I’d hate to calculate how many hours of training I’ve sat through over the last thirteen years. Only occasionally, when it was hosted in such exotic locations as Tampa or Dallas, have I ever voluntarily inflicted such opportunities on myself. Far more often it’s a statutory or regulatory requirement or worse drawing the short straw as a seat filler. Occasionally you can draw off some nugget of useful information, but more often it’s a study in watching the clock creep from one hour to the next.
Like so many other meetings, the first question asked by the would-be trainer should be “Can I convey this information in an email?” If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, you should write the email and forget about the training. If the answer is no, you may proceed with your planned training, but understand that anything of value or importance should be covered before 11AM, by which time all but a handful of the most dedicated and/or fanatical people will have stopped paying attention anyway.
Trainers tend to take this disinterest personally. They shouldn’t, because it has almost nothing to do with them or even with their content. You could be talking to me about the next sure fire way to make a million in the market and if you haven’t gotten to your point in the first three hours I’m going to lose interest. That’s just the way it is. I’ll most likely be polite and not focus all my attention on my phone. I’ll probably even nod at appropriate intervals and because of my years of practice I can probably even materially contribute to the conversation just based on whatever I’ve managed to overhear while most of my brain was otherwise occupied. It’s a skill, but not one anyone ever talks about.
But there it is. I’ve done my duty. Attended the training. Checked off another box. And as a reward, I don’t get any new knowledge, but I do get to look forward to trying to cram two days worth of work into a Tuesday and who doesn’t like that?
1. Being filler. So a funny thing about events is that when you plan one that people are interested in, they tend to show up. When you plan an all day snoozefest, they tend to avoid it if they can. The easy solution to this problem is just to declare the snoozefest a designated place of duty for the day and *poof* you have an instant packed house. The problem of course, is even though you can mandate that people be somewhere in body, you certainly can’t force them to be present in mind or spirit. So instead of working my own projects – and tending to my own nearly sold out event – I get to be filler. Because a 2/3 empty auditorium looks bad… and not looking bad is far more important than actually doing good.
2. I’ve spent the week basically regurgitating the same seven or eight points for people who either didn’t bother to read the source material or were incapable of understanding it. Since many of these people have fancy titles like CEO, Vice President of Whatever, Owner, and Doctor, I have to wonder who exactly is out there keeping the lights on in the business community. I’m sure they’re all very busy, very important people, but a bit of basic reading and comprehension really doesn’t feel like too much to expect… and yet it is.
3. A monopoly on good ideas. Just because someone has a star on their uniform (you know, like the Texaco man), we really owe it to ourselves not to fall into the trap of assuming that he or she is the font of truth and all good ideas. No one, not even the high and the mighty have a monopoly on good ideas. Telling truth to power is hard work. It demands personal courage, but if no one else in the room is brave enough to correct the man in the big chair when he insists the grass is purple and the sky is green, we’re not doing anyone, including ourselves, any favors.
It’s Monday again and while they don’t seem so bad when you’re not shuffling off to work in the dark hours of the morning, it’s still the kind of thing that turns your mind to thoughts of the office. Inevitably, that means I’m thinking about meetings, because, in a “professional work environment” apparently meetings are just about the only thing people do.
It’s been my experience that on any given day there are more meetings than people available to go sit in them. That problem compounds because everyone inevitably thinks their meeting is the most important of the day and demand that the most senior person available attend them in order to reinforce the perception of importance. And you see, that’s where things start coming off the rails, because some meetings get stuck with guys like me showing up. When I show up unescorted by someone of senior grade, there’s a good chance your meeting isn’t nearly as important as you think it is.
It’s not that I’m in any way incapable of expressing official thoughts or ideas, it’s just that I have no standing to actually make or enforce decisions on behalf of my large bureaucratic organization. Those activities are reserved to pay grades far higher than mine (and I’m OK with that). The other thing that you really should be concerned about when I show up alone is that there’s always a chance that my filter will slip off and I might accidentally open my mouth and let my actual opinion fly out. While there’s always a price to pay for telling truth to power, I generally don’t think about that until the cat’s well out of its bag.
As it is, I’m amazed on a weekly basis how many times I’m left alone with an open mic and a naive optimism that I won’t say something stupid directly into the ear of someone at echelons higher than reality. Also, and I’ll give you this one for free, if the only time you can schedule your meeting is after lunch on a Friday, go ahead and kill your project because that’s a sure sign there isn’t a single person anywhere on the planet who actually cares about what you’re doing.
So, yeah, on this Monday morning, I’m reaching out to meeting organizers everywhere and giving them an opportunity to reevaluate their actions, how many gaggles they schedule, when they’re held, and where they stand in the grand scheme of things.
I am a professional; highly educated, certified, and experienced. I’ve forgotten more about this kind of work than most people know. Today, however, I am going to be a warm body filling a seat because someone at echelons higher than reality has determined that the most mission critical thing 500 of us can do is make sure the auditorium is full during a presentation.
I’m sure whatever this graybeard has to say will be very interesting and informative, but not at all relevant to any of the eight or nine assignments sitting on my desk waiting to get finished in a semi-timely manner. It’s all a matter of priorities, I suppose. In this case the priority is clearly on looking good rather than actually doing good. As long as I know that up front, I’ll happily adjust my expectations accordingly… and make sure my Kindle has a full charge.
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.