In the job

I’m now 2 weeks into the new job and I remember now what it’s like.

When you’re a supplicant for a role you imagine all the hurdles you must clear to gain the it. In your mind you expect they are terribly professional and competent and to do well you must be at your very best. It’s wise to presume, but in my experience it’s very rarely the case.

When I think of the places I’ve worked I struggle to remember one that has been entirely competent. Most places have one or two areas of the business at which they excel, led by switched on management and staffed by nimble professionals. Other places have some semblance of that throughout, though perhaps stultified in part. Some places are just a mess from top to bottom.

I’ve moved into my new role and been made to contend with the same old frustrations. I try to get information and can’t, trying one person after another. I send emails that don’t get answered. Dealing with bureaucratic process a request that might take 5 minutes to resolve I’m told won’t be looked at for 3 weeks. And the work itself often seems random and unconsidered.

I’m not good in those situations. I become frustrated, both practically and philosophically. I can’t get my work done properly, and at the same time wonder how such a situation can be tolerated. I shake my head searching for the person responsible for a process, a function, an application, with no-one putting their hand up. And the discourtesy of people ignoring my emails grates on me, though it doesn’t surprise me altogether either. I’m old school enough to think it unacceptable behaviour, no matter who you are, and I take note for future reference those who ignore me.

All the while I’m attempting to do my job, pushing hard and agitating, asking questions and shouldering my way in. I’ve forced responses from people by scheduling meeting requests they must respond to, and at other times walking over to them at their desk. Progress is made, but not as surely or as swiftly as I would like. I’ve had no support from above.

For the most part any doubts I had coming into the role about my suitability have been dispelled. I was always confident, but until you’re in the seat can’t be sure – and anyway, this might be the place where you must excel just to get by. It isn’t though.

By and large I feel more professional and switched on. It’s become evident to me that at least I have experience in something which others have been appointed to without. There are very clever people, but the general operational process is messy, confused, and bureaucratic, and without an overarching strategy.

There are exceptions to that. Two of the people I’m dealing with are very competent, even if one is an unreliable communicator. Theirs are the functions that seem to excel because they have the knowledge, and the confidence that goes with it. I was in a meeting with one of them during the week, a very switched on and attractive woman in her early thirties. It was all at her fingertips, not just the details, but the permutations of those details. That’s what I want, but I felt a little abashed trying to come to grips with something I knew little about.

While I’m busy doing my work my mind is ticking over and I think of how much better things might be done, and occasionally I’ll make a note. That’s what my sweet spot is. At the same time I find myself wondering at the function I’m working in: Continuous Improvement. It sounds fine and right up my alley, but I’m not sure that’s actually what I’m doing. I believe the function of continuous improvement is proactive, identifying issues and opportunities, assessing options, and designing solutions. I believe it should be approached in a holistic sense, knowing that everything is connected.

It seems to me the function I’m a part of is entirely reactive, boiling down to service delivery. I may be harsh, and after 2 weeks there’s a lot I’ve still to learn. And given my manager has been absent most of those 2 weeks still much I haven’t been advised off. It’s a conversation I’ll have in the coming weeks.

After such a long break from it it should be strange returning to a job of this nature, but it isn’t. It’s like something I’ve always known and I slip back into it. More surprising maybe is that I seem unchanged. After all that’s happened I might have expected some hesitancy. Except that it’s not really surprising. I’ve probably changed profoundly in some ways internally, but I still react the same way. I’m still brazen and confident. If anything I feel re-validated. If anything is lacking it’s that hard rock of inner conviction.

For years and years I had that bulletproof conviction and it was resounding. It was not something I needed to question, it just was. Of course since then there have been endless occasions when I’ve had to question that, and much else. That’s not a bad thing. What was automatic before is now something I have to think about. What I took for granted now requires consideration. If I am to return to that then it will be based on something more than inherited vibe.

Though I don’t as yet carry that formidable conviction, my behaviour is not much different. I’m still confident enough that I can get by comfortably without that certainty, and I suspect in the eyes of others I occasionally become a bold character.

I have to guard against this. I’m in the job to get back in the game and to put something more substantial on my CV. I have to do my time, and be humble. That’s the idea. Yet it’s not me really. I’ve always been careless of authority and position. I’ve had my eyes on the job and the best way to get it done. That’s what motivates me. I see so much that can be different, and how the function I’m a part of may be better aligned. In my mind I know how to go about it, what needs to be done – and I want to do it! I can’t keep it in, but if I’m sensible I’ll let it out slowly and with respect.

That’s the difference between me and my manager. She is a lovely, very smart lady who I don’t think knows a lot about the nitty-gritty of continuous improvement. I suspect she was appointed to the role because she is a very good manager, and knows how to work the system. I know the nitty-gritty, and while I’m a good people manager my instinct is to subvert the system. I’m not the diplomat I should be, nor do I have the patience to be a decent politician. I’ll write about this another time – it’s one of the insights I’ve gained in recent years. Basically though, I have to learn to work within the system, rather than rebelling against it – and it all comes down to identity.

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