Personally…

I think it’s adorable when someone calls me sounding apologetic and forlorn because they need to make a major change to one of the events managed by Tharp Parties and Events Ltd. (A division of Big Bureaucracy Productions).

Look, chief, we all work for someone. You answer to your bosses. I answer to mine. If yours and mine provide conflicting guidance and we can’t sort it out together, I have absolutely no problem pushing it up the chain for resolution somewhere at echelons higher than reality. Your bosses and mine are allegedly professional adults who should be more than capable of decision making when their staff can’t come to agreement.

Believe me when I tell you that if you come to me saying “I know this is going to blow a hole in the schedule, but my bosses don’t want to do A, B, or C,” I’m just going to shrug, pass the word to the next level up, and move on with the day. The chance of my taking it personally is precisely zero-point-zero.

You see, there are a limited number of hours in the day and I’ve only got so much energy to apply to whatever batshit crazy things happen during any given 24-hour period. I do my level best to wast as little of that time and energy on anything that is absolutely beyond my ability to control or even to exert influence upon.

So, you see, if you ever find yourself in a position of delivering me “bad news,” and I take it with what might generously be called ambivalence, know that it’s not exactly because I don’t care, but rather because even as you were speaking, I assessed the situation as being something well outside my scope and I’ve already made the decision to refer it to higher for further evaluation and action.

I’m nothing if not a man who recognizes his own professional limitations.

Tables, or A lifetime of questionable career decisions…

Note: Yes, I know this place and time is usually reserved for the weekly edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Go ahead and read to the end and let me know if you don’t understand why I called a quick audible this week instead.

If you guys are tired of the current trend of posts I’ve been thinking of as “Chronicles of an Event Planner,” you’ll have to take my word that I’m even more tired of writing them. Sadly, though, life happens where we are and not necessarily where we want to be. That’s my way of saying sorry, but you’re going to have to live with at least a few more days of the jackassery that ensues when you try to drag 60-odd people into a room and make them talk about things they don’t really want to talk about.

Today’s illustration in the extraordinarily limited scope of my influence revolves around the size of the tables we’ll be using. Let me start off by saying the original floor plan – the one we’ve used repeatedly, over the last few years, was on target right up until some point late yesterday afternoon when it was not. Different configuration? Sure. Can do easy. Except for the part where someone at echelons higher than reality didn’t like the size of the other available tables – wanting six person tables instead of the standard eight person tables that were readily available.

This demand for smaller tables triggered the standard paper chase into which two senior analysts lost an ninety minutes each of productive time. The end result of this particular goat rope was that the eight person tables ended up being fine. All it took was sending a guy over to the venue, setting one of them up, snapping a few pictures showing it in its natural environment, and coming back to illustrate that believe it or not, we really do know what the hell we’re talking about.

Sigh. I’ve spent more time thinking about the various sizes and shapes of tables and how they can best be configured to create an intimate café feeling today than I would have ever expected to spend in my lifetime. It’s hard to imagine this was the job Uncle had in mind when he trained me to move Armies across the globe or provide relief supplies to those stricken by natural disaster.

Talk about the leading edge of a life marked with so very many questionable career decisions.

The leadership vortex…

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a moment in the life of every event when the big day is close enough to finally attract the attention of the greatest of the high and mighty. It’s the moment when your rater, and his rater, and his rater, and his rater, and the big daddy rater of them all finally start paying attention. It’s a little bit like setting your desk up in the center of a hurricane. For lack of a better phrase I like to think of these last few days before an event starts as finding myself at the heart of the Leadership Vortex, where you’ll be assailed on all fronts by people who outrank you who have all, finally, been visited by the Good Idea Fairy. These moments represent a direct opposite condition to business as usual, which I so often charitably describe as finding yourself victim of the Black Hole of Leadership – in which everything you throw towards them for a decision disappears over the event horizon never to be seen again.

Friends, today I can report with equal parts joy and trepidation that we have reached the Leadership Vortex point in the current event’s planning cycle today. I’m joyful because it means the end is in sight while the trepidation stems from a dozen experiences of knowing how truly awful the center of the Vortex can get before you’re pushed clear on the other side. Yeah, currently I’m being provided leadership from every quarter to within an inch of my professional life.

There are a few things you need remember when you find yourself squarely in the middle of the leadership vortex:

1. The guidance you got yesterday or even an hour ago may or may not apply.

2. For the duration of the Vortex, every single person in your rating chain is now your immediate supervisor.

3. When you receive conflicting guidance, always defer to the ranking manager. You can’t shift the blame up, but it’s your best bet to find some modicum of top cover.

4. It can’t be escaped, simply endured.

5. This too will pass. Probably.

Sigh. The things we do for King and Country.

Lead time…

Despite all outward appearances, I’m not a magician. Admittedly, the things I do look easy from the outside, but that’s mostly because a) I try very hard to follow the path of least resistance; b) I’ve done more than a few of these things; and c) Even when things are truly falling apart I refuse to give in to the temptation of running in circles while flailing my arms wildly in the air. There’s also a healthy dose of faking it until you make it at work in most of the things I do.

Frankly I’m often not sure right up until the last minute that things are going to come together like their supposed to. Although experience tells me that they will, you must proceed there with caution because past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Knowing that and knowing me, when I tell you that something is going to be problematic or that it requires lead time, you should know that I’m not in any way exaggerating. I will not be rending my garments or gnashing my teeth. That may give you a false sense of security. It shouldn’t. It also shouldn’t be a surprise when the thing I’ve been saying for weeks needs the longest lead time and will be the biggest problem if not managed closely is suddenly in danger of not being delivered on time or to standard.

Maybe next time I should just go ahead and flail my arms.

On the week before…

Next week will be my personal version of hell, featuring 12 hour days, 750 of my new best friends all crammed into one room, and having all the responsibility to make it go right, none of the authority to make any actual decisions, and every bit of the blame if the wheels fall off for any reason. If I were in any way in control of my own destiny this would basically be the very last thing in which I would ever knowingly engage. Yet, party planning sticks with me from job to job like some kind of Gypsy curse.

If next week is hell, this week is a strong contender for that title. It’s the week in which everyone who has been ignoring the impending arrival of hell week has their “oh shit” moment and realizes if they don’t do something they’re going to look like utter twatwaffles in front of a live studio audience. When I was teaching this was the part of the year when I got to tell students that no, they really were going to fail because they didn’t bother to do any homework. I’m told, however, that letting these people fail, regardless of how deserving they may be of it, is “unprofessional.”

It all means that in many ways I’m spoon feeding adult humans a lot of information that was previously made available in slides, and memos, and email, and through various and sundry face to face conversations. I’m paying for the same ground five or six times a day in some cases… and paying for the same ground over and over and over again makes Jeff very, very surly.

Whatever else may be in doubt this week, you can rest assured that behind this serene exterior is a stroke or heart attack just waiting for the right moment to strike me down.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Refinance. I’ve had two deals blow up in the last 45 days. One because of obscure federal regulations governing how many condo units have to be owner occupied and one because the appraiser used a nearly-unrelated set of comps and low-balled the house value. So now basically I’m out $850 with nothing to show for it but a shit ton of paperwork and the exact same rates with which I started the process. Some days it’s not at all hard to imagine why people don’t trust, like, or particularly want to do business with large financial institutions.

2. Party Planning. I’ve once again assumed my mantle as supreme party planner. Feel free to talk to me about event registration, catering, party tent reservations, name badges, parking, shuttle bus service, cash bar socials, menu planning, and all of your party, wedding, or other event needs. When I walked out if the gym at dear old Frostburg State with a shiny new social science degree in hand this is not at all the future I had in mind. Let my life experience serve as a reminder to you all that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’ll have any interest in doing it. But don’t take my word for it, go ahead and spend a few months each year doing something you loath. It’s sure it’s character building or something.

3. All the other things. Perhaps capping off the list of annoyances this week are all the small things. That’s what life is made up of, really. The day-to-day, moment-to-moment instances. Usually they pass by unnoticed and unremarked… until they all start fraying at the same time. This has been one of those kind of weeks, where even the easy somehow makes itself hard to do. If I make it through Friday afternoon without verbally expelling what’s really on my mind at anyone I’ll consider it one of my greatest personal and professional accomplishments to date.

Early starts…

I’ve got a couple of ridiculously early start times coming this week. Not by choice, but of necessity. I know I’m supposed to look on the bright side and think this year’s Big Group of People Who are Going to Want All Sorts of Stupid Shit Done at The Last Minute is going to be the best one yet – but in all seriousness, my inner introvert is already exhausted before anyone even sets foot through the door tomorrow.

The very best thing I can say about this event is that by Thursday night it will be over… and remind myself that no matter how bad it gets, at least I’m not the guy who lost the blimp. He’s going to be having a far worse week then I am. 

I’m going to try to keep the posts coming, because jackassery in the face of a thousand “guests” is nearly inevitable. If I miss a day, I hope you’ll all understand that nothing coming out of my mouth in the moment is in any way fit for print.