Most people feel awkward telling truth to Power. It’s uncomfortable. It may make you unpopular. Like bitter medicine, the recipient will likely not enjoy the experience. Power will either blame or resent the messenger.
However, what you need to know about telling truth to Power is that every now and then you get to see Power’s face contort into the worlds most perfect scowl… And that moment makes all of Power’s bitter, condescending asshattery almost feel worthwhile even if just in the moment.
With seven days to run before I’m expected to have pulled a rabbit out of my 4th point of contact, I really just have one simple request – one thing in all the world that would make my days more manageable. I know that the Gods on Olympus aren’t actually working against me, but what I need more than anything right now is for them to stop being for me. They need to stop trying to “help” me.
I have officially reached my limit with “help” coming in over the top. While I’m sure it’s good intentioned and (probably) not meant to sabotage a precariously balanced cross-organizational effort, every change order at this point makes every single thing left to do miles more difficult than it needs to me. They’re letting their vision of perfect get in the way of actually getting the job done.
At this point I’m ready to declare anyone who is even momentarily visited by the good idea fairy an insider threat and possibly a domestic terrorist. There’s got to be some kind of watch list I can get these people on, right?
Sometimes you just have to sit back and marvel at the inner workings of the bureaucracy – at so much time and effort allocated to generating so little tangible result; at so much collective ability to dodge and weave responsibility; at so much agreement in the moment and then barge-fulls of disagreement over the same issues later in the day.
On days like today, I’m reminded of one of my very favorite lyrics penned long ago by Don Henley. In his song, the Devil weeps over Los Angeles becoming more hell than Hell. I can assure you, it’s a sentiment that applies far outside southern California.
I am an expert witness, because I say I am And I said, gentleman, and I use that word loosely I will testify for you I’m a gun for hire, I’m a saint, I’m a liar Because there are no facts, there is no truth Just a data to be manipulated
I can get any result you like What’s it worth to ya? Because there is no wrong, there is no right And I sleep very well at night
No shame, no solution No remorse, no retribution Just people selling T-shirts Just opportunity to participate in the pathetic little circus And winning, winning, winning
If ever a song filed itself right into the “how I feel about it” category, this would be the one. Well, maybe except the winning bit at the end, because I’m mostly living in a world where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.
When serving the staff there’s something that you need to remember always. Everyone is always going to think that whatever they happen to have you working on is the most important thing that anyone is working on. They will have a tendency to want their project to take up all available oxygen in the room, every moment of discussion time, and every bit of available manpower. That leads to the typical day being a maelstrom of competing priorities and people who want something done right-the-hell-now.
The reality is, good as I may be, I am but one man with one keyboard and a finite amount of time to allocate in pursuit of whatever harebrained scheme has priority at the moment. As often as not, I determine the priority of effort among the universe of possible projects that need action with minimal outside input. I like it better that way, really.
From time to time, though, something comes along that someone wants and yet it still never bubbles to the top of the list of things to do. Eventually, though, someone high enough in the food chain gets it in their teeth and starts gently nudging you towards whatever this favored need may be. When they nudge hard enough, no matter what else is churning, it gets some attention.
That’s all my long way of saying that it’s remarkable what can get done in two hours when you lock yourself in a room, turn off Outlook, don’t answer the phone and just start writing. It’s remarkable and might even get you off the naughty list of the person who’s been asking for that bit of information for three or four weeks… but of course it lands you squarely in hot water with the 37 other people who think their projects also deserve special attention.
I’ve come to the conclusion that this place is marginally easier to contend with once you realize that falling behind is the norm and the best possible day is one where you manage to break even because with the time and resources authorized there is literally no way to ever get ahead of the volume of things that need doing. Trying to have a little bit of perspective is awfully important.
1. Loaded Thursdays. A few weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea if I loaded Thursday from top to bottom with meetings. Getting them out of the way, having the bulk of the week to prep for them, and generally ruining as few days of the week as possible running hither and yon to these sessions really felt like I was on to a winner. Compressing meetings onto one date should free up time and be efficient. Maybe it is, but in my planning I forgot the First Rule of the Bureaucracy: The Bureaucracy must expand to consume all available time and resources. I now have more meetings and less prep time than I did before arranging this new wonder schedule. If someone could step in and hit me in the face with a shovel the next time I have a good idea it would be incredibly helpful.
2. Common sense. If you log on to social media and call for common sense legislation on any topic, but then call anyone who disagrees with you on any point an idiot, a terrorist, or worse, you’re pretty much the reason we can’t have an effective dialog in this country about anything. On issues of social policy, thinking people can have wildly differing opinions about the whole array of ends, ways, and means. Refusing to so much as discuss any idea that differs from your own forecloses any possible avenue for progress. In a republic of free people, what may be “common sense” to you, may well be nonsense to another. There’s no hope of finding a scrap of common ground without the conversation, though.
3. I’m not the decider. Look, I gave up an dreams I ever had of being a professional decision maker a long time ago. I can advise, I can recommend, I can object strenuously, and I can present information in any format and order it needs to form a coherent platform from which to base decisions. What I can’t do is fight city hall. I won’t be the guy who’s tilting at windmills. Let someone else take on the burden of making a decision based on the best data and analysis I can provide them. I don’t want it. But for the love of Pete, once that decision is made can we all agree to shut up and move out smartly? No? Fine. Let’s all just sit around and piss and moan that we think it should be different. That’ll do the trick.
I’m taking a brief pause from writing this evening. I’ve opted instead for warmed leftovers and a movie I’ve seen at least two dozen times.
Frankly the things I have to say about our elected representatives and my employer’s apparent lack of planning for how to handle a shutdown in a efficient and orderly manner would sail dangerously close to treason and insubordination. So I’ll just sit here and avail myself of my right to remain silent.
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.