Layers…

When all other practical solutions fail our response is to launch a reorganization and add an extra layer or two of management. Actually, we don’t even wait for other solutions to present themselves. Reorg-and-add is the default solution to most every situation. It’s become as regular an expected as the tides at this point.

I’ve been with my present organization a little over six years now. In that time I’ve had seven different first line supervisors, sat in five different cubes, and have had at least three wholesale changes in what my job is actually supposed to entail. It’s all the kind of churn you learn to live with as part of the big, faceless bureaucracy. The cogs in the machine aren’t precisely interchangeable, but that never stops someone who’s been visited by the Good Idea Fairy from trying to cram the pieces in anyway.

I met my newest boss briefly today. He mostly said hello in passing and didn’t stop to chat. I like that in a boss. The only question, really, is will he stick around long enough for it to matter whether he’s one of the good ones or one of the bad ones. Most come and go with such regularity that the difference between good and bad is negligible. Old boss, new boss, it doesn’t much matter anyway; just tell me what you want and I’ll get it done.

I’m already hearing the rumors that in a few weeks, or maybe a couple of months, we’ll be on the move again. If the rumor mill can be believed, the next move is back to the set of cubes I first occupied way back in summer 2011. If you’ve got just the right amount of cynicism in your system, there’s something poetic about riding through six years of churn and turbulence and finding yourself right back in the same place that you started.

I’m debating on whether or not it’s even worth unpacking my office boxes this time, because surely in six months the Good Idea Fairy will make a return appearance and we’ll be adding another layer and shuffling about again. Past performance is no guarantee of future behavior, but experience tells me it’s an awfully strong indicator of what to expect.​

Call it a draw…

Of the two interviews I went on in the last month, I’ve received one “we regret to inform you letter,” and one call back for another meeting. Based on my experiences with Uncle’s hiring process, that’s actually a decent result. The call back means I most likely was at the top of the list after the interview process and stood a 30 minute sit down away from getting an offer. Normally I’d feel good about that… though of course you and I know I always prefer to do things that hard way.

The first email out of my box this morning was a quick “thank you for the opportunity to interview, but I no longer wish to be considered for this position.” I was more flowery and diplomatic than that, but the end result was the same – I put a knife in what was just about a guaranteed path out. It’s an uneasy feeling, especially knowing that it may very well poison that well for a long time going forward.

Still, I know taking myself out of contention was the right decision. During the interview, the panel chair mentioned a two word phrase that filled me with an unholy dread – noting in his introduction that the position for which I was interviewing was designated as a “team lead.” Now I can tell you right from the jump that ol’ Jeff doesn’t like the sound of that one little bit. I’ve done my stint as an honest to God supervisor and the very last thing I wan to do is step foot back on that slippery slope. It’s doubly true when that lowest rung on the management ladder comes with all sorts of responsibility but none of the actual authority. Worse, it comes without even more than a nominal bump in salary.

More headache for the same money is bad math no matter what way you look at it. That’s what really drove me to put an end to it. It doesn’t put me in an better a position than I was in a month ago… but it also doesn’t make things even worse so we’ll just call it a draw.

You’re not going to like this…

No good day starts with the boss wandering by to see you and starting off with the warning, “Well, you’re not going to like this…”

Yeah, some people have a real talent for understatement. I’m not going to get into the how and why of not not like “this,” because it’s not all that important. I mean it’s bad enough being served a double helping of shit sandwich without recounting the experience in agonizing detail. Right?

I’m also not reliving the experience because the insult added to this particular injury was as bad if not worse than the “this” that I was sure not to like. You see, I walked through the entire first half of the day thinking that it was Thursday and that only a “make up” telework day stood between me and the weekend.

Realizing my my error well into the day, I just opted to give up all hope… because other than meaning another day of not living under a bridge, I’m not going to like any of this.

The older I get the more I realize exactly why keeping whiskey in your desk drawer is frowned upon. Sigh. If only I didn’t have to avoid unemployment and the inevitable poverty that follows.

Another lost day…

In spite of myself I’ve become something of a convert to the concept of working from home. That one day a week is a reprieve from the never ending background noise that’s inevitable when you cram twenty or thirty people into a small space and then expect them to do work. My telework day, in fact, is the one day out of the week when I get to focus on whatever is in front of me to the exclusion of all other things. Even when the issue is vexing, addressing it without interruption or commentary is something of a pleasure. It seems there’s no limit to what you might be able to accomplish when you’re not being interrupted by something else every few minutes.

The most pressing issue with working from home in my experience thus far is that on at least half the days I should have been doing it, I’ve found myself getting dragged into the office for “something important.” That usually translates into flipping slides at some briefing or enduring a meeting that could just as easily have been a phone call. So far it looks like the week is so pock-marked with these “must attend” meetings that a day in the home office is in all likelihood lost.

We can say that we want employees to be “telework ready” all we want, but when the default setting is “you need to come to the office” instead of finding a way to get the job done remotely, we’re never ever going to get to a place where we’re not tethered to a quaint 19th century notion that work only happens when the bosses can look down a long row of desks and see people doing things. I suspect that method of “doing work” is too ingrained in the organization for it to change – which is a shame when the alternative is hiring grown ass adults, letting them display initiative, and holding them accountable if they don’t. Yeah, now I know I’m just talking crazy.

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.

The price or: Being caught at my desk…

Nothing good ever starts with the boss coming by asking “How busy are you this week?”

The answer, the answer I should have given, true or not, is “I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger, sir… Doing great things for God and country.”

Instead the answer was “Meh, what do you need?” I made the cardinal mistake of showing even the least semblance of interest. I made a mistake and the consequences were swift and certain.

One little slip up, friends, is precisely how you get yourself drug into the middle of a three and a half hour meeting on Friday that up until just a few minutes before was none of your damned business.

I’ve lead the internet in warning future bureaucrats about the dangers inherent in volunteerism. In my career, I’ve never been rewarded for putting up my hand and asking for more work. Although it leads the list by a fairly wide margin, volunteerism isn’t the only form of creeping workload adjustment that can ruin your day.

While I didn’t quite volunteer today, I did present myself as a convenient target of opportunity. Just being at the wrong place at the wrong time can result in two reports and a half a day worth of briefings ending up slipping from someone else’s pile to yours before you even realize what you’ve done.

“Surprise!” Says the universe. “That nice easy week you were planning… the one with the low pressure slide into the weekend? Yeah, you can go ahead and forget all about that.” The universe is a real son of a bitch like that.

That’s what I get for being caught at my desk. I know better. And now I’m going to pay the price for not turning that knowledge into action.

Managing up…

I should give almost all of the writing credit for this post to a friend of mine who brought to my attention her belief that raising a toddler is effective practice for dealing with the average kind of management one encounters in the workplace. Now I’m just assuming these ideas are work to toddlers because I have no direct personal experience, but I can attest first hand that they can and probably should be applied to your interaction with management

The abridged list of ways to deal with the bosses that is also applicable to dealing with the tiny dictator of your own creation is:

– Explain that you can’t do multiple things at the same time. If possible, make them prioritize.
– Limit the choices you give them to just 2 or 3 things. Otherwise, it will take too long and they’ll come up with something crazy.
– There is great power in routine
– Lay the groundwork well in advance for any changes to the routine
– Catchphrases and jingles are your friends
– Celebrate the little things, like pooping in the potty. Sure, you figured it out a long time ago, but it’s important to validate their pride in doing something grown-up.

Set expectations, create a routine, and make sure you celebrate the little successes your local manager has. I’m quite sure these few steps will have you managing up your chain of command in no time at all.