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.

The end is just the beginning…

One of the many perks of working from home is that it gives you a predictable block of time that’s uninterrupted by people wandering past your desk wanting to talk about their weekend or some project they’re working on. It’s the perfect time to accomplish one of two kinds of work. The first is the difficult to do items that require a lot of focus and limited interruptions. The second is the laundry list of mundane online annual training courses we’re required to click through… er… I mean “take” by echelons higher than reality. I spent some time today dutifully getting my clicks in. I was trying to actually get in the last of my clicks done for the year until I was rudely interrupted by one of Uncle’s vaunted websites that just wouldn’t open. That’s fine. I mean who really needs cyber awareness anyway. I think by now we’re all fully aware of the cyber.

The bigger problem I find is that in about 45 days the clock starts running again and all the previous year’s clicks are reset to zero. You might be tempted to think that you’d then be presented with new information or updated training requirements. You would, of course, be wrong. The preponderance of next year’s requirements will replicate this year’s classes with almost 100% fidelity. If you ever wonder why someone might be tempted to take this ration of training less than seriously, the fact that they’ve taken the same class every year for the better part of a decade could be a leading indicator.

The end really is just the beginning… and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to take the exact same class another 15 times.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Surprises. I will never in my life understand why anyone likes being surprised. In my experience being caught off guard, having a bombshell dropped in your lap, getting a wake-up call, or enduring a rude awakening are all fundamentally bad things. It is, sadly, impossible for any one person to know all the things and to be prepared for all the eventualities. Even so, that doesn’t mean we have to like getting blindsided even in the exceedingly rare case where it’s a “good” surprise.

2. Decisions. Look, if you’re not going to “empower” me to be a decision maker, the very least I should be able to expect is that someone up the line will actually be making decisions in something approaching a timely manner. Sure, some questions are difficult and need great thought and discussion, but mostly are run of the mill and answerable as part of a simple yes/no or this/that dyad. Getting the answer shouldn’t take weeks and slow every project down to the point where forward progress can only be measured in a lab environment by high-precision lasers.

3. Training. My employer has made a few stuttering baby steps towards eliminating some of the onerous annual training requirements that eat up time and net very little in the way of return on investment. However, they still insist of gaggling everyone up for far too many of these “valuable opportunities to learn.” After fifteen years on the job if I haven’t learned not to be a rapist or walk around making sexually suggestive comments to my coworkers, I’m not sure the 16th time around is going to generate that magical “aha moment” they seem to want. At least the box is checked for another year… and that’s what really matters.

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.

Training my life away…

I’m not a procrastinator by nature. I tend to want to jump in and get shit done just as soon as possible. The grand exception to this rule is the laundry list of online annual mandatory training opportunities that Uncle has decided are important. Many of them don’t change from year to year. The old ones never drop off and new ones are always being added by some good idea fairy lurking in the depths of the five sided lunatic asylum on the banks of the Potomac.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve put off doing this online training hell right up until the last possible minute. Usually that means sequestering myself for a few days before the end of the year to click through everything just before the end of the fiscal year and clear my name off the training officer’s naughty list.

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and using part of my telework days to plow through these interminable classes two at a time. I don’t have a rhyme or reason for which ones I take other than working the list from top to bottom… but today turned out to be “drug and alcohol awareness day” at the online training farm.

After two hours of checking this particular box, I’m left to wonder how these dumbass training requirements don’t send us all down the path of reckless drug and alcohol use.

On being defined by your junk…

As anyone who reads regularly will know by now, I’m employed by a large, mostly faceless bureaucracy. It’s an organization that seemingly runs on creating vast new (mandatory) training programs that suck up massive amounts of time without delivering much return on the investment. In my experience, it’s all just another box to be checked to satisfy some arcane requirement of law, regulation, or policy.

Coming soon to an auditorium near us is a new one hour feature focused on Mandatory Training on Big Faceless Bureaucracy Policy on Service of Transgender Persons. Look, I get that it’s the current trendy topic for those fighting the culture wars. There are whole offices in the bureaucracy dedicated to taking such things very, very seriously.

I think I’ve been clear and consistent in my message that I don’t personally care who you sleep with, what you wear, or even what restroom you use (as long as you conform to the gentleman’s agreement that urinals are a no talking zone). I don’t want to have a long, meaningful discussion about how you “self-identify.” Frankly I’m just not interested enough to spend any more than a passing moment thinking about it at all.

I was born in the late 1970s and got my raising in a small Appalachian coal town. I have no doubt that most of my foundational beliefs were built right there along the banks of George’s Creek. Saying that was a simpler time and place doesn’t do it justice. Despite those core beliefs, the ones I live by personally, I’ve never found myself one to believe that my way has to be the only way.

With that said, I’m still a little sad that I’m going to be a part of the last generation who remembers when two genders defined by your junk was enough for just about everyone. If things were still so simple, it would get me out of about 20 hours of mandatory training over the last half of my career… because at this point, minimizing the amount of time I have to spend checking boxes is kind of a career priority of mine.

Checking boxes…

I got my annual reminder today that I had successfully completed almost none of my mandatory online training for 2016. Training is important, or so we’ve been told. It’s so important that in at least one instance I successfully completed the exact same training module once a year from 2007-2016. Yay Constitution Day Training!

I spent two years earning a teaching degree and another two and a half years actually doing it. I’m a voracious reader and self-educate on any number of topics. You don’t need to convince me of the importance of training or education. With that being said, if you want me to think of it as a priority, perhaps you might consider changing up your program of instruction once or twice in a decade. No matter how fine a narrative I consider a book like Team of Rivals, it ceases to become informative if I read it every year and can predict with near 100% accuracy what’s going to appear on the next page.

On the other hand, if the intent is to simply make sure that one of the multitude of annual training requirement boxes is checked off before time expires, well the powers that be are doing a fine job of course development and instruction. When I know that’s the goal, I can box check with the best of them.