Easter Eggs Are Not for Employees
As we wrap up another Easter weekend, I’ve been thinking – again – about the idea of Easter eggs and how they relate to our work environments.
But this time it’s not from the perspective of the boiled eggs and treats, but from the perspective of the software engineer.
A Little Egg in your Excel
The concept of hiding little nuggets inside of software has a long and noble tradition among the engineers who write the code.
At least as far back as the 70’s software was released with these hidden bits. The PDP–10 mainframe produced by DEC would respond to the command line ‘make love’ with ‘not war?’ before creating the proper file.
Video games are famous for hiding special treats for their players to stumble upon – dating back to 1980 when the Atari game Adventure included a secret room that held the programmer’s name ‘Warren Robinett’. In fact, whole websites are devoted to documenting the Easter eggs hidden within video games.
Business geeks get their fun too. Excel ’97 included a hidden flight simulator while Word ’97 held a secret pinball machine. (Microsoft has since cracked down on Easter eggs, concerned that they introduced a possible security risk.)
DVD’s and BluRay’s have since picked up the torch, and are often loaded with hidden gems – if you have The Incredibles from Pixar and you haven’t found at least four, well, you aren’t trying very hard.
The point to these things is that they are fun, trivial distractions from the main point of the content. They are hidden – sometimes diabolically difficult to find – and inconsequential little additions that provide the coders with the opportunity to inject some fun into a product that they spend hundreds and thousands of hours creating.
Oracle is Just a Software Company
The point? What does any of this have to do with being a manager?
I have worked with far too many managers who treat information as Easter eggs.
They expect their people to search, poke, pry, eavesdrop, snoop and gossip to find the bits of information that will help them a) perform their jobs better and, b) develop into more capable individuals.
Apparently, these managers are from the school that ‘the struggle’ is a critical component in personal growth. Or that there is power in information, and by making people scratch and dig for important data, their status and power will be confirmed and reinforced.
(Of course the cynic will say that information really is power, and by withholding it, they keep the ‘little people’ where they belong…)
They embrace the image of the ‘manager as oracle and sage’ as crucial to the success of the organization – and given the importance of that single person to the organization, then money and prestige must follow.
Odysseus is Dead
But Easter eggs in games and software are supposed to be a fun little diversion. A treat. Success in the game does not require the player to root out these morsels.
So managers – let’s lay out some of the concepts that are becoming broadly accepted as organizations struggle to cope with constant and accelerating change: cooperation, flattened organizations, cross-functional teams, eliminating silos, creative problem-solving, and, of course, the holy grail of the modern business press… INNOVATION.
These things don’t happen without an empowered and engaged workforce. And employees who don’t have every bit of available information at their fingertips – without friction – are not empowered. Employees who do not know exactly where they stand with respect to their personal and professional development will never be fully engaged.
The era of the Hero Manager is over.
If you can’t figure out why your efforts to tear down silos and create a transparent, cooperative organization are failing, start with a mirror. Then look closely at the C-suite. Your department heads are next in line.
The broad employee base is not at fault. They want to do a good job. They want to cooperate and succeed. But it’s hard to accomplish anything noteworthy when you spend your days hunting for Easter eggs instead of doing work that matters.