See you Monday…

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s technically a work day. Yes, I am technically working. You see, though, the thing is that no one actually expects they’ll need to do any heavy lifting on a day like this. Maybe that should be almost no one has those kind of expectations

There’s always that one guy. He usually lives well up on Olympus and is the one person in all the land who thinks somehow we’re going to move something forward with less than 50% staffing and way less than 50% interest.

Look, I’m not saying that’s the way it should be. In a perfect world I’m sure we should all be 100% committed for every one of our 8 hours on every single day. We don’t live in a perfect world, though. On a good day, we probably live in a world that could best be described as “tolerable.”

I’ll do what I can with the time and people that are available, but honestly, if you’re looking for something to happen after about 2:00… well, I guess I’ll see you Monday.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The difference 30 minutes makes. Leaving the office on time gets me out and away minutes ahead of the big rush of traffic trying to squeeze out a couple of undersized gates and onto the also undersized surrounding highways. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve put some thought and analysis into minimizing the amount of time I spend fiddling around in traffic.  You see, the difference in leaving 30 minutes later in the afternoon translates into getting home a full hour later than I usually would… so it’s not so much an issue of minding staying in harness for an extra 30 minutes, but the fact that that 30 minutes really costs me a full hour. Anything that slices that deeply into my evening is bound to top the list of things that annoy me.

2. When I tried to warn you. If I come to you four or five times over a period of a few weeks trying to give you a heads up that something is coming along that will bite you in the ass if you ignore it, there’s a fair bet that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve been at this a while now. I don’t cry wolf and I don’t ask for top cover very often. When I do, it’s probably something you should have on your radar. Otherwise, 20 hours before the thing happens you’re going to end up getting hit with a fast moving shit sandwich, wonder how the hell it came out of nowhere, and then get all angsty and aggravated that something that could have been easy turned into a smoking hot mess. I know being the guy who says “I told you so,” isn’t the best look, but I did tell you so. Sadly, I have very little control over what anyone chooses to do with that information even when they have been forewarned.

3. Failure to close. I should have been closing the sale of my condo today… but thanks to various banks, lawyers, and the state of Maryland, I’m not doing that. Instead I’m carrying the place into another month – making another mortgage payment, paying the insurance, and paying the utility bills. Plus, after three and a half weeks of planning, I’m just finding out that the damned home owners association that I’ve been paying into for almost 20 years hasn’t spit back the two page form they’re supposed to fill out so now I’m leaving never returned phone messages for them trying to determine what their dysfunction is. Buying a house is the single most stressful thing I’ve ever done… but don’t kid yourself, selling one is almost if not just as much of a pain in the ass.

The turd in my lap…

Look, no one is more aware that a lot of the things landing on my desk aren’t big, shiny, attention grabbing projects than I am. Some people might even be inclined to say I’ve made a career of taking these decidedly unsexy projects in my teeth and bulldoging them through to the end. Most of the time they’re something that needs doing and I’m more than capable of being the one to get them there without needing too much adult supervision enroute from Point A to Point B. Part of the charm of these “ugly” projects is how little attention or supervision they attract.

There are going to be times – maybe 30 or 60 minutes out of three months – when having a little overwatch would be beneficial. Show the flag. Give the illusion that there’s a renewed sense of interest. You know, basically do a bit of lip service to the idea that it’s something worth spending time on and that someone outside the immediate group is actually paying attention.

If it’s legitimately something that the bosses can’t be bothered to take even a passing interest in, I’m going to wonder why for the love of all things good and holy we’re spending inordinate amounts of time fiddling around with it at all. Fortunately, I long ago gave up tying personal pride or self worth to this sort of work, but it’s awfully hard for me not to notice professional disinterest when I see it. If I can spot it while trying hard not to, you can bet everyone else sitting around the table picked up on it… and that’s going to make them even harder to convince to come to the table next time some turd of a project comes down the pipe.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

On leadership and decision making…

As I was Frankensteining together another PowerPoint slide deck from lightly used and discarded pieces of other briefings, it really started to sink in that I’m working on the 6th yearly iteration of this project. It’s a project that was originally slated to be part of my life for “a year or two max” and then get handed off to the next lucky victim. It’s another in Uncle’s long train of bright, shiny promises that may or may not in any way be reflected in eventual reality. It’s something you get use to after enough years have sheered away.

I’m really only stuck on this topic today because it set me thinking about the various ways that whoever is sitting in the big chair influences all sorts of relatively minor details that can make life an unmitigated shitshow. What I’ll call “leadership personality” appears to be the only driving difference between a small, no frills, meeting the requirement sort of job, and one that has all the stops pulled out and all safeties disarmed.

For a moment there this afternoon, I was stuck with the towering reality of just how little years of collective expertise and experience count against a single moment of “Yeah, but I want to do it this other way.” It’s probably best that I don’t spend too much time dwelling on that. I’m sure I’d be told that’s a feature of the system rather than a bug. It’s a reasonable assessment that some people would even believe that.

The fact is, I’m very nearly agnostic when it comes to what decisions are made – especially if they’re only made just that one time and not jiggered about every six days thereafter until the inevitable heat death of the universe. I’ll provide the best insight and information I have, but once someone points out the approved direction of travel, I’ll head that way and keep moving until apprehended.

We’re maybe, possibly, somewhere in the general vicinity of a decision that may or may not have a large impact on something I’ve spent months out of the last five years tinkering around with. I’m just going to assume that level of interest in anything goin on in my sandbox is what has my nerves set to “on edge.”

Climate survey…

Every job I’ve ever had was driven, at least in part, by the recurring rhythms unique to the organization. Cycles are everywhere if you’re paying attention – fiscal year end, annual conferences, daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports… and my very favorite, changes of command.

One of the perks of working for our Big Bureaucratic Organization is that someone new ends up occupying the top spot every two or three years. When you’ve got a good one, the time goes a little faster, but when you have a bad one at least you know they won’t be there forever. In the age old tradition of the bureaucracy, when all else fails, bureaucrats know we can outlast even the worst of the worst in their tenure. The bureaucracy was here long before any individual leader and will endure long after any individual has departed. To quote Ronald Reagan, the bureaucracy “nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

As sure is night follows day and summer follow spring, a change up at the top of the org chart is followed by conducting a climate survey. It’s one of the tools by witch the new guy is supposed to “get to know” his organization – or at least what people are brave enough to say about it when they’ve been promised anonymity and non-attribution.

I’ve lost track of how many of these surveys I’ve responded to over the years, but I can count on not all the fingers of my left hand the number of things that have ever been improved in any meaningful as a result of them. Still, I play along, mostly because if the bosses are dumb enough to ask me how I really feel, I’m absolutely dumb enough to give them an honest answer. Since it might be the only chance during any particular boss’s tenure where I’m invited to tell truth to power, it feels like it’s just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Fortunately, after years of answering questions and very little changing I have built up quite a repository of stock responses that, after a bit of tweaking, are every bit as applicable today as they were the day I first wrote them… two, five,, seven years ago, or more. It’s just another in a increasingly long line of times when saving every scrap of previous work products as part of my Official Papers archive really pays dividends.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Douchebags who litter. Driving through the historic summer tourist trap of North East, Maryland I was following a SUV towing a jet ski who eventually turned into one of the local marinas. There’s nothing unusual about that this time of year. Also not unusual, because people are mostly awful, was the fact that the passenger kept throwing cigarette butts and trash out the window. I assume, because of the jet ski, that these people enjoy being outside and on the water… which is about 50 yards away from where the last butt fell. That’s the head scratcher, for me. Where exactly to asshats like this think their ash and trash is going to end up the next time it rains? Then again, that question implies that they’re the kind of people who bother thinking at all and that’s probably a poor assumption on my part.

2. Online marketing. I brought home my newest pup over a month ago. While I appreciate the mission of the several dozen rescue organizations I looked at prior to that, I don’t now need to see the animals that are currently available… every time I log in to a social media account. It feels like the algorithms should take into account that the average person, regardless of how much they’d like to, is not going to adopt ALL the animals. Rest assured when the time comes I will seek these organizations out… but just now you’re wasting their marketing dollars by targeting me.

3. Panic as management strategy. I assume there’s a time and a place for panic. I’m not entirely clear what that time or place would be on an average day, though. Losing your head and making shit decisions as a result doesn’t feel like a best management practice. Especially when there are stacks and stacks of paperwork that tell you how to respond to almost any conceivable situation. I haven’t read them all… but I’ve read enough of them to know that flailing your arms and calling all hands to the pumps isn’t usually featured prominently as a how to recommendation.