What Annoys Jeff this Week?



1. Performance appraisal. I’ve spent more time than I want to admit this week dicking around with the required “self assessment” section of my annual performance appraisal. It feels like a monumental waste of time. The “old” evaluation system was a pain in the ass too, but at least it was consistent. You could copy and paste big chunks of content from year to year, change some dates and key words and then move on with a minimum amount of fuss and trouble. Since the system we’re now under is “new to us” if not exactly new, it’s starting from a blank page… which translates into more time fiddling. Look, when you’ve been told, albeit in a roundabout way, that the system is designed to drive people to the middle and prevent too many from being way out in high performer land, the incentive to make the end product immaculate is pretty low. Instead of the time and effort going into this new evaluation, it feels like we could have been just as well served by accepting that if we were fucks ups, someone would have told us by now, and that our raise will in all likelihood be within a hair’s breadth of the average unless you’ve done something breathtakingly good or bad in the last 356 days. Going though all the added motions really just adds insult to injury.

2. “Upgrading” software. I don’t mind software upgrades that improve the function of my equipment or make it somehow more secure. I do mind software upgrades that fail to install on the first attempt and then run in the background indefinitely consuming system resources while providing no way to stop them from the user side. Sadly there is absolutely nothing I’m empowered to do about the low bidder equipment or substandard tech support we’re saddled with other than bitch and complain about it at each and every opportunity. So I guess I’ll either limp along as is until the aborted update grinds my system to a complete halt or the admins throw my machine off the network for not having received the update. If only there were a great big organization in change of electronic communications I could call on for help in these situations. You can’t see it but I’ve rolled my eyes so hard I’m currently staring at the inside of my head.

3. Thursday. Well, not just Thursday. I’m just really kind of over weekdays in general. I’m tired of dealing with people. I’m tired of the same bureaucratic and administrative Groundhog Day experience every five out of seven days. I want to sit on the living room floor dispensing ear rubs and playing tug with the dogs, drinking coffee, and reading books… and I’d like for that to happen without finding myself quickly driven into bankruptcy. The dogs have become accustomed to a certain level of lifestyle (and medical care) and I need an ever increasing amount of space for book storage, so that pretty much precludes any radical changes to how I spend the average weekday. Most of the time, the week goes by with a dull “meh,” but this week it’s more of a roaring angsty rage. Good times. Im glad we’ve had this chance to talk.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The speed at which you can go from hero to zero and back again. They say no one remembers all the good stuff you did past that one time you do something bad. That’s probably true enough. Good and bad, in my experience, are simply matters of perception though… and the whiplash between one person declaring you a shithead and the other proclaiming your glory is probably something I will never get use to. It’s a good thing we don’t have objective and standard measures of performance against which all things can be judged.

2. People always notice the big things. Tell people they have to work a double shift and that eight hours is as noticeable as a sore thumb. Let that same eight hours slip away in increments of 15 minutes here and 45 minutes there and no one seems to notice much. I notice, of course. I notice because I value my time more highly than just about any other commodity. If I were to start randomly showing up between 15 and 45 minutes late with no notice or explanation, it’s a fair bet suddenly that incremental time would start being important to more people than just me… and I’m feeling just passive aggressive enough to see about putting my pet theory to the test.

3. Home maintenance. I bitch a lot about home ownership. With that said, I should note that I really do love the house I’m in. What’s grating on my nerves at the moment, though is the “systems maintenance” do loop I seem to be suck in at the moment. Water heaters, gutters, HVAC, sundry other appliances all need their fair share of attention – some more than others. As with every aspect of home ownership it always boils down to a simple matter of time and/or money. As both are in somewhat short supply at the moment, I hope I can be forgiven my slightly jaundiced view on the joy of home ownership at the moment.

No worse critic…

It has come to my attention that there may be a feeling that I have a tendency towards being too critical of people and things. I’m told “mistakes happen.” They surely do… except that what most people call mistakes I’ve found to usually be caused by failing to plan, not training hard enough, lack of attention to detail, or just generally being sloppy in the way you execute your day to day responsibilities. Negative consequences resulting from any of those things are not so much mistakes or random accidents as they are direct results of some general failure to adequately prepare or perform.

I don’t say that to cast dispersions upon anyone. Legitimate mistakes do happen from time to time. Random chance sees to that. I’m perfectly willing to admit it. If it seems, occasionally, that I’m overly sensitive to such things or that I’m living with unrealistic expectations of others, I can only ask you to rest assured that I also live with those standards for myself. I know instinctively that I will never have a worse critic than the one that lives inside my own head. I feel every honest mistake intensely – and every consequence of personal failing or inadequate preparation like a body blow.

In our daily endeavors it’s a fool’s errand to demand perfection. There’s simply no way to control for all possible inputs. Even knowing that, though, I’ll make no apologies for expecting good order and discipline to prevail. All I can promise you, and I swear this before the gods, is that I will never hold another to a standard higher than to that which I hold myself.

An open letter to the Enterprise Service Desk…

To Whom It May Concern,

On May 31st I called the Enterprise Service Desk to request support with an ongoing issue of frequent restarts, freezing, running checkdisk, and random problems within Office software products. This was a follow up to a previous call made on March 9th for a similar issue where I was told to call back if the problem happened again. A help ticket was opened as a result of my call on May 31st.

On June 7th, my ticket was closed because it had been “resolved.” No one from the Network Enterprise Center or local IT customer support contacted me on this issue. In addition to this being a missed 3-day response time under the terms of the service level agreement, it also has the dubious distinction of being blatantly false. My issue has not been resolved and my computer performance continues to exhibit the same behavior.

I once again contacted the Enterprise Service Desk on June 7th and was informed that the original ticket from May 31st could not be reopened. The representative I spoke to then opened a new help ticket and the clock started again on a new “3-day” response time. With a computer under warranty exhibiting these troubles, the “no brainer” response should be issuing a new machine and sending the broken/defective equipment back to the manufacturer. I consider this service absolutely unacceptable. I’m simply appalled that I’m now in the second week of trying to achieve more than a “phantom resolution” to my issue.

Regards,

Jeff

A fairly simple philosophy…

I have a fairly simple philosophy when it comes to whatever oddball projects hit my desk: Just get them done and move them off my desk as expeditiously as possible. Most projects don’t come with a lot of fanfare (and they come with even less recognition, especially when they’re going along without much trouble). The thing is when someone tells me they need me to do Task A, Task B, and Tasks F-N, I generally just focus in and get those knocked out as quickly as possible or in accordance with whatever overarching project timeline the Great Project Manager in the Sky set.

It seems so easy and straightforward, but in my experience as the nominal leader of various projects it’s anything but. On my very best days as a supervisor I had what can be described as a largely “hands off” philosophy. That is to say besides a periodic check on progress I’m perfectly happy to let members of the team go off and solve problems and get shit done in the way that most makes sense for them. The last thing I ever had any interest in being was the kind of boss who spent all his time skulking around looking over people’s shoulder. It wasn’t my style as a supervisor and it’s certainly not my style as a “coordinator.”

The downside, of course, of my particular style and workplace methodology is that it relies on other people doing what they were supposed to do both on time and to standard. That, friends, is almost always where your average project will start to fall off the rails. As it turns out there is a large and growing number of people who can’t do much of anything without close adult supervision. I can only speculate that they’re nice enough human beings, but getting things done just isn’t their particular forte. That’s where we have a decided clash in philosophies.

If you’re looking for the guy who is going to double and triple check everyone’s work, sooth their nerves, and pin their mittens to their coats before sending them out in the cold, I’m so not the one you want to put in charge of the effort. You’re going to be disappointed in the results. It’s not so much that I don’t care about reaching the desired outcomes as it is that I refuse to hand hold or spoon feed professionals who have been at their jobs as long or longer than I have. Do you job. Don’t do your job. I won’t worry and hand wring either way, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll chunk you under the bus at the first available opportunity.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Atrophy. I’ll admit it, I’m not as good a driver as I use to be. I spent five years mastering the art of running nose-to-tail at 90 miles an hour on I-95 between DC and Baltimore. There’s not an every day call for that kind of driving in most other places. There wasn’t in West Tennessee and there certainly isn’t here in Ceciltucky. Every now and then, though, the situation presents itself where those long unused skills would prove useful. It’s only when you reach in to that old bag of tricks that you find out you’re not quite as quick at the wheel as you use to be. That’s disheartening… particularly when it leads to the inevitable question of whether it’s just a lack of practice time or if it’s a truly diminishing skill set.

2. Just Don’t Do It. Years ago I worked (indirectly) for a boss who’s philosophy was summed up by a Just Do It card that he passed around to employees at every opportunity. It read something like “If it’s ethical, legal, and you’re willing to be held accountable for it, don’t wait for permission, just do it.” It’s a pretty good rule to live by if you’re the kind of person who has any kind of reasonable judgement. I’m never going to argue that all decisions should be made at the lowest level, but I known damned well that all of them don’t need to be deferred to the highest levels, either. There’s a middle ground. More people should find it instead of deferring every decision for days and weeks in hopes that someone else will take responsibility for it.

3. The Cycle of Mediocrity. A wise old Warrant Officer once told me that “nobody does what the boss don’t check.” He was mostly right about that. In most offices the boss down’t check much – and the results are predictable. We all claim to want excellence – but in reality the objectives are usually targeted at achieving mediocrity. The rules are set up to achieve a minimum acceptable standard and performance tends towards achieving that standard. It’s what the bosses check so it’s what the people produce… and the cycle of mediocrity rolls on and on and on.