On the transient nature of management…

After sixteen years in harness, I’ve more or less lost track of the number of different first-line supervisors I’ve had. It would have to be somewhere north of 10 and even at that I feel like I could be miscounting on the low side just a bit.

The nature of the bureaucracy is that the cogs are more or less interchangeable to a certain degree. It’s perhaps even more true of management positions than those where people need to be technical experts. The fact is, though, that some bosses are just better than others. I’ve had bosses I dearly loved working for and other who I drove a third of the way across the country to get away from. The good ones are to be savored. The bad ones to be endured. The mediocre ones, well, you mostly hope they’re indifferent or are at least willing to stay the hell out of your way.

In a few weeks we’ll be getting the next new boss in my little corner of the bureaucracy – a mercifully known quantity who seems to have good pre-existing relationships with people in other corners of the cube farm who could be helpful in getting things done. It’s an infinite improvement over the grab bag possibilities of someone dropped into the role from somewhere “outside the family.”

I’ve worked for the current boss off and on for various lengths of time over the last four years – making him probably the boss I’ve worked longest for during my entire run as cog #2674323 in this Large Bureaucratic Organization. Settling in with a new hand on the tiller should, be, uhhhh… interesting times for all involved.

Immediately after this small transition we’ll endure the arrival of a new Olympian high atop the org chart, so whatever rumbles and ruffles occur during changes here near the bottom will surely pale to insignificance when compared to the mayhem and chaos that sort of transition can carry with it… so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

The sin of pride…

I can say ” I don’t give a shit” a thousand times, but the reality is that when my name is attached to something, I actually do give a shit. I give a shit not really because I have any particular use or affection for the thing itself, but because I care deeply that the thing in some way has my name attached to it… and I prefer that my name not be attached to a big steaming pile of shit. 

Sure, it’s the sin of pride or something, but I’ve just never particularly liked the idea of doing half-assed work. You’d think by now it would be an operating condition I would be use to – particularly when people who should know better seem utterly oblivious to the size of the wrenches they regularly throw into the machinery at the last possible moment. Of course then they have the audacity to ask accusingly why the goddamned machinery broke down. 

It’s probably for the best that sixteen years of hard won lessons learned have largely tempered my mouth. I can usually manage to choke off the inclination to tell uncomfortable truths to powerful people because I know it won’t do a damned bit of good. Now if I could just learn to control the “you’ve got to be shitting me” look on my face maybe all would be well… but just now, I’m having an awfully hard time disguising the look of complete disgust at knowing that this is really how we do things.

Tea with the queen…

I was invited to tea with the queen. Well, not exactly tea and not with the queen, but there’s a rough equivalency. It certainly felt a lot like being a bit player serving at a 16th century royal court.

What I was really invited to to was to spend the better part of 90 minutes sitting quietly against the wall watching the gods on Olympus eat their lunch while discussing the important matters of the day. Let me repeat that for those in the back… I was summoned into the elite presence to watch people eat their lunch.

Yes, I was also there to provide deep background information on the flying circus and traveling medicine show that I’m nominally charged with running, but in reality I was there, missing my own lunch, in order to watch a large group of other people eat theirs. 

It’s hard to imagine that was the best possible use of 90 minutes with less than two weeks to go until zero hour, but I suppose the pay’s the same whether I’m getting anything done or not. So, if anyone out there is in need of someone to stop by and watch you eat, feel free to get in touch. I’m quite sure I’ve had these experiences enough now to qualify expert.

Levels of review…

In my little corner of the Giant Bureaucratic Organization, very few pieces of paper ever move further than one’s own desk without passing through one or more layers of review. These reviews are almost the very definition of what it means to exist within the bureaucracy – the very reason the term “paper pusher” came into existence.

It’s hard enough to move a single piece of paper, say something as simple as a memo. The complexity and convolutions involved in getting something larger – say a document of several dozens of pages is mind boggling. It’s a herculean feat of bureaucratic mastery involving three layers of review at a bare minimum. I’ve personally seen the number of reviewers go as high as 14  on a single document. I’ve heard stories that the numbers can grow even larger as one progresses through echelons higher than reality towards the beating, five-sided heart of our bureaucratic empire. Each and every non-concur along the way carries the risk of sending you back to the starting block to try again.

I’m not saying that reviews are entirely pointless or without merit. In some cases I’d even argue that they are absolutely necessary. When it becomes the reviews themselves that drive the process rather what is being reviewed, I can’t help but believe that there is a flaw in the system. Then again, I’m a poor simple history major who learned to read original source documents that may have virtually no relationship to standard English usage so what the hell do I know. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I had three things all laid out for today. But all three of them combined don’t hold a candle to the one big thing that has been absolutely crazymaking this week… and that’s waiting until the last fucking minute to decide to pay attention to the onrushing train bearing down on you.

It’s not that I have a philosophical problem with needing to do things at the last minutes in and of itself. Sometimes a crisis really is a crisis, something that arrived by surprise and was otherwise unavoidable. However, what we here treat as a crisis is almost always something that we’ve seen coming for months, but have elected to ignore until it shows up on the front stoop like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. That is to say that nearly all of the chaos brought on by suddenly engaging at the last minute is completely self inflicted.

If there’s nothing else I’ve learned in my 16+ years here in the heart of the Great American Bureaucracy it’s that no amount of planning I can do that will offset late-in-the-cycle visits from the Executive Good Idea Fairy. No amount of anticipating needs, or prep work, or casting entrails will ever get you ready for things that should have been mentioned three months ago but show up with less than three weeks to go.  

Three weeks or: Planner in the hands of an angry god…

Even if I didn’t have a calendar I’d know that we were inside the last three weeks of planning before our latest Big Event kicks off. I’d know it just based on the number of emails that are currently sitting in both my in and outboxes. I’d know it because my phone was ringing when I got to my desk this morning and was ringing when I walked away from my desk at the end of the day. 

The current Big Event is now close enough on the calendar that it’s starting to attract the attention of the gods on Olympus… and they’re asking questions and very much interested in making sure their thumb prints are present and undeniable. 

That’s fine, of course, none of this is a point of personal pride for me. I’ve long ago accepted that staff work is a land where blame piles up like cord wood and all credit is owed to the gods. As a poor simple planner in the hands of an angry god, though, it would be nice if time to time, the Olympians took a passing interest way the hell back in December when I started agitating about needing to kick off the planning process… and when grand sweeping changes are awfully easy to make. 

We all have our own twisted fantasies about how things are supposed to work. I don’t suppose there’s any real problem with that unless you start laboring under the delusion that there’s any chance they might accidentally work that way at some point. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The First Amendment. It’s plain that the First Amendment doesn’t mean what the masses on the internet seem to think it means. The 1st protects you from the government interfering with your speech in all its many forms. It means the FBI won’t come kick down your door when someone gets butthurt about something you posted on Facebook. By contrast this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with what a business such as Facebook will let you post on their platform… that you joined voluntarily and pay nothing to use. If you’re going to crusade for your rights, perhaps it would be helpful to first know what those rights actually are… because the Constitution nowhere guarantees your right to force a 3rd party to use their property to amplify your voice.

2. The Office of Personnel Management. It’s been 41 days since the bill authorizing a pay raise for employees of my Big Bureaucratic Organization was signed into law. It apparently takes at least that long to calculate what 1.9% of 2018’s pay tables were and add those two numbers together. And don’t get me started on the fact that if the legislative and executive branches weren’t both being led by children, that raise would have started showing up my pay sometime in January. Yes it’s allegedly retroactive, which is nice and all… but that also means the tax man is going to take a massive cut out of whatever check three or four months of retroactive extra pay eventually slide into. If only there were some parts of government who’s main job was formulating and executing timely budgets for departments and agencies perhaps this wouldn’t be such a difficult exercise.

3. Extraneous logins. I have accounts on more than one system at work that exist purely so I can log on to those systems once a week in order to keep my account active. I never have any actual work associated with those accounts and yet once a week I log on just to avoid getting an angry warning that my account is about to be disabled from our IT office. Like the old coffee can full of extraneous bits and pieces you keep in the garage, I’m told to keep these accounts active “in case you need them some day.” That this is how we do business never fails to stupefy me if I dwell on it for too long.