Approaching the bridge


Tonight is the company Christmas party at some glitzy venue down Docklands way. I thought twice about attending, but allowed myself to be persuaded. Like I keep telling myself, a free feed and booze is nothing to be sneezed at.

It’s funny because in the barren years I lived through one of the things I missed was the company Christmas party. It was not that I yearned for the event itself so much, rather it became a kind of symbol and reference point. I went about five years without an invitation – or opportunity – for any such parties, and it was a symbol of the situation I was in. I knew in myself that the day I had a party I could go to was the day I knew I was on the up again.

Last year was the first for many that I received an invitation in my inbox. I didn’t go because I had something else on, but it was enough that I had an invitation I could turn down. This year, though there are no such calendar conflicts, I was reluctant to accept once more.

I don’t think highly of the company I work for. I hate admitting that, but think they have dubious ethics, and pay lip service towards their employees. There are good people here, and there are some sincere and looking to change things. I hope they succeed, but they are coming from a long way back. I’m happy to support and add my shoulder to that – I’ll suspend my disbelief. But then of the people I like or am close to in the business there’s a few that have recently departed, and others not going tonight. I’m going for two other reasons.

The lazy reason is that I didn’t fight it when I was urged to accept, and went along with it when they put me on their table. Like I said, a few laughs, a good meal, a few glasses of vino is no bad thing – and may be a lot better than that, who knows.

There’s another reason why I can’t miss the party tonight.

On general principles I’m not sure if this is the right or wrong thing, and don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but… There’s a girl. Just that, no more. We get on well, we like each other. There’s nothing more than that as yet, a budding possibility that maybe we’re both open to. It’s hard at work to get that going. You need to get away from the formal environment and to somewhere looser and free form. That’s why I think I must go tonight – because if I don’t I doubt it would ever get off the ground, but if I do it might take me somewhere altogether different.

So why am I only ‘maybe’ open to it. Like I say every time, I don’t want to get involved with someone at work. It’s messy, it’s awkward, and everyone has an opinion. I say it every time, and a good dozen times later I’m still saying it. It really gives me pause, but not sure it’s enough to veto.

The other reason is that I still feel a bit gun-shy about my circumstances. There’s a lot of embarrassing explaining to do, which I know I must, and part of me wants to – needs to – but it’s scary as well and I don’t know what to think. Making it worse in way is that I project a certain image. People have an idea of me which is very different from the reality. I probably exaggerate the importance of that, imagining the disappointment of someone who thinks I’m one thing and finds another. At the end of the day I’m me, aren’t I? independent of circumstances.

This is a bridge I have to cross, if not tonight, with this woman, then at a future date, with someone else perhaps. I have to move on, and maybe that starts tonight – and that’s why I’m going to the party.

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Office shenanigans


After a couple of very industrious weeks I get into work and it feels very much like a Monday. I feel washed out and unmotivated. I’m sure I’ll fire up, but it might take a few cups of coffee before I properly rouse.

It’s been a very cool start to the month, but it’s warmed up the last few days to become very pleasant. I was in shorts yesterday and last night ventured over to the Cheeses for a few cold beers, a barbecued meal, and a bottle of red watching the soccer. The problem is getting home my place has no meaningful insulation. If it’s 25 outside it’s 25 inside. Unfortunately it takes longer to cool down than it does to heat up, and so it was a warmish night.

Right now my manager is on annual leave, which frees me up a bit. We get on well, and banter quite a lot, but I’m glad to have the place to myself. When she’s here my perspective is almost entirely filtered through her. Things I plan to do are interpreted by her and explained to her manager. Her manager responds and shares other news and I get it through her. It’s rare I get the direct interaction, which is frustrating.

In this situation Chinese whispers plays a part. Whatever I intend is always abbreviated in the telling, and often skewed, deliberately or otherwise. I’d love the opportunity to sit down and explain what I’m doing and what I plan, and give some context to it. None of it is accidental, all of it has purpose, and in theory it fits into a strategy. None of that is shared, and by and large no-one has any idea of what I’m but for what they see.

Leaving the office the other day I bumped into the manager of the Business Intelligence team. We used to sit close by and formed an appreciation of each other. He’s a smart man, and shares some of my opinions about the best way forward. Though by comparison I’m a lowly peasant, as has been made abundantly clear, he always takes the time to share his initiatives with me, often seeking my perspective.

What do you think of so-and-so? He asked me, referring to the new big manager. Seems alright I said, though I haven’t had much to do with him. Why’s that? He asked. Because I have to go through my manager, I told him. He asked about that, wrinkling his brow. That’s a pity, he said at the end of it.

I don’t know if I’m paranoid, but sometimes I feel that there is a deliberate ploy to keep me from the key power-brokers. I wonder why that is. I’m excluded from meetings everyone else believes I should be part of, and hear of important things by chance, when in my role I should have been consulted from the get go. And any opportunity to expose me further is quickly closed off.

Sometimes I think that my manager wants to keep me for herself. Sometimes, less charitably, I wonder if she hopes to take credit for things I do. I’m not a big one for getting clapped on the back, but I believe credit should go where it’s due. There certainly appear some instances of this. Whatever the reason I’m effectively kept in a box and well away from anyone I might influence or impress.

By now I have established a sort of network through the business. In general I know which people to go to, and have well and truly sussed out who’s savvy and who isn’t. By the same token I think I’ve earned the respect of those people myself. They’re not necessarily the people who make decisions, but they’re the people who’ll get things done. Once more though I feel as if my contact with these people, which is generally informal, but formalised in some instances, is frowned upon. It’s like I’ve strayed from the path they’ve set for me.

This has been moderately frustrating to me throughout, and I’ve made representations occasionally to correct it. I’m listened to, sometimes I even get agreement, but nothing ever changes.

There is wrinkle to this situation which may have ramifications down the track.

My manager and her manager, who is new, are very different characters. She’s a jolly type, very capable, sometimes quite direct, but very pragmatic to. I’ve had limited interactions with her manager, but he appears a very precise type, fastidious in appearance and with great energy and resolution. He clearly knows his stuff, and is now in a situation where he wants to make his stamp. He’s certainly more dynamic than his predecessor.

I sensed very early on that they were not sympatico. Observing from the outside there appears a basic mismatch of energies. I work close to my manager and she has made the odd comment suggesting she was unconvinced by him. He’s not nearly as blatant as that, but observing some of his reactions and the look in his eye I thought he was just as unconvinced. Then, on Friday, I heard something more substantive.

I may be a cynic, but I don’t think situations such as this are sustainable. If there isn’t complete trust something will break down. It either needs to be mended, or a decision must be made lest there be ongoing dysfunction.

This impacts upon my role. If something happens to my manager then my position could become precarious. It may also result in a more productive re-structure (logically my role should be reporting to him anyway).

In the meantime I’ve been drafted onto another project to implement a KMS. That will be interesting, and probably secures my tenure to completion (mid-Jan supposedly, but I can’t see how they can get it done by then). This project, as is another I’m a part of, is part of a corporate initiative which I had been proposed to join as a full time member, with pay rise. Nothing has happened with that, but it looks like I’ll be doing the work anyway – just not getting the reward for it.

With Christmas coming up I’m not awfully fussed just now. I’m doing a bunch of things I enjoy, and despite constraints blazing my own path. It’s gone well beyond the point where I much care about toeing the corporate line. As a result I’ve raised informally and become involved in a serious proposal to implement a major initiative to automate many of the current manual processes. As always it’s very much the tail wagging the dog in this place, but I’m learning the political game and have partnered with the Finance manager to champion this (surely my manager would disapprove, but she doesn’t know can’t hurt her).

On top of that I got cornered by some guys looking to implement a continuous improvement framework in the business seeking my counsel and experience. I’ve been happy to share, and they’ve hung off every word. Some of it might be controversially blunt, but it’s practical and correct. Theory is fine, but if you don’t create pathways nothing will ever change.

It’s all about the logic


Back at work today, I dropped by Brother Baba Budan on the way in to get my morning coffee. It was just on 8am and people were slowly filtering into the CBD. Brother Baba Budan has some of the best coffee in town, but there was no-one in queue and, other than a few bohemian looking types, not overly busy. It was that time of day I guess.

I was in suit and my bohemian days, sadly, are behind me. I do have a beard now though, which is a small concession to individuality.

At work I’ve been busy doing things. I’m focused today, sharp, which is a departure from recent times. I’ve been restless and unmotivated, and there have been issues to work through. They came to a head Friday when I returned to work.

I had sent an impatient email from home a few days before, which had the belated effect of hurrying HR along. I was told they had come to a decision. Friday afternoon I was led into one of the meeting rooms by my manager, whereupon she began reading from the HR judgement.

There were no surprises. They had basically ignored my previous application and arguments in favour of a different classification, and reiterated their standing position. To that extent I had the award read out to me in all its vague and generic detail. My argument from the start was that my role was not an award role, and even if so, it had been applied to the wrong award. They couldn’t come at that, and so the outcome was pre-ordained.

The one concession they made, possibly inadvertent, was to state that my role was rated a classification higher than the band I had been paid within. My recent pay-rise took me to the very bottom of the award – ergo, for the previous 8 months I had been underpaid. I asked for that to be followed up, and also enquired why if I was now within that band why I was due the minimum amount? That too I want followed up.

It was a testy day. The episode has started to wear thin all round. My own manager has begun to take it more personally. I left deflated, and pondering my future.

I went to catch up with friends for a quick drink at Collins Quarter. I wasn’t really in the mood, but I was happy to catch up. In the end I was there for about 5 hours.

The people I met with was mum’s best friend, and her husband. To her I am my mum’s proxy, and so she is attached to me. He is an intelligent and interesting man, a self-made millionaire who now tinkers with business more as a hobby than a profession. We all get on well.

Two important things happened on Friday night. Firstly, I admitted that I had ‘been struggling’. I have never done that before, with anyone. I’m old school Aussie bloke. I keep it buttoned up. It’s become clear to me that I can’t do that much longer, for a variety of reasons. I need to let some of the air out.

The second thing was a surprise. Perhaps related to my admission I mentioned how I want to do something meaningful. I mentioned the social mentoring project I’m trying to get off the ground, and their ears pricked up. Turns out he’s been looking around to find a vehicle to give something back. Charity doesn’t interest him as he doesn’t see what happens with his money, besides, he’s a man who likes doing things. My idea intrigued him. He agreed there was nothing else like it out there. He could see the value. And he asked me to send him some details with the view to getting involved. (His money would be handy, but really it’s experience and network which would be invaluable).

So today I’m back at work with a bit more go forward. I’ve asked to catch-up with my manager later. I’ll reiterate my requests of HR, and I’ll seek to clarify some comments.

One of the things I’ve noticed in recent times is that my manager has begun to take some of my questions as personal challenges. That’s a surprise to me as I’m talking about ‘things’. It’s also ironic as earlier this year I was encouraged to keep pressing my claims with recalcitrant members of the business. Unsurprisingly, it’s different when my focus shifts to them.

What needs to be said is that I am logic driven. I look at things, what they are, how they work, where they belong, etc, and unpick them logically. If I find flaws or anomalies I’ll bring them into closer focus, or comment on them. It’s very much a cool, rationalist approach, independent of just about everything else. It’s certainly not personal.

It’s like a car with a dodgy engine. I might comment on the poor engineering or the previous mechanic’s lax efforts, but I won’t blame the driver. And I’ll set about repairing the engine properly – if not replacing it altogether, and finding a new chassis for it while I’m at it.

What complicates this is that I’m confident, and I pay little regard for position or title. It’s not that I’m oblivious, it’s just secondary to the logic. I don’t play games, I’m not into politics, it’s all about the job.

I don’t expect people to understand it, and I know by now that people get their nose out of joint occasionally because of it – but no-one who knows me well can doubt my fidelity when it comes to implementing the right solution.

Looking for a guru


I posted this yesterday on LinkedIn. I’m looking for a partner for my social mentoring project, recognising that I can’t do it myself.

Do you want to leave the world a better place than you found it? Are you compassionate, as well as driven? Is financial gain and recognition less important than creating something that might provide hope and support to those who need it?

Are you entrepreneurial? Do you itch to do things, to make a difference? Does your mind teem with ideas? Do you have experience with a start-up? Do you have a defined skillset – software development, UX design, marketing? Do you have great contacts?

Finally, are you in Melbourne? I’m interested in hearing from you if you can give an unqualified yes to the first group of questions, and another yes to some of the others.

I’ll admit – I can’t say yes to all these things – but that’s why I’m here. I have ideas and passion and maybe a crazy innocence, and I’m looking for a partner for the journey who has complementary skills and experience, as well as passion.  If you’re curious or interested let me know.

If you know of anybody…

 

 

Doing counts


About a week ago I had a showdown with HR. I’d applied to have my role re-classified, backed by my manager and her manager. HR had responded that after reviewing they saw no reason why it should be changed. That was unsatisfactory, and so a meeting was arranged to discuss.

I went into the meeting armed with facts. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I know in this I’m 100% right. I’ve worked in this industry years in a variety of roles. As I told them, I’ve actually employed people to roles similar to what I’m in now. They have an external, generic view of the function, whereas I’ve got an in-depth and intimate knowledge of it from having been hands on for many years. All the same, I knew I had to play to their rules. I couldn’t force the issue, I had to persuade them.

Fortunately, the HR rep I met with was reasonable and happy to listen. She admitted from her reading that the grading seemed justified, but willing to be proven wrong.

The problem, as I saw it, was that they at the role from the perspective of the award, rather than looking at an award from the perspective of the role. These awards are broadly defined and many of the terms and stated responsibilities very general. It’s very easy to tick things off because there is little – if anything – specifically defined.

Now it’s my belief that a role like mine doesn’t really belong in a standard award – I’ve worked within bands, but never before within an award. Even so, if it has to be then the award should be defined by the role, rather than the other way around.

I explained the discrepancy between what the award states and what I actually do. I said the award by intent is prescriptive: there’s a nail, here’s a hammer, now go to it. My role is much more architectural than that. I’m fully autonomous and the role is almost entirely discretionary.

I brought with me some random materials, evidence of things I had created from scratch. It was a hodge-podge of stuff: requirements docs, flowcharts, a business case, a proposed policy document, another a process proposal, some reporting and analysis I’d built, and so on. I made it clear that often I’ll have to take a lead on things, from project management to managing staff. There’s a huge amount of analytical work, and an awful lot of brain. I’m defining the structure that the hammer and nail is used to build.

I told her to re-think how my role should be viewed – basically as a business analyst, or business process analyst, and at the more senior end of that spectrum (not that I expect those sorts of dollars – that’s more than they’ll ever agree to). My manager was in attendance and basically supported everything.

At the end it was decided that my classification would be independently reviewed. I was sent my PD and invited to add in those elements I think missing from it. Like most PD’s it’s heavy on vibe and light on specific details and, as such, can be interpreted in different ways.

I added in the specifics, focusing on the project management elements – clearly a higher rated function – as well as the analytical and sheer creativity of the role. I made it clear that I acted independently, and even the hierarchy I was a part of was more dotted lines. I did also correct an important error. They had my role reporting into a more junior role when nominally I report into management.

We’ll see what happens now. I think I have a good case, and I can’t see how they can assess it otherwise. Problem is, even if they agree, any changes have to be approved up the line, right up to the CEO – which is clearly ridiculous. Every extra stage reduces the chances of it being approved, and certainly delays the process. I’m not holding my breath.

If I get knocked back then I’ll go to them with a counter proposal. Terminate my FT employment and re-engage me as a contractor or consultant, and at those rates. I doubt they’ll go for it, but it’s worth a try.

I continue to look for other work, and I’ve resurrected the start-up I put on hold 18 months ago. I believe in it, and I need to do something for myself. Doing counts. Problem is I don’t know how, but I can find out.

Pushing on


Friday morning I headed to Crown for a marketing seminar. I’m not a marketing guy, and if I can I try to avoid marketers en masse. I have a marketing clue, but I’m no –one’s idea of a marketing type. I’m part of a couple of projects which overlap with marketing and so I thought it a good idea to get some background.

Breakfast was served, and then a host of speakers got up to present their little pearls of marketing wisdom. I was probably the only non-marketing person in the room, so there was a lot of preaching to the already converted. As a result there were acronyms and trade lingo which took me a moment to parse, but overall it made sense and was interesting, but it was the final speaker who elevated it from being just another promotional breakfast.

He was a marketing dude from Uber, flown in for the occasion. He was dynamic, confident and fascinating. For someone like me, a marketing novice, it was very educational. In a strange way it was also inspiring.

It’s not so much what he said or how he said it, but rather it was an attitude he embodied, and the fact that he had his own very individual ideas. That he had managed to parlay those ideas into functional reality was the crowning triumph. And here he was on the far side of the world telling us about it.

It forced me to reflect on my own circumstances. I’ve always fancied myself a similar type of character, confident, creative, determined, a big thinker. I’ve been lucky enough to use those attributes consistently through my career, and generally been valued for them. It’s different now. I struggle and strain, but I’m in a state of almost perpetual frustration. I still think big, but whatever I push is filtered and compromised by a conservative leadership and an incompetent system. I’m left to fiddle at the edges, doing small things and pushing against ever encroaching constraints.

Listening to the speaker from Uber I remembered how it used to be. I remembered how bold I had once been. The many thoughts and ideas repressed by circumstance bobbed to the surface. I felt energised, wanting to be that person again, to do those things. There are no meant to be’s, but I can confidently say I’m better suited to taking things on than I am simply maintaining an inadequate status quo.

I caught the tram back to work afterwards with these thoughts buzzing in my head. It was self-evident that – regardless of the glittering promotions they promise me – it was impossible to be the person I wanted to at an organisation such as the one I work at. They are fatally compromised both structurally and philosophically. They are a mess of competing objectives, managed in ad hoc fashion. I don’t fit in.

I still have a lot of ideas. I was mildly surprised, and much gratified, to find that getting back into the system that I had lost none of that in my absence. I’m just as capable and just as driven as ever I was. What’s different, I’ve discovered, is that the fripperies of behaviour and attitude have fallen away. I’m blunt, honest and direct, just as I’ve ever been, but more so.

Directness has its own simplicity. You see in straight lines. The way there may not be as straight-forward as that, but you know what you want, what you need, what must be. The question is how to get there. End of the day you just want to be what you can be. You want to be true to what’s inside you.

It’s that truth I want to live by, and ultimately that means I have to find a different pathway. I have no faith in this organisation. I don’t want to be a part of it. This is not the way for me. I’ve put things off at the promise of things different, none of which have yet eventuated, and may never.

I won’t rush things, but I’ve made up my mind. I can’t work like this. I applied for a couple of roles over the weekend, and I’ll keep applying until something comes up.

Absurd truths


Wednesday night TV is the most fun night of TV in my house. I start off with Micallef on the ABC at 8.30. I couldn’t miss this. Not only is it bloody funny, it’s right on the money more often than not.

I reckon Shaun Micallef is some kind of absurdist genius. He takes the events of the week, most of them political, and presents them satirically. There’s a lot of material these days, and much of it naturally absurd – which is the pity of the times we live in. Doesn’t matter how much they are mocked by clever comedians, our politicians blithely continue doing their dumb and evil things.

Despite that Micallef has a unique take on things that will often get me laughing out loud – a rare event, believe me – and sometimes wanting to cry at the cruel truth of it. If you haven’t caught it you should.

Right after that is Working Dog’s production of Utopia. This is probably the fourth season, but just as with Micallef there’s a never ending stream of material.

For those who haven’t seen it it’s another satire, this one set in a government organisation called the Nation Building Authority, or NBA. They are tasked with conceiving and executing huge nationwide infrastructure projects. It’s a sexy sort of organisation and naturally subject to the whims, fancies and political nonsense of the minister and the government of the day.

Tony is the much put upon head of the NBA. He’s a voice of sense and reason who each week is overwhelmed by the collective nonsense of marketing spin and political expedience. I watch it laughing, knowing that so much of it is real. It echoes the headlines, and sometimes anticipates them. It’s true all over.

It’s familiar in a more personal sense too. Often I’ll watch with a knowing eye having witnessed or been the victim of similar shenanigans within the office.

This weeks episode was a case in point. It focussed on a doomed government portal which had been much hyped, but proven to be a technical disaster through it’s many manifestations. The experts at the NBA, asked to assess it, advised it was too expensive to fix and it should be dumped. The minister seized upon the idea that it could be fixed, and with a political glee chose that option, waving off the cost.

Recently in my office there was a substantial and poorly managed project rolling out a new function to customers, which included as key requirement a website customers had to log into. I sat listening to all the stories of woe as the project rolled out, sometimes shaking my head, sometimes laughing at the absurd improbability, and sometimes at the blind incompetence.

The website broke several times. It was replaced with different versions. Each one failed. In the end they created a simple façade without the functionality they originally conceived, but at least it would crash. It meant a whole lot of extra work though.

Most of that could have been prevented had it been properly planned and tested. There should have been load testing and testers should have been asked to try and break it, and all the usual things, none of which happened. Typical of the planning was a date field that had no validation, and so when people entered a date in a format other than what was expected an error would occur. Elementary stuff really, but very real.

Last week I was involved in something which is a good example of how political and marketing imperatives overtake operational need.

One of the issues in ops here is that people don’t close jobs. They keep them open because they’re not sure, or because they over-service, or because they want to game the system. The result of that is open jobs clogging the system and poor productivity.

Now these people have been told repeatedly they should close these jobs and have been provided with data sheets telling them what to do. It still happens, and it frustrates management mightily.

One of the things I know about people is that everyone takes in information and direction differently. Some people are visual, others verbal. Some like detailed instructions, others just want the vibe. Some need to understand themselves before they take it on board, and others don’t need a reason.

In any case I created a pithy solution to make it simple, and complement the other advice that’s been provided.

I created a poster. It was simple, direct, but had a little humour. Have you…then close the job. Have you…then close the job. And so on. Do not pass go, close the job.

The kicker was at the end. It needs to resonate. Slogans are good. Catchcry’s. You want to get their imagination and have them engage with the concept.

The poster finished with: Pull the trigger! Close the job.

That lodges in their mind. Pull the trigger. They get reminded by their colleagues: have you pulled the trigger?

Naturally it got knocked back. Too politically incorrect. Too violent.

Good grief!