Tables, or A lifetime of questionable career decisions…

Note: Yes, I know this place and time is usually reserved for the weekly edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Go ahead and read to the end and let me know if you don’t understand why I called a quick audible this week instead.

If you guys are tired of the current trend of posts I’ve been thinking of as “Chronicles of an Event Planner,” you’ll have to take my word that I’m even more tired of writing them. Sadly, though, life happens where we are and not necessarily where we want to be. That’s my way of saying sorry, but you’re going to have to live with at least a few more days of the jackassery that ensues when you try to drag 60-odd people into a room and make them talk about things they don’t really want to talk about.

Today’s illustration in the extraordinarily limited scope of my influence revolves around the size of the tables we’ll be using. Let me start off by saying the original floor plan – the one we’ve used repeatedly, over the last few years, was on target right up until some point late yesterday afternoon when it was not. Different configuration? Sure. Can do easy. Except for the part where someone at echelons higher than reality didn’t like the size of the other available tables – wanting six person tables instead of the standard eight person tables that were readily available.

This demand for smaller tables triggered the standard paper chase into which two senior analysts lost an ninety minutes each of productive time. The end result of this particular goat rope was that the eight person tables ended up being fine. All it took was sending a guy over to the venue, setting one of them up, snapping a few pictures showing it in its natural environment, and coming back to illustrate that believe it or not, we really do know what the hell we’re talking about.

Sigh. I’ve spent more time thinking about the various sizes and shapes of tables and how they can best be configured to create an intimate café feeling today than I would have ever expected to spend in my lifetime. It’s hard to imagine this was the job Uncle had in mind when he trained me to move Armies across the globe or provide relief supplies to those stricken by natural disaster.

Talk about the leading edge of a life marked with so very many questionable career decisions.

The leadership vortex…

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a moment in the life of every event when the big day is close enough to finally attract the attention of the greatest of the high and mighty. It’s the moment when your rater, and his rater, and his rater, and his rater, and the big daddy rater of them all finally start paying attention. It’s a little bit like setting your desk up in the center of a hurricane. For lack of a better phrase I like to think of these last few days before an event starts as finding myself at the heart of the Leadership Vortex, where you’ll be assailed on all fronts by people who outrank you who have all, finally, been visited by the Good Idea Fairy. These moments represent a direct opposite condition to business as usual, which I so often charitably describe as finding yourself victim of the Black Hole of Leadership – in which everything you throw towards them for a decision disappears over the event horizon never to be seen again.

Friends, today I can report with equal parts joy and trepidation that we have reached the Leadership Vortex point in the current event’s planning cycle today. I’m joyful because it means the end is in sight while the trepidation stems from a dozen experiences of knowing how truly awful the center of the Vortex can get before you’re pushed clear on the other side. Yeah, currently I’m being provided leadership from every quarter to within an inch of my professional life.

There are a few things you need remember when you find yourself squarely in the middle of the leadership vortex:

1. The guidance you got yesterday or even an hour ago may or may not apply.

2. For the duration of the Vortex, every single person in your rating chain is now your immediate supervisor.

3. When you receive conflicting guidance, always defer to the ranking manager. You can’t shift the blame up, but it’s your best bet to find some modicum of top cover.

4. It can’t be escaped, simply endured.

5. This too will pass. Probably.

Sigh. The things we do for King and Country.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Emergencies”. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. The way people throw around the work “emergency” in the contemporary office is basically laughable. No one is bleeding. No one is about to start bleeding. The word you’re probably looking for most often is “embarrassing” as in you’re about to be embarrassed due to something you did, were supposed to do, forgot about doing. ​Alternately, you might be about to get blasted because of poor decision making skills. In any case, those things might represent a legitimate personal emergency to you, but to the rest of us it’s really just a shrug and a so what. Let’s try to leave the talk of “emergencies” to the times when there really are barbarians at the gate or brass hitting the floor, ok?

2. County taxes. The proposed Cecil County budget for FY18 includes increases in both the real property and income taxes. It’s made all the more noxious because it was proposed by a Republican county executive who ran less than a year ago on a platform of fiscal accountability and no tax increases. I know, lying politician isn’t exactly breaking news. Still, though, I’m left to wonder why at some point it isn’t perfectly acceptable to say that we have X number of dollars to spend against Y number of services and when there’s no additional revenue for new or existing services, some things need to be cut. The politicians first response is always to borrow or tax their way into all the revenue they need instead of being required to live by an actual budget in which they can’t always purchase all the goods and services they’d like to have. In the end the bastards always end up with their hand just a little deeper in our pocket. I suppose that’s just what you get when every level of government desperately wants to buy the love and affection of the voters and seeks ways to be all things to all people.

3. Keeping my head in the game. I’m probably expending at least as much energy just trying to keep my head in the game as I am actually doing any productive work. That doesn’t feel like something that’s going to be sustainable over the long term. It’s easier some days than others, but for the most part by the time mid-afternoon rolls around I’m dumping every bit of available effort into just staying awake and some delusory productive activities. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want to read some of the written products that fly off my desk after 2PM. Unless I absolutely can’t avoid it, I hold them as drafts and then clean them up the next morning when I’m still relatively fresh. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

A finite resource…

It’s long been my opinion that three-day weekends are the best time to tack on extra vacation days. On a normal weekend, by the time the cooking, cleaning, and general upkeep is finished, it’s practically Monday. Extending that already long weekend into a 4th day, though, means time to get after some of the projects that never get to the top of the list during a normal weekend. This weekend, by example, was the first swing at bringing order to a basement that for the last 20 or so months has been not much more than a dumping ground for extraneous “stuff.” Now that it’s less prone to taking on water, the extra day gave me a chance to at least start turning the place into something useful. It’s going to take a few more days like that and a lot more shelving, but it’s started and that’s why I like the extra long weekend – they let me end a week feeling like something got accomplished.

Because every silver cloud has a lead lining, though, I couldn’t manage to escape the jackassery that is the American office. If I were a smarter man I wouldn’t have bothered checking the voicemail when I saw the number that left it. The boss calling two hours into your day off is never to tell you that there’s been a payroll problem and they’re crediting you with $50,000 in back pay. Still, curiosity got the best of me. Curiosity will, in all likelihood, eventually be a contributing if not a causal factor in my death.

Instead of an unexpected windfall the boss was letting me know that the uberboss called a “surprise” meeting Thursday morning, but that they couldn’t make any progress because I was the keeper of the particular nugget of institutional knowledge that they happened to need. Instead of pressing on with stiff upper lips, they decided they’d reconvene when I was back in the office on Monday. Except they won’t technically be reconvening when I’m “in” the office since the gods of Olympus decided to schedule the meeting after the end of my scheduled day.

It’s a small thing. A bare hiccup, really. The intrusion into what up until that point had been a blissfully quiet and content day off, however, was enough to twist my usual smirk into a decided sneer. My boss, knowing well my love of schedule and my grave distaste for hanging around after the close of business, did his best to spin the news – wondering if I could just come in late to offset the time at the end of the day. Wonderful, my reward for being the keeper of this particular bit of knowledge is that I get to jack up my day by coming in when traffic is at its worst, there’s no parking, and not going home until well after the sun has set. Excellent. Thanks for this outstanding opportunity to excel.

In and of itself, it’s nothing. What it represents, though, is much more significant and far more troubling. It’s an endemic situation where we continue to try cramming ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag. At least one other person should be as informed about my projects as I am, but we don’t have the manpower to provide that depth of coverage. There should never be a point at which someone at my decidedly junior level is able to foul up the works by simply taking a vacation day… and for the love of God, when you’ve put yourself in that position don’t expect that couple of good people you’ve got left to continually jump through their own ass to bail you out. Eventually the answer is going to be no.

Goodwill and desire to be a team player are a finite resource, especially when no one is doing a damned thing to refill the well.

Hard and fast rules…

I came across this post as a stray draft a few days ago. I have no idea if I published it before or if it’s something I wrote that has been sitting in electronic purgatory for months or years. If I have posted it previously, it’s something that bears repeating. If I haven’t, it’s a post that’s deserves its moment in the sun.

In any case, here I present the following few hard and fast rules to live by that I’ve learned while serving as a cog in the vast recesses of the bureaucracy:

1. You can do it all.

2. You can’t do it all at the same time.

3. Timelines are meaningless and largely serve just to take up additional space in a PowerPoint slide deck.

4. Planning is, at best, a work of educated fiction.

5. At that moment when things seem to be working well, the wheels are about to fall off, the engine to catch fire, and the transmission explode, so don’t get cocky, kid.

6. There’s no such thing as “idiot-proof.” The world strives to always produce bigger and better idiots.

7. There’s no good work you can do that a general officer can’t undo with an offhand remark.

8. People rarely get the justice they deserve.

9. All projects can be a combination of fast, cheap, and good… but you can only have two at any given time, so choose wisely.

10. When all else fails, when you think the situation can’t possibly go any further downhill, when not even the third reorganization in eighteen months gets the results you hoped for, look out, because things can always, always get worse.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Someone I’ve never met. The human mind is a curious thing. I’ve been given a lot of thought to how amazing it is that I can feel such visceral dislike towards someone I’ve never met, talked to, or interacted with in any way. In all likelihood I wouldn’t recognized them if we passed on the street. But in my heart of hearts I’ve wished all manner of misfortune to come crashing down on their head… purely because of circumstances. I’m utterly ambivalent about most things, but this is just one of those times where every nerve seems to get aggravated. Every now and then, though, maybe you need a little malice in your heart just to know you’re alive. I’m not sure if that makes me a bad human being or just a normal one.

2. Lack of planning. When you’ve been told that shit’s going to get real but choose to ignore that reality rather than committing resources against it, you shouldn’t be surprised or think it’s a crisis when shit actually gets real. I’ll do what I can with the time and resources I’m given, but you can damned good and well know that the days of beating myself bloody from the effort of filling a five pound bag with ten pounds of work are a long way gone and they’re never coming back.

3. Glasses. I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when the bridge of my 6 month old glasses frame just gave up. I’m not exactly hard on glasses. They go on my face at the beginning of the day and then just sit there until it’s lights out. Should be a pretty stress free existence. But hey, at least the shop where I got them can get me replacement frames under warranty in “probably 8 or 9 days.” They did offer to tape up my old frames if I wanted them to. I declined politely while resisting the temptation to cleanse their cute little shop with the purifying goodness of fire.