it up even if I had one.

No one implies you have a duty. But we are pretty adept at brushing off entreaties and avoiding spending the energy looking when we're fulfilled. That is his point, and it's a reasonable one that isn't affected at all by the semantic quibbles.


Right, and the reason you went looking was because you felt wronged by your employer -- whether it be office politics, backstabby coworkers, a manager you did't like, etc, you would not have gone looking for another job (in the same way) had you felt valued, happy, and safe at your job.

"shields down" is just Rands' way of saying "decided to even consider another job". It doesn't have to be defensive. It just means that that was the point where you realized that _maybe_ this job isn't the best one for you. You might come to that realization on your own (as you did), or after seeing things happen to other people, or even from a recruiter cold-calling you. The "shields down" moment was before when you started looking, or when you set LinkedIn to "I'm looking ...".


What I'm getting at is that Rand's "way of saying" is not simply a metaphor, but one which comes with certain implications and that those implications matter to the entire essay.

The first implication is I, as an employee, should keep my shields up. It sounds dutiful. If Ensign Crusher didn't have the shields up, that's pretty bad news.

The second implication is that it is defensive. It does not have to be defensive but if you select "shield" as your metaphor, you're bringing "defensive" along for the ride. To suggest the use of a shield without the defensive concept is disingenuous at best.

Both of these implications are distractions from the "what did I do as an employer do wrong?" and the essay as a whole would be cleaner and more honest without the shield in the essay or the title.

Listen to this part: "The moment happened a long time ago when you received a random email from a good friend who asked ..." No. That did not happen.

He hits it again: "The moment happened the instant you decided, 'What the hell? I haven’t seen Don in months and it’d be good to see him.'" Again, that's not the moment.

He does it again: "When you are indirectly asked to lower your shields ..." Blame again on the employee.

All of this is a distraction from the actual moment of employers making that final poor decision. He keeps using "you" (as an employee) rather than "what did the employer do?"

Cross out every bit about shields and refocus the essay on employer mistakes, it is fine. But he follows that hint of acknowledgement ("If I’m sitting here talking with you it means two things: I don’t want you to leave and, to the best of my knowledge, you didn’t want to leave either but here you are leaving. It didn’t just happen.") with an impulse to push it back on the employee (" You chose. Maybe you weren’t looking, but once your shields dropped, you started looking."

It's a metaphor that leads to a dishonest way of thinking about the situation he, as an employer, is in. Someone else chose, they dropped their shields because they were indirectly asked, and maybe I as a boss was involved somehow but the choice was still the employee's and all because they, in a momentary lapse of vigilance, dropped their shields.

That's what I find rather grating about this essay.


No, I don't think he ever makes it sound dutiful. There's a whole lot of other people reading this article and commenting on it both here and the original site and no one has read it the way you are reading it.

In no single point does he talk about employee mistakes.

The entire point of the essay is to analyze where and how the employee was actually lost.

You know Star Trek, when an unknown ship pops up, and they raise shields, etc? Then they turn out to be cool bros and want to talk? That's the metaphor that I read it as. It's a little wonky but fits the situation.


> no one has read it the way you are reading it

I didn't originally read it that way, but after reading @at_a_remove's comments, I think there's a lot of insight in them and I now see the original article differently.

I don't think the Star Trek shields metaphor fits this situation very well, since someone trying to interest you in a new job isn't a hostile act that needs to be defended against.


I think the shields analogy is misplaced. Also, a manager blaming themself for the choices of their employees shouldn't be a hard rule. As a manager I do my best to create a good environment for my employees, but I'm also not omnipotent, and the actions/inactions or simply the market position of the company as a whole can be impossible for me to control and be a bigger factor than anything I could do immediately for my team. Understandably the buck stops at the manager, but we can all only do our best and sometimes that's not good enough.

I guess to simplify:

Shitty manager ===> Employees leave

Employees leave =/=> Shitty manager

> Happy people don't leave jobs they love.

Debatable, but worth noting that some people are never happy.


At least he didn't use the word "poaching".

Now it means hunting animals outside of hunting season. What it meant much earlier is (unauthorized) killing the kings' deer. (Robin Hood was a poacher.) The employee is viewed as a possession.

If you stay in job for 10 years are you getting 10 years of experience? A friend with a different risk profile has been at a job for 10+ years and they pay very well but this isn't usually the case. You usually fall behind in experience and pay.





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