Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fornicatum non Humoratum!


Have you ever had a time when something out of your control is alleged to be due to your irresponsible actions? Back in days of yore, when I was a Department Head at Bell Labs, I had a strong manager who worked for me, Rich Mondello, who had an expression for those times when people made such claims against us. He even made up a scroll for me that still hangs on the wall in my office (see the attached photo, and yes I recognize that Rich can't spell! J). That expression is, "Fornicatum non Humoratum!", which people look at with puzzlement when they see it, saying, “What does that mean?”  Well, it is a Latin(ish) and somewhat more socially acceptable expression for “F--- ‘em if they can’t take a joke!” (look at it, you’ll see it), and it can be an apt expression for the right circumstances. It is probably a bit more appropriate being said with those on your side of the issue rather than to those invoking the, to you, unreasonable complaint.


What can lead to such a response becoming “apt”, and what can be done to avoid it?


  • When you and your team are working diligently to deliver on your commitments [see Promises and Delivery], but are met by totally unrealistic expectations [see Unrealistic Expectations], then this is a situation that you may think would call out for such a response. Unrealistic expectations can come in a variety of forms. People may expect the product you are developing to do things that were never defined or planned or promised [see Product Definition: Define What It Is and What It Isn’t! and Write It Down and Sign It Off!]. People may expect delivery dates that are impossible; for example, if your project plan assumed everything would go perfectly in order to be delivered on time. [see Failing to Plan Means You Are Planning To Fail!, Plan Based on What You Do Know, and On What You Don’t! and Sunny Day Scenarios]. You may or may not have been in control of these expectations, but you should be. Your natural reaction when confronted with your inability to deliver may be to simply say “Fornicatum non Humoratum!”  However, many of the wounds you are feeling may have been self-inflicted, so you may be talking to yourself [see Excuses, Excuses!]. To avoid this, take the time to plan properly. Time spent up front to properly define your product and project, to carefully plan your efforts, and to prevent incorporating sunny day scenarios can avoid the problems that lead to unrealistic expectations in the first place. You have the control (or at least more control) at this point to define your product and project plans. Make everything about your product and project clear at the outset to avoid unrealistic expectations.

  • When you and your team are being set up to fail by management playing “The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game” [see The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game!], this is a situation that calls out for such a response. In the schedule estimate extortion game, you develop a schedule based on reasonable estimates, expectations, and known dependencies on deliveries from your team and others on other tasks, and determine the estimated delivery schedule. When you present this schedule, you are coerced, bullied, intimidated, and beaten down to pull this schedule into a time frame that your management deems acceptable, regardless of whether it is likely or even possible. When saddled with an impossible deadline, you know you are destined to fail, and your likely response when working to meet impossible goals is “Fornicatum non Humoratum!”  The way to best avoid this is to avoid getting trapped in the situation at the outset. Explain to management that what they are demanding does not fit the timeframes of the tasks to be done [see Blunt Talk and Black & White Reasoning and Pound the Facts, Not the Table]. See if the project can be adjusted, by eliminating or pushing out to the future some of the features or functions that are currently part of the project, or by bringing on board additional resources early into the project that can make achieving the desired goals more possible [Note: keep in mind that adding people to a late project will almost always make it even later (see Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth!)], or by making other adjustments so that something can reasonably be delivered in the timeframe desired/required by management. If you can reach such an agreement, then you have reached a reasonable accommodation and you can commit your team to reach for the goal. If you can’t, then when the inevitable slips occur, well “Fornicatum non Humoratum!”

  • Sometimes you are faced with management that practices the “Floggings will continue until morale improves” philosophy of management [see Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!, and Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well]. Rather than building teams up with encouragement and recognition of successes, this management philosophy practices beating people down, telling them what they’re doing wrong, and expressing their disappointment in the failure to achieve anything good (see Mis-Managers 3: Builder-Uppers & Tearer-Downer). This philosophy calls for people to be flogged mercilessly to deliver for extended periods of time, and to be punished when they don’t respond “properly” to the floggings. Life under such a management philosophy can be a living hell. My strongest recommendation in such an environment is to first let the management team know what they are doing is wrong in hopes that they will see the error of their ways, and then, if they don’t, get out as soon as is reasonably possible. Living in such an environment is unhealthy both mentally and physically. Here, “Fornicatum non Humoratum!” is particularly apt.

Clearly, this is not an expression you want to use frequently or inappropriately. You don’t want to shock people or upset them unnecessarily. You want to avoid profane language (although the expression itself is not profane, it’s “translation” into English is). You want to make possible the circumstances for people to be able to deliver on their commitments. You want to help others to deliver on their commitments so that you can deliver on yours. You want to work to prevent unreasonable commitments or expectations by speaking out early rather than after the fact, and to not allow being bullied or intimidated. Still, when the occasion is right, when the false accusation has been made, when you’ve had it up to here, when you’re reaching the breaking point, it may be perfectly apt to turn, with your falsely accused co-workers, and say, “Fornicatum non Humoratum!”


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