Some days fly by not so much because you’re busy and gainfully engaged in doing important and productive work, but because you’ve got an endless rain of ridiculous questions, halfassed ideas, and general fuckery waiting on you around every turn.
I’d dearly like to say that such days are a rarity, but a cardinal rule of this blog is that we don’t lie, exagerate, or make misleading claims. Maybe days like this aren’t arriving often enough to be the rule, but they aren’t rare enough to be the exception, either. It’s more like a certain level of fuckery has been normalized. It’s just what you come to expect on any given day.
After all these years, you’d think that I’d have dialed in my level of expectation accordingly, but every now and then it really does jump up and catch me by surprise. No matter how jaded or cynical I manage to be, a day always comes along that leaves my eyes wide and head shaking in wonder at the business of “business as usual.”
Sigh. Sometimes the only good thing you can say about a day is “it’s over.”
1. Counting. Look, I’m about as math challenged as any adult human being can be. I avoid dealing with numbers whenever possible, but there are some moments when it just can’t be avoided. Taking a quick look around and finding out how many people should be in a room, how many are in that room, and then figuring out where the balance of the people actually are shouldn’t not create the most difficult task known to man. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. And it definitely shouldn’t take six hours to arrive at an “inconclusive” answer. Being able to find your people in the event bad shit happens is kind of a hallmark of supervision – or it least it was back a million years ago when I had that particular rose pinned on me. Being forced to admit in public that you can’t count up your people should be a source of great shame to you and your family.
2. Layers. You know what would make an already pretty top heavy organization even more frustrating to deal with? Yeah, adding another layer of management on top of the five already in place between the working level and decision makers. For all of the vaunted effort put in to “right sizing” and “workforce shaping” it’s like no one can get past doing it the same way we’ve been doing it since George Washington was a private… because additional layers of management are exactly the cure for anything that ails a big, bureaucratic organization.
3. Patience. Some greybeard long ago said that patience is a virtue. I can only assume that this individual didn’t actually have anything he was looking forward to. So polite society says we’re supposed to be demure and pretend that the waiting around doesn’t bother us. It’s not something we’re supposed to admit, but in my humble estimation, the very notion that we should be happily patient reeks of utter bullshit.
What annoys Jeff this week? Shit. I could write a book on that. There’s one thing, though, that stands out in my mind this week. It’s the mother of annoyances. The one that if it didn’t happen day in and day out with a steady drum beat, so many of the other, smaller annoyances wouldn’t exist at all.
I don’t know exactly if it’s human nature or just SOP in our little part of the world, but the propensity for people to ignore things right up until the movement when it needs to be finished drives me directly around the bend. It makes me into an absolute mental case.
When you’ve known for weeks (or months) something needs to happen, but only start looking at it a day before it’s needed – or even better – two days after it was supposed to be finished, what exactly am I supposed to think? Well, first, your time management skills blow, but that’s just the baseline. If you procrastinate everything until the last possible moment all you guarantee is that everything in your wheelhouse is a self inflicted crisis. There’s no planning, no strategic vision, and certainly no sense that some ideas require time and attention to mature into final products. If you do happen to scrape something together to meet a “surprise” requirement, it’s a giant flaming shit sandwich. As often as not it’s not even a sandwich – just the various component ingredients for making one.
At that point why bother? Just admit that you’re a enormous waste of resources who exists purely to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide and draw a salary. I’d at least appreciate the honesty of admitting that someone doesn’t give a good goddamn. Hell, it would be refreshing. I’d almost respect you for it.
As it is, at least I know why every day is an exercise in jumping though my own ass to get even the simplest of projects done – because expecting people to pay attention is our own personal bridge too far.
I went to lunch at 2:30 this afternoon. Because reasons. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about that other than the fact I usually try to snag lunch around 11. That’s reasonably close to the mid-point of my normal work day and it’s when you can run out and back without returning to find the closest parking somewhere in south Uzbekistan.
Mostly I don’t like eating that late in the afternoon because I stick to a fairly early dinner schedule. Even of weekdays, dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up before 6:00. A late lunch throws that schedule out of whack, which nudges other bits of the nightly routine our of order. It’s all minor stuff that conspires to create a big mood by the time the day is done.
I still went to lunch at 2:30 today… not so much because I wanted to eat at that point, but because not going to lunch at all has the potential to create a precedent that I have no intention of adhering to in the future. In the absence of direct threats to life or property, lunch is a thing that’s going to happen, as much my time and inviolable as the small hours of the morning.
Long experience tells me that doing something for nothing only ratchets up the expectation that you’ll do a lot more somethings for the same amount of nothing. Even when that’s not the intention, it’s an idea that I’m determined not to allow to take root even by accident… although getting back at 3:00 and leaving at 4:00 does have a certain charm.
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.
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.
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.