Trained to within an inch of my life…

I’ve ranted and railed at length about the seemingly endless trail of mandatory training “experiences” my employer requires each and every year. Some of those trainings are online modules that literally have not changed since I started way back in 2003. I’m looking at you here Constitution Day Training. Having studied history and political science, there are very few documents written in the English language that I prize more highly than the Constitution. Clicking through a few pages of how a bill becomes a law or which powers reside in the Executive and which in the Legislative just doesn’t fill me with an augmented sense of awe and wonder. The fact that so much of this training is stale, though, misses the broader point.

Regardless of how stale or dated the training, it’s mandatory. Beyond it being mandatory, eventually I know I’m going to catch hell if all those little boxes are not check off next to my name before the clock runs out on the end of September. What everything finally translates to is I’m going to suck it up and wade through hours of pointless training not because it’s teaching me something new, but because I want to keep myself out of trouble. I’m sure that’s some kind of pedagogical construct, but it’s not one I learned about a hundred years ago when I was learning to be a teacher and design instruction. Again, however, even that misses the big point here.

The really important thing I have to say about the mind numbing volume of mandatory training is that unlike previous years where I come sliding in sideways and waving one last certificate on September 30th, I’m finished early. Very early. I’m fairly sure that the first time in my career that’s ever happened. It feels vaguely unnatural. Fortunately I know that feeling can’t possibly last long before someone slams a new “must do” training requirement into the system so we can piss away more time on activities that mostly teach you how to sleep with your eyes open.

Reliability and predictability…

Yesterday was an eight hour shitshow. There are more polite ways to phrase it, but there are none more accurate so I’ll leave it at that. Don’t let it ever be said, though, that the gods lack a sense of humor. Where yesterday was a colossal effort to make me lose my ever-loving mind, today I found myself wandering through back rooms and hallways verifying that emergency lighting and exit signs were operating in good order during a mock power outage.

I’ve worked in a number of places where the ebb and flow of days was predictable. Whether it was food service with the regular rushes for lunch and dinner to offices that lived by the tempo of weekly reporting they all had some kind of identifiable heartbeat underlying the day to day activities. Personally I’m a fan of that kind of predictability in life. You can count on one hand the number of “good” surprises I’ve ever been party to in my professional life. Come to think of it, I’d be hard pressed to show more than a like number of good surprises in my personal life either. Suffice to say, I’m not really a fan of the unexpected.

I’ve long suspect that at least in part the utter lack of predictability in what the powers that be are going to choose to care about on any given day is one of the fundamental problems we face. Get a little reliability and predictability baked into the system, trash a bunch of archaic process and procedures that don’t make sense in the 21st century, slash half of the management layers off the org chart, and hey, who knows, we might get a little productivity and morale going around here.

Ha. Yeah. Like any of that going to happen.

Not much fear, but a shit ton of loathing…

Today, perhaps as much as or even more than any other, reflects one of the biggest reasons I’ve learned to loath Monday through Friday. Sit back and let me tell you a little story…

It was supposed to be a run of the mill briefing. Spend an hour talking about Topic A, find out the new whims of the powers at echelons higher than reality, and drive on smartly towards the finish line. A few hours before show time, they also added Topic B to the lineup. That’s fine. A little bit of fiddling with the material and all will be well. Thirty minutes after that they announced the need for a pre-meeting meeting. Fine. Good. Let’s talk about what we’re going to talk about. Ten minutes later, a message comes out adding an additional 30 minutes to the meeting. Now we’re weighing in at 90 minutes with Topics A, B, and C. Finally, an hour before everything is theoretically supposed to be in place, the final call comes that we’ll really be discussing Topics A, B, C, and D so please have that prepped and printed in the next 30 minutes. Also, your 60 minute meeting is now scheduled for 120 minutes.

At the appointed time, the people gather – the deputies, and strap hangers, and clerks, and slide flippers, and administrators that accompany every movement of important people. The court of a minor royal house, if you will. And then, when all were assembled and the proceedings were just getting underway, the Gods on Olympus decided to take a pass. More commandments would be issued. More perfect explanations offered. And opportunities to revise and extend remarks concerning Topics A, B, C, and D would be offered before laying the motion to reconsider back upon the table.

Fuck all if we don’t make every little thing 10 or 100 or 1000 times harder than it needs to be if you’d just let common sense prevail instead of spending all day every day worried about what asses need covered and which ones need kissed. I use to be good at just turning off my brain and letting the stupid flow over and around me like a river in spring flood. The older I get, though, the harder it seems to keep my mouth shut and my own ass out if trouble. At this rate I can’t even begin to imagine the things that will come flying out of my mouth 17 years and 11 months from now when self-preservation is no longer an operational consideration.

Survey says…

My organization historically loves to send out surveys. They can be focused information grabs or more broad scoped “climate surveys” that try to suss out everything that happens to be on an employee’s mind. If you manage to get more than 10% of the people to send back anything at all your response rate is excellent. Getting those people to actually tell you anything you want to know, though, is another thing altogether.

Even under the veil of promised anonymity, most people I’ve run into have a difficult time of it when it comes time to tell truth to power. People like to fit in. They don’t want to make waves. Some don’t want to risk drawing undue attention to themselves for any reason. Those are all fine and valid reasons for keeping your mouth shut if you’re intent is simply to ride it out and avoid all conflict.

Now I’m a peace-loving kind of guy and you generally won’t find me spoiling for a fight – especially with those elite who sit six or seven steps above me on the org chart. I might not have started the day looking for a fight, but when someone gives me a free and clear opportunity to tell them what sucks and why, you can best believe I’ll avail myself of it with both vim and vigor. I’ll do it professionally and using my best grammar and punctuation, but I’ll definitely participate in the airing of the grievances.

I’d never be able to live with myself if I were given an official avenue to bitch and complain and I failed to take full advantage. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

Full days…

I’d guess that on average three weekdays out of every five could be fairly described as being “less than full.” Now I don’t mean to imply in any way that I don’t strive to give our Uncle his money’s worth every time, but there are simple laws of the bureaucracy that say it’s impossible to be busy every moment of the day. This isn’t McDonald’s and there isn’t always stainless that needs wiped down. Usually our days have an ebb and flow that ranges somewhere between comfortable and mind-numbing. It’s that one day in five that’s the wildcard. When it comes along it’s like being stuck with a whole room full of one armed paper hangers. No matter how fast you work, it’s just not going to be fast enough to account for everything coming over the side. In my experience, that’s the nature of the beast.

The real trouble with those rogue days is that they’re absolutely unpredictable. Days that for all outward appearances should be busy won’t be. Days that by rights should be dead slow will open their gaping maw and eat you alive. It would be nice, I think, if those wide-mouthed days would at least give you a fair warning. It feels like the very least the universe could do if it’s bound and determined to spend the rest of the day kicking your ass all over the room.

Only Wednesday…

Standing in the pre-dawn darkness, the first words I muttered after rolling out of bed this morning were, “Oh Christ on a crutch… it’s only Wednesday.”

That should have given me every indication of the kind of day it was going to be. But no, I opted not to listen to that small nagging voice that had already tried to warn me off. I press on with the morning routine – shower, coffee, feeding the menagerie, and trundling off to the office. I even had the audacity to enjoy the drive in, the humid air feeling brisk and refreshing once you got above a certain speed.

The wheels didn’t really come fully off the day until I’d already been at my desk for 45 minutes. I won’t get into specifics, but be assured it was all sideways and down hill from there. It was a day wholly given over to the anti-Midas touch – a skill that appears unbidden in my quiver from time to time and enables everything I touch to turn directly to shit.

Tomorrow has got to be better if just because there are only a few ways in which it could be worse. Steer into the slide. Regain control. Navigate away from danger. That’s the plan. Either that or sitting at my desk sobbing quietly. Really, either one feels like a possibility.

Legitimate controlling authority…

Despite having no actual personal interest in event planning, I have a skill for it. I’ve largely learned to accept that fate for the time being. The thing about being a party planner is that it relies entirely on convincing people to go along with whatever wild ass scheme you come up with for them since you have no actual statutory authority to direct anyone to do anything.

The largest portion of my job that isn’t slamming together PowerPoint slides is taken up by “facilitating.” Since I’m not a subject matter expert in nearly anything these days, I specialize in putting the right people in a room and trying to help them come up with a plan. Sometimes people don’t want to play along. That sucks, but beyond flooding their inbox with meeting invitations and leaving the occasional well-worded voice message, I don’t have any actual power to force anyone to show up.

There are those at echelons higher than reality, however, that do have the power to force people to show up at specific times and places where they would rather not be. When those people turn to you and demand to know why someone isn’t in the room, well, the best I can do is shrug and remind them that I sent the invitation, I followed up with multiple calls, I sent a second invitation… and that at the end of the day, I’m not the one with the authority to make anyone do shit.

If those with legitimate controlling authority choose not to exercise it in favor of having we mere mortals ask nicely, I have no idea why they’d expect the results to be anything other than what they are.