What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rapidly shifting gears. I always forget just how steep the drop off in things to do is when a big project wraps up. Between last Thursday and this Monday I went from having 600 emails in my inbox and 47 missed calls on my phone to having a whopping 6 emails in my box waiting for action and no missed calls. For months there’s this gradual acceleration. It’s almost imperceptible. Before you know it you’re charging flat out, still accelerating, over the precipice, before slamming into the wall that is “business as usual.” I’m not exactly complaining that I’m getting a chance to catch a breath, but I am surprised more people don’t strip all their gears from downshifting so fast.

2. Housebreaking in the rain. Jorah has been a dream puppy as far as housebreak is concerned. Two solid days of rain, however, were something less delightful. Squishing around the yard every few hours in a steady fifty degree rain with wet feet is one of the joys of pet ownership that would surely make any dog owner question why the hell they decided to add a member to their family in the first place.

3. Playing bouncer. I spent a few hours this week checking badges and working the door to keep the riffraff out of a meeting. There’s nothing special about that – other duties as assigned and whatnot. I can turn off my brain and do as told with the best of them. It’s only later, when I put on my taxpayer hat and do some mental math about how much I made during my tenure as an up jumped bouncer, my eyes sort of roll back into my head. I have my own opinions of course, but I’ll leave it to others to decide on the application of resources… something something mosquito and sledgehammer.

4. Alabama. What the actual hell is wrong with you cousin fucking, backwoods, holier than thou asshats? Republicans are supposed to be the part of small government and minimal intrusion into people’s personal lives. You collection of assclowns would be hard pressed to find a way to be more invasive. At least when I think the government in Annapolis is a shitshow, I can look at your statehouse and remind myself that it could be worse.

On the transient nature of management…

After sixteen years in harness, I’ve more or less lost track of the number of different first-line supervisors I’ve had. It would have to be somewhere north of 10 and even at that I feel like I could be miscounting on the low side just a bit.

The nature of the bureaucracy is that the cogs are more or less interchangeable to a certain degree. It’s perhaps even more true of management positions than those where people need to be technical experts. The fact is, though, that some bosses are just better than others. I’ve had bosses I dearly loved working for and other who I drove a third of the way across the country to get away from. The good ones are to be savored. The bad ones to be endured. The mediocre ones, well, you mostly hope they’re indifferent or are at least willing to stay the hell out of your way.

In a few weeks we’ll be getting the next new boss in my little corner of the bureaucracy – a mercifully known quantity who seems to have good pre-existing relationships with people in other corners of the cube farm who could be helpful in getting things done. It’s an infinite improvement over the grab bag possibilities of someone dropped into the role from somewhere “outside the family.”

I’ve worked for the current boss off and on for various lengths of time over the last four years – making him probably the boss I’ve worked longest for during my entire run as cog #2674323 in this Large Bureaucratic Organization. Settling in with a new hand on the tiller should, be, uhhhh… interesting times for all involved.

Immediately after this small transition we’ll endure the arrival of a new Olympian high atop the org chart, so whatever rumbles and ruffles occur during changes here near the bottom will surely pale to insignificance when compared to the mayhem and chaos that sort of transition can carry with it… so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

In which I oppose mandatory fun…

Mandatory fun is bad. I don’t mean it’s badly intentioned. I’m sure whatever powers that be inflict mandatory fun on the rest of us probably think they’re doing something positive, if not exactly something wonderful. It just seems to me that the forced joviality of people who work together pretending to be the best of friends feels awful in just about every possible way. Consider, if you will, when was the last time you had an unadulterated good time at the office Christmas party or the company picnic? For the record, I don’t consider going because you need to “make an appearance” or because it’s slightly better than spending those hours at your desk to qualify as fun in this instance.

Most people make at least some small effort to have a firewall between what they do for fun and what they do to make a living. Maybe there was a time long ago, before everyone was an easily offended, uptight stick in the mud, when these official organizational celebrations were good times. Today they mostly feel like a formality – just a small nod to that bygone era. Most people will go along with it, of course, because making waves is rarely the best tactic to endear yourself to whatever bosses you serve. Go along. Get along. It’s one of the oldest stories in the working world. 

If you insist on mandatory fun, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Make sure there’s lots of food, back up a beer truck, and maybe hire a band. Let people self-select with what and who they choose to engage. That’s probably about as good a situation as you’re likely to manufacture. There are ways to screw that up, though. You could overlay the lukewarm pay as you go food with several mandatory training events and dispense with the beer truck, thus ensuring that even the illusion of a “fun day away from the office” is shattered completely. 

It’s easy in cases like this to blame the planners… but I can reasonably assure you that they want to deliver a better product than the specified and implied guidance allows. Experience tells me that the real fault in these cases lies in the realm of leadership and the good idea fairies that dwell with them. I mean if someone really was all that interested in boosting my morale, all they’d have to do was give me a couple of hours off and point me towards the closest used book shop. I don’t expect there would be a line for that, but then again I don’t subscribe to the idea that a good time necessarily has to be a team activity. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

One of the issues I have with Large Important Events is that they tend to take months to pull together properly. By the time they arrive, you’re running flat out just to keep from falling behind. They chew up months and it feels like you should be entitled to a big ending.

Independence Day ends with fireworks. A public execution ends with a hanging on the courthouse lawn. There’s a final moment of something that marks the definitive end point.

With us, though, it’s just a whole lot of build up with no pay off. There’s no money shot. The end just kind of dribbles out… and those who endured it limp home with whatever you call the event planning version blue balls.

The sin of pride…

I can say ” I don’t give a shit” a thousand times, but the reality is that when my name is attached to something, I actually do give a shit. I give a shit not really because I have any particular use or affection for the thing itself, but because I care deeply that the thing in some way has my name attached to it… and I prefer that my name not be attached to a big steaming pile of shit. 

Sure, it’s the sin of pride or something, but I’ve just never particularly liked the idea of doing half-assed work. You’d think by now it would be an operating condition I would be use to – particularly when people who should know better seem utterly oblivious to the size of the wrenches they regularly throw into the machinery at the last possible moment. Of course then they have the audacity to ask accusingly why the goddamned machinery broke down. 

It’s probably for the best that sixteen years of hard won lessons learned have largely tempered my mouth. I can usually manage to choke off the inclination to tell uncomfortable truths to powerful people because I know it won’t do a damned bit of good. Now if I could just learn to control the “you’ve got to be shitting me” look on my face maybe all would be well… but just now, I’m having an awfully hard time disguising the look of complete disgust at knowing that this is really how we do things.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Free” college. Almost a decade ago, the federal government stepped in and allowed people to refinance their mortgages during the housing crisis – but only if you let your payments fall behind. If you took your word as your bond and paid on time even though it was hard, well fuck you sucker. That’s why it took me $30,000 out of pocket to close the sale on my Tennessee house. I played by the rules and got properly fucked for the trouble. Now Senator Warren comes along and wants to push student loan “forgiveness” as the brave new way ahead. If she gets away with it, once more I’m a sucker for playing by the rules, doing the hard work, and being responsible for paying my own debts. I really do despise the 21st century. 

2. Morale. Apparently as a moral boosting endeavor we’ve installed a wall-sized mural with my organization’s name blazed across 30-feet of graphics and some fancy new signage in our bit of cubicle hell. I’m sure someone thought it would be a good idea and that everyone was sure to find it inspirational. I’m just not one of them. I’m probably too jaded and cynical at this point to ever be bought off by new signage. That’s just the kind of guy I am. Want to improve my morale? Throw me a step increase in recognition of the work I’ve done. Hit me with a time off award – that one is my personal favorite. Order up some office chairs that aren’t low bidder junk or computers that aren’t crippled right out of the box. If you’re going to spend the money, spend it on something that matters… because new wallpaper doesn’t get it done.

3. 5PM. Being a creature of habit, there’s not much I value more on any given weekday than leaving the office on time. I value arriving on time, too… because getting to work on time is a reasonable employer expectation. The converse should also be true – leaving on time should be a reasonable employee expectation. Except the average office is full of subtle signs and symbols that it isn’t the case. No one will come right out and say it, but you’re supposed to just understand and not mention that someone at echelons higher than reality has scheduled a meeting to start an hour or two after you’re supposed to have departed the area for the day – and that’s assuming that the meeting will accidentally start on time, which of course it won’t… The not so subtle message being that anything you have outside the office walls couldn’t possibly be as important as what’s happening inside them. Then again, this is often driven by the same people who think they can fix morale problems with wallpaper, so it’s whatever I guess. 

Crisis of the moment…

I’ve spent more of the last three months engaged in the pursuit of one single line of effort than is strictly healthy for someone. That’s fine. Someone has to be the institutional memory – even if only to remind you of why something sounds good on paper but goes to hell in a handbasket in practice. 

The bigger trouble comes when people who haven’t been paying meticulously close attention realize a Big Thing is about to happen. Then they want to get focused on it. They want to deep dive it and know all that there is to know. That, too, is fine… as long as one remembers that the more often you have to tell the backstory and provide months worth of details, the more limited the time remaining to actually do the work becomes. It’s a corollary to Tharp’s Maxim #1 – I can either go to meetings about the work or I can do the work. I cannot, however, do both simultaneously. 

In any case, we’re racing from fire to fire, from crisis to crisis, in hopes that somehow we manage to deliver a final product that isn’t ridiculous in the eyes of gods and men. It’s a tall order – especially when we keep inflicting wounds on ourselves.

I console myself with knowing that good, bad, or otherwise, in short order a Big Thing is going to happen no matter how hard we try to fuck it up in the closing hours. One way or another we limp across the finish line a week from tomorrow.