What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The two weeks of Christmas. I was sitting in a meeting this week where the great and the good were calling for all manner of things to happen in the next two weeks. It’s cute when they’re optimistic like that. Experience tells me that even the most dedicated senior leader is going to find it hard to get jack-all done when 75% of his or her workforce is sitting snug in their homes or on the road for the week before and after Christmas. It’s good to be ambitious. It’s good to have goals. It’s also important to know your limitations, especially when you’re working with a skeleton crew just barely large enough to keep the lights on. Reason 7,471 I have no interest in bossing ever again.

2. Not knowing when to STFU. There is a time and a place for raising new topics or for asking every question. When the guy sitting at the head of the table is trying to close things out and the meeting has already run twenty minutes past its scheduled ending, though, is neither the time nor the place. That’s when you should have been a bureaucrat long enough to know that it’s time to sit there and shut the fuck up.

3. Emergency slide flipping. If there’s anything worse than being stuck in your own meeting, it’s being unceremoniously suck into someone else’s meeting because their computer crapped out and getting it fixed takes days. Look, a) It’s not my program; b) I actually have my own work to do; and c) If we keep finding work arounds to the shit tech support we get it will never have a reason to improve. Being a slide clicker on your own material is bad enough, but the number of times I’ve been yanked away from whatever it was I was doing to flip slides for someone else is astounding. It’s like no one in this place has heard of opportunity cost or return on investment. There are days when I’m entirely convinced I’m the best paid clerk/typist in the whole damned country.

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.

Another post in which timely decision-making is discussed…

Letting decisions fester until the last possible moment is rarely a recipe for arriving at a well-considered answer. That may seem somewhat counterintuitive, because having more time to decide should allow someone to make the decision based on more perfect information. In my experience, that’s almost never actually the case. What really happens is that the decision is just put off and no actual thought is put into it until it’s the flaming bag of dog shit blistering the paint on your front porch. Put another way, the default setting is procrastination.

The real problem with waiting isn’t just that you leave a bunch of people sitting around with their thumbs up their asses while the pondering drags on for days or weeks. The problem is that in most cases decisions get delayed until it’s too late to apply any academic rigor and you just end up going off half-informed in whatever direction seems best at the time. Shooting from the hip with a scattergun is probably a fine strategy for defending your home from hopped up delinquents, but it rarely passes muster for decisions that require a little more fineness.

It’s not how I’d do things. In fact it’s precisely the opposite of how I run the 128 hours of my week for which I am the designated decision-maker. For the 40-hours a week wherein I have no decision-making authority whatsoever, though, that’s its own can of worms. The very best I can do is appraise those who do decide on the potential bad things that will result from waiting. After that all that’s left is a shrug and a muffled “told you so.”

Ten plus six…

Before writing tonight’s post I went back and read over the the ones I wrote before. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are angry. Some are sad. Most are a little bit of both. Honestly I always get a little choked up looking at these posts about an all important date that with each turning of the calendar recedes just a little further in our national collective memory. At best, September 11th is always a date I find filled with melancholy.

Ten years ago, I happened to be in DC in a work trip. I was busy and not really paying attention to the calendar when the day started. By the end of it, though, I’d spent the day dwelling on heroes who fought against and subdued the worst impulses of their own generation.

While thinking of Sir Winston, I wrote:

I went to see Lincoln tonight. It just seemed fitting somehow. But the words that stuck in my head weren’t those written to bind up our nation’s wounds. They’re still too fresh for that. All along my long walk tonight, I was recalling Churchill’s words from the frosted depths of the Cold War… “We have surmounted all the perils and endured all the agonies of the past. We shall provide against and thus prevail over the dangers and problems of the future, withhold no sacrifice, grudge no toil, seek no sordid gain, fear no foe. All will be well. We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.”

Winston would have understood the 21st Century. Sure, we have different clothes and different music, but it’s the same old world. He’d tell us to never give in and to stay the course. He knew that the only way to defeat evil was to pummel it into unquestioned submission. Winston would have understood.

Churchill, of course, is best known for his leadership during World War II, but the charming thing about him is that he seems to have a quote for all purposes. Some are inspirational. Others are dry with humor. The very best are usually both at the same time. The ones I find myself thinking about most often, though, are the ones that call us to persevere in the face of adversity, against the longest of odds.

It’s September 11th again. So much has changed and so much is still exactly the same. I still think Winston would understand our modern world, perhaps even better than do those of us who are living in it. Sometimes I get the distinct impression that we don’t understand a damned thing.

You can read the full post from September 11, 2007 here: https://jeffreytharp.com/2007/09/11/requiem/

Justified…

You’ve literally had weeks to get your shit in order. There have been countless meetings in which all the materials have been changed, changed back, and then altered a dozen more times. But for some reason here we sit at 4:45PM the day before the goddamned meeting starts waiting on “final final” changes so we can go forth and kill a few dozen trees in this mad quest to build the Briefing that Saved the World.

Here’s the secret I’ve learned after sitting through, easily, hundreds of very similar gatherings of the great and the good: What you have written on the slides generally doesn’t matter all that much. Conveying information isn’t about the damned slides. It’s about what you say, how you say it, your body language, and the connection you can forge with the person you’re trying to communicate with in the few minutes you’re in front of them. By contrast, 75% of the handouts you’ve slaved over are going to end up in the trash can. If your audience is polite they’ll at least wait until they’ve left the room to throw them away.

I’ve often theorized that if people knew how much time (and salary dollars) were wasted in the endless transition of “happy” to “glad” or trying to pick out just the perfect shade of blue, they’d rise up in bloody revolt. They’d be well justified.

Getting blamed, or Email isn’t communication…

If you stick around any place long enough you’ll find that you’re often able to predict trouble spots in most of your standard and repetitive procedures. The place where I didn’t expect it to show up this week was in finding myself personally responsible for one of the 60 people who just didn’t bother to show up as scheduled.

It turns out that even though 59 other people received the voluminous email messages addressed to “Dear Random Major Event Attendees”, and showed up as directed, email is “not a sufficient way to communicate.” The other, simpler, possibility is that someone just didn’t bother to read and follow the directions that got, literally, every other person on the list to the right place at the right time.

Look, I don’t mind taking my lumps when I well and truly fuck something up. By all means, lay it on. However, when the fault lies plainly on the 1 in 60 that failed to comply, well, I don’t know what to tell you… Maybe plus up the budget a bit so we can hire a full time invitation engraver?