Same as it ever was…

There are about 16 different online or in person “training modules,” I’m required to take annually. Most take an hour or two of endurance. A few take a bit longer, particularly if you get a live host who likes the sound of their own voice.

This is the time of year when I’m working against the clock to get all of them finished… not because I think I’m going to gain any benefit from them, but because it’s just easier than fighting city hall on why this sort of thing is mandatory in the first place. 

I registered for one of the last two modules I need to knock off for fiscal year 2021 this morning. The registration guide for this particular class noted in bold red text that “the content for FY21 is the same as the content for FY19 and FY20.”

If the content is exactly the same this year as it has been for the last two years, it begs the question of why anyone is expected to cover that ground again – since they presumably passed the training on both previous occasions. I’m not saying it’s all perfectly wasted time, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions. 

It’s the kind of thing that will drive you to madness if you dwell on it too long.

If I’ve learned nothing else from almost trips through most of these training opportunities, it’s that sometimes it’s just better to turn your brain off and check the box.  

Unchanging an immutable…

We went through short stretch a few years ago where the number of mandatory yearly training classes was dramatically reduced. I can see from looking at my personal “mandatory training” tab today that things are swinging back in the other direction.

Sitting through these sessions online is marginally better than physically cramming 750 people into an auditorium, but only just. Maybe my outlook would be different if the basic content changed from year to year, but as it is, by the time I hang it up, I’ll have sat through 32+ iterations of threat awareness, substance abuse, anti-harassment, and cybersecurity training among others. The names of these sessions might be different, but otherwise not much else has changed with them in the last 18 years. It’s hard to imagine inertia will drive much change in the next 14.

All told, it’s probably 20 hours a year which could be just as effectively covered by taking 10 minutes and telling us not to use drugs, not to sell secrets, knock it off with the sexual harassment, etc.  I suppose there are entire offices that would cease to exist if people could be collectively relied on to simply follow directions, though. Whole bureaucratic empires would cease to exist and we obviously can’t have that.

We could just drop the hammer on people who routinely screw up… but it’s easier to swamp the guilty and innocent alike with wave after wave of “training” if only to avoid the inevitably awkward conversation with people who just can’t seem to get it right. The endless hours of training, it seems, isn’t the only thing that’s unchanging an immutable.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Online training. Yes, I’m sure there are many wonderful online training tools and modules in use out there, but I haven’t personally come across them yet.  In fact, if I’d say the only thing the current crop of mandatory online training has taught me is how to click through repetitive nonsense as quickly as possible while focusing on doing other, less onerous things. At least most of the training hasn’t be changed up in over a decade, so I’ve learned to miss the “gotcha” questions that trigger remedial instruction which is a small mercy at least.

2. Supply runs and/or delivery. Leafy greens and gin are currently hovering near unacceptably low stock levels at Fortress Jeff. Fortunately, the resident tortoise has been accommodating about allowing me to supplement his usual spring mix with heartier greens like kale, so I’ve been able to forgo needing to add a second supply run for the last two weeks just for him. The gin situation isn’t dire… and I could move on to rum or tequila or whisky… but lately I’ve had a taste for gin and that means at some point I’ll have to hazard a trip into the great wasteland to restock. Even with the inherent exposure risks of schlepping out into the world, I still like it far more than having some total stranger deliver it to my front door.

3. Cotton masks. Look, if you want me to sport a fancy cotton “mask” (aka, a folded handkerchief) while going about tasks in public, you’re going to need to come up with a methodology that also prevents my glasses from fogging over while I’m doing it. I’ve attempted most of the recommended hacks with little result. So, you see, what I have to do is make a choice between the possible benefit of wearing a handkerchief as a medical device and the known cost of not being able to see a damned thing. I can only assume it’s better overall to be able to see and avoid walking directly into people than it is to be masked and not be able to tell the difference between a person and a mailbox.

Mandatory…

I’m about to be dropped into the 4th “performance appraisal” system I’ll have worked under during the last 16 years. Based on the 8-hour mandatory training there isn’t much new under the sun. I’m going to tell my boss what I think I did. He’s going to tell me how well I did it. And someone above him is going to agree or disagree with the story we’ve crafted.

I’m sure rolling out a new system is quite a feather in someone’s cap… although just because it’s taken years and tens of millions of dollars to accomplish doesn’t really mean there will be much to show for the effort beyond the implementation team getting “top boxed” on their own next appraisal.

I’m not sure I learned anything new today beyond the fact that we’re, at long last, moving from pen and ink to an online system that captures almost the exact same information. How much I trust such a system to be up and running when I might actually need to use it is another issue entirely. Of course even the best performance appraisal system is only effective at all if anyone bothers to make management decisions based on the results. You can put me firmly in the, “we’ll see” category on that one.

Experience tells me the more likely outcome is that over time evaluations across the board will migrate from the middle of the bell curve, where most belong if only by definition, to a place where everyone’s score is inflated back to the top box, which makes objective evaluation effectively meaningless.

That’s not my egg to suck, though. My egg was purely concerned with meeting the objective of attending the mandatory training and not in any way involved with designing a more perfect system. Color me mission accomplished.

Trained to within an inch of my life…

I’ve ranted and railed at length about the seemingly endless trail of mandatory training “experiences” my employer requires each and every year. Some of those trainings are online modules that literally have not changed since I started way back in 2003. I’m looking at you here Constitution Day Training. Having studied history and political science, there are very few documents written in the English language that I prize more highly than the Constitution. Clicking through a few pages of how a bill becomes a law or which powers reside in the Executive and which in the Legislative just doesn’t fill me with an augmented sense of awe and wonder. The fact that so much of this training is stale, though, misses the broader point.

Regardless of how stale or dated the training, it’s mandatory. Beyond it being mandatory, eventually I know I’m going to catch hell if all those little boxes are not check off next to my name before the clock runs out on the end of September. What everything finally translates to is I’m going to suck it up and wade through hours of pointless training not because it’s teaching me something new, but because I want to keep myself out of trouble. I’m sure that’s some kind of pedagogical construct, but it’s not one I learned about a hundred years ago when I was learning to be a teacher and design instruction. Again, however, even that misses the big point here.

The really important thing I have to say about the mind numbing volume of mandatory training is that unlike previous years where I come sliding in sideways and waving one last certificate on September 30th, I’m finished early. Very early. I’m fairly sure that the first time in my career that’s ever happened. It feels vaguely unnatural. Fortunately I know that feeling can’t possibly last long before someone slams a new “must do” training requirement into the system so we can piss away more time on activities that mostly teach you how to sleep with your eyes open.

Logic doesn’t live here…

I’ve been doing this long enough now that I’m always a little surprised when something is ridiculous enough to shock me. That’s why I could only smirk when someone came by and asked me if I was going to training this morning. After explaining that I had just taken that training last month, my esteemed colleague looked around nervously before explaining that last month’s training covered me only for last fiscal year. This month’s training was required to cover me for the current fiscal year. By some fluke of scheduling it was just pure chance that the exact same class happened to get scheduled in back to back months.

Some people would find this odd, perhaps, but I’ve been a cog in Uncle’s machine long enough to know when I won’t get ahead by asking any more questions. This morning was one of those times and I dutifully went to the auditorium so they could update my now 42 day old certification. The snores coming from the guy beside me and the one two rows over fed into my hunch that I wasn’t the only one sitting here for the second time in as many months. Like the good troopers we are, we checked the box and hopefully won’t see this class for another 13 months.

So much for a productive morning.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Overkill…

Everyone likes to feel like they are an important part of what’s going on around them. Even though most people wouldn’t be missed much if they spun off into oblivion, organizations everywhere help mollify their workforce by engaging in the ridiculous pantomime of holding “town hall” meetings where everyone troops into the auditorium and tries not to look too bored as executives click through several dozen slides that someone made for them. Then they open the floor for a handful of delusory questions, give the shiny happy answer, and close the meeting because 99 times out of 100 no one in the room wants to ask what’s really on their mind. Most of us leave with no more information than we had when we showed up, but at least marched an hour or two closer to the end of the day. That’s a mercy at least.

Of course it’s only a small mercy if it’s not a two hour town hall scheduled to start an hour before most of your employees are supposed to be heading home. There’s also a good chance that if it’s the third “mandatory” meeting in the last four weeks to cover the same general set of topics and it’s just being presented by a different talking head, it could be overkill. As good an idea as these meetings were when they were held by our sainted forefathers in New England, they’ve lost a little of their zip. Maybe it’s time to get out the ol’ thinking cap and come up with a better way to engage the people.

Of course if you’re not actually looking for input from anyone, then feel free to disregard this idea in its entirety.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.