Just like old times

When I had my own consultancy business I used to attend regular networking functions as a means of meeting prospective clients and promoting myself. By and large I disliked these events. I’m not made for the superficial glad-handing that is part and parcel of these things. I don’t like to blow my trumpet too hard and hyperbole is not my go. Some of these events can be pretty feral. Most people are reasonable and friendly, but there are occasions you’ll struggle to get your hand back after a handshake, and it goes without saying that everyone wants something out of you.

I always made a point of going to catered events because it was only tolerable with a drink in my hand (though – to be fair – I met many interesting people, and even dated one). And I wouldn’t go unless there was an interesting speaker.

A good speaker or subject would drag me out even when I wasn’t trying to sell something, and this was another essential aspect of these get togethers. I presumed the opportunities of getting new business from these events was minimal, and was proven right, but the opportunity of learning something new and important and interesting was always an allure. It was my way of keeping across things as generally the subjects were cutting edge.

I went to another such event last night, the first in ages. I got the invite out of the blue as way back when I attended their previous meetings. It was in the city, there was beer on tap, good cheese and tasty hot food and – as it turned out – the topics were both useful and interesting (cyber-security in its different guises, and SD-WANs).

I sat there listening with my mind ticking over trying to put things into context and imagining how I would apply these learnings in a real world situation. I connected these things with other things I knew, putting together a conceptual picture. This is what I’m good at, but it’s not dissimilar from the process of writing whereby I take in information piecemeal and begin layering it, using my imagination to make connections and fill the gaps in between.

Before and afterwards I did the usual glad-handing, though without much commitment. I was more interested in hearing other people’s stories. As I did I found my mind whirring once more. Responses came automatically to my lips, experience informing my words. I heard myself and was surprised by authoritative and knowledgeable I sounded. It’s not that I don’t know, it’s just that it’s so rarely called upon these days that I forget I have that knowledge. Come the moment there it was, and I found myself much like the guy elevated to a higher level who finds his performance lifting to match the challenge.

I left thinking about much I miss actually using my brain in that way. Feels an awful waste, but whatever.

I walked to Flinders Street station in my suit. It was getting on towards 9pm and it was dark and city crowds dispersed for the day. In a way that was familiar as well – how many times have I headed home after dark coming from a CBD bar or dinner, or an event like this? Hundreds of times. Back in the day I’d have grabbed a potato cake from the platform kiosk for some sustenance on the homeward journey. Those kiosks are now gone in the name of alleged progress, so instead I indulged myself in a bagful of lollies from the lolly shop on the concourse. I chewed on them decadently as the train took me home, a book in my ears and an attractive woman across from me.


Same shit

I’ve been back at work short of a week and while it hasn’t been that bad nothing really has changed. I’m almost certain I’ve never worked for a less competent organisation than this. Even the simple things they manage to fuck up.

An example of that is an event they held last Friday night for more senior staff to celebrate an event. These happen occasionally and I generally attend, though often they’re pretty dull affairs. On this occasion I had no idea of the event until about 4.30 on Friday when a colleague on the other side of the building called me to see if I was going. What’re you talking about? I asked. He answered as if I should already know all about it, but I’d not heard a thing.

I went and had a chat with the organiser, a lovely woman I often share a laugh with. She told me she’d been delegated the task by my manager. She’d sent out the invitations excluding me, and others, upon instruction. She’d got some feedback and been forced to invite some of the others that had missed out, and had actually made the point of asking my manager if I should be included, along with my offsider. The answer she received was a strong no.

In effect this meant that my counterparts in other areas were invited, but we were left out without explanation. Now, I wouldn’t have attended anyway, but this is really poor, though typical of the place. It’s woeful management and I intend to bring it up in my next meeting with my manager. As it turns out my offsider had felt similarly aggrieved.

This sort of episode makes me shake my head, but I don’t take it personally. I don’t really care at that level. It riles me from a professional point of view though. Get it right! It’s not as if this was particularly challenging.

Otherwise there’s a bit of action stirring with recruiters. The digital manager here gave me a list of people to contact and they’ve been receptive – nothing’s better than a qualified referral. Let’s see what happens.

Back to the drudge

Back at work as of yesterday and while it was something I dreaded it wasn’t as bad as I feared. I was back in my groove pretty quickly and driven on to make sure nothing had been fucked up in my absence, and that no-one had tried to interfere with my stuff.

Second day back and the novelty has worn off, but it’s okay still and tomorrow in any case is another public holiday. I’ll be sitting there watching the big Anzac day clash sipping on a bottle of wine with a friend and chewing on home-made pork pot-stickers.

There’s very little to report on from the work perspective, which is both good and bad. Good in the sense that nothing was fucked up; bad in the sense that it would be nice if something new and interesting occasionally occurred.

I was back in the saddle and in control pretty quickly. After that I caught up with a few people and had informal meetings. One of those was with the marketing director who sat down with me and mapped out a list of people I should contact regarding job opportunities elsewhere. I’ve already started on that.

This was one of the disappointing aspects of my time off. I’d hope to get some real traction in the job search and instead got a lot of wheel spin. There seemed little about relevant to me, and while I had a few conversations nothing much of substance came out of it. I returned to work with only one iron in the fire, and that not particularly encouraging with the NBN.

These days it’s all about contacts and networking. I used to have a bunch of good contacts and a great network. Over the years many of those have moved on and my time in the wilderness was fatal for quite a few of those relationships. I’m reliant on the support of others, which is why the leg-up yesterday was so valuable.

I’m off to a networking function next week and hope to be meeting up with some of these contacts for a coffee and a discussion about how we can do business together.

Unfunny comedies

I was in a meeting yesterday which sums up much of my disdain for this place.

Including me, there were seven of us in the meeting. The meeting was called by someone else but supposedly was my meeting, though I get nothing out of it and generally feel as if I’m reporting to the headmaster.

In the meeting yesterday there were three people who didn’t say a word over the 35 minutes we were in the room. Two of them were the initial reason for the meeting. I was looking for assistance to help me manage the back-end of the chatbot and they were the best options – I didn’t need or want the others, but then mediocrity needs a quorum. That they said nothing surprised me not at all because that’s what they’ve done – nothing. That’s despite repeated requests and offers to sit with them, etc. They’re busy, I get that, but if they don’t come to the party then basically the whole point of it is moot to me. So they just sat there like stunned mullets.

The other silent visitor was someone who I don’t even know why she was there. Probably invited herself.

Then there were the two Ops managers, including my direct manager. They’ve shown no interest otherwise but put them in a meeting like this and they’re like a couple of government back-benchers sniffing a photo opportunity and willing to shoulder the other out of the way. They’re all smiles in front of the camera, but once it’s gone they couldn’t give a shit. It’s probably more acute in this industry, but they epitomise much of my experience with middle managers – mediocrities who think they’re more important than they are and always trying to prove it. They lack all self-awareness.

Give them a platform like this and they visibly inflate, but it’s all about them. They’re trying to sketch out their angle whilst seeming managerial.

There was another manager dialling in from Brisbane, but for him, the focus was on the work. He gave no thought to how he looked or how he might be able to leverage the situation. He’s a smart guy who feels no need to prove it. He’s solutions focussed, and though we sometimes disagree on what the best solution looks like I respect him. Furthermore, I can work with him because he doesn’t go away when the cameras do.

Then there was the digital manager, the guy I have a dotted line into for this project, basically there at my behest. I wanted him there because he could say things I couldn’t, and reinforce some key points. I’m junior to everyone at that meeting bar the silent ones, but he’s senior to all of them.

I’ve had my occasional issues with him – I don’t trust him altogether and think he’s manipulative with a good portion of wide boy in him, but he’s smart, smarter than most of them there, and though he’s running a strong agenda as well, his agenda boils down to getting the best result.

Finally, there’s me. You know how I feel, but I contain it pretty well. I’m very to the point. I’m always all about the work, though naturally, I have my own opinion of how that work should go. I’ve been trying to push that awhile, but against vested interests. I don’t bother with any fripperies because I don’t want to have that relationship with most of these people. I butt up against a few of them regularly and they generally know that I see things differently to what they do.

There’s one who has a smug manner and a permanent sneer. He likes brow-beat others to his way of thinking and is not above being sneaky and trying to arrange things to his advantage behind the back of others. Anyway, I refuse to submit to this character and so he knows we’re in opposite camps.

All of this explains a lot of what I feel here. I hate this rubbish, I hate how it makes me think these things, and I hate how it makes me feel. I’m a simple character these days. All I want to do is do the job to the best of my ability, but I’m unwilling to step aside from it. I don’t want anything to do with politics or petty ambitions but I have to deal with those things. I’m sick of the abject mediocrity and I’m all too aware of the absurdity of it all.

Half of me is utterly dismayed, and the other half laughing at the human comedy. It’s a bitter laugh though because it’s a dark comedy.

Finding another horse

I’m home today. Generally being run down means I get a bunch of small ailments. The last couple of days it’s been a chest cold that has flared up. I’m very tired too, and actually visited the Doc the other night where I discovered my blood pressure had shot through the roof. I think it’s time to take care of myself better. Foremost is the need for a decent break, both mental and physical. I just need to properly detox and I’ll think I’ll be right. The good news is that I’ve had a three-week break in April approved, so not long to go.

What would be very useful to my good health is a decline in job-related stress. One way or another I can see a change coming.

I set myself last Friday to make a call on my future at work. On Friday I met with the GM to get some clarity about my role going forward and to make a claim for more money. I wasn’t going to make demands or engage in a debate. I simply know where I stood so I could make an informed decision.

Nothing too surprising came out of that except, perhaps, that the justification for the work I’ve done over the last 12 months had become shaky. There was no clear path forward for me and certainly no extra dollars. He understood my frustration and vocalised my options for me – stick around and hope things get better or leave for something else. It was pretty clear he was open to that option.

The issue is that the chatbot I’ve been working on is now being seriously challenged by another option being championed by the IT manager – the brother-in-law of a woman working at the company looking to get the business. The rival option is quite different – cost is in the millions, but is a managed service. It seems to me that the GM – a canny political operator – has his money on that horse. It would mean everything I’ve done is pretty well scrapped and – naturally – my role under serious threat.

Let me put this in context. For the last ten months, I’ve been jockeying this horse around the course. It’s been a willful, uncooperative horse for much of that time but gradually I’ve come to tame it – to the point that it’s now running smoothly and getting some very good results. Big wins are close. There are some in the crowd cheering it on and appreciative of the work I’ve done on the horse’s back. There are others who give a cursory clap, but don’t really care – and some actively barracking against it. Their money is another horse. What that they threaten is replacing the horse beneath me, and choosing another (set) of jockeys.

This is indicative of the rival factions at work who do battle over every scrap. The faction backing the application I’m working on now have the support of the Sales department, which has all the clout. They make the money and they dictate much of the policy. After being disinterested ten months ago they’re now gung-ho. I raised this with the GM and he was pretty well dismissive of the possibility.

None of this helps me understand where I stand, except that it’s in a volatile position.

Rather than opting to hand in my notice, which was my initial thought, I made the decision to hang around until the end of the month before going on leave. Things are shifting and potentially the picture would become clearer as April came near, or so I figured. At the same time, I can begin the search for another role with the plan to properly get into it when my leave comes along. Ideally, I’d go on holiday and not come back.

I’m actually feeling reasonably secure despite the circumstances. I met with a representative of Sales on Monday who floated the notion of coming to work for them. There were plenty of opportunities she said, and you’re well looked after. I hate Sales, but I can appreciate that their harder edge means things get done and that I would be empowered as I’m not in Ops. And, naturally, I’d walk in the door with $20K extra in my pocket regardless of job, and likely more. So, that’s a stand-by.

Preferably I would leave the company altogether. The prime opportunity is with the chatbot vendor. They like me, and they need me too, whether they know it or not. The GM made comments that reflected on the engagement model used by the existing vendor and the slow cycle times – which basically comes down to being without consultants to guide and assist.

I’ve got someone else sussing out recruiters for me, and I’ll be making calls today.

Best case scenario come my break I’ll have time to properly relax on a real holiday knowing I’ve got something far better to go to.

Opportunities, maybe

I’ve just about resolved in my mind I’ll be leaving this place, the main questions being how and when. I gave myself a fortnight to figure it out last weekend. I didn’t want to act impulsively and give myself time to consider the implications and options. If I was making the decision today it would be a done deal.

It’s a bit scary, but at the same time positively invigorating. I’ve never been afraid of taking a risk, and while it has led me into trouble a few times it’s also provided me with great opportunity and rewards on occasion. I’m very much a believer in having a go, in living boldly, in acting without regret. Just about the worst thing I can contemplate is getting to the point where I wonder what might have been if only I’d had a crack. For all my faults no-one can accuse me of being timid or afraid.

In this case, I am also feeling encouraged. Nothing is certain but I feel as if there is a strong chance of stepping into another role much more interesting and lucrative. I speak of the vendor I’m working with implementing the chatbot. They regard me highly and have suggested if I move on then there may be opportunities either with them or with one of their clients. I’m meeting with the CEO again next week.

Yesterday I met with their newly appointed relationship manager. When I first heard about his appointment I thought it less likely they would find a role for me. He’s only part-time but would be on decent coin. Potentially that means less to go around. I identified a couple of opportunities for them, with relationship management and business development being prime. That role is now covered, more or less. The other side of it is consulting, which is essentially non-existent in their business model, but a great opportunity.

I’m not crazy about consulting – or rather, I suspect I’m a bit over it. Still, I’m a prime candidate for it given my skill set, and it might be different in this scenario. I’ve been working on this project for about a year, the first six months of which was learning the ropes and basically reinventing the wheel. So much easier had there been a consultant by my side guiding and assisting and educating. That six months might have been concatenated into 6-8 weeks. I managed without and out of it have gained a lot of knowledge and have created a product which the RM yesterday was well ahead of the crowd.

It was an interesting meeting. He was smart and asked great questions and I was pretty candid with him. He told me how AI was a burgeoning market still well short of maturity, and I was in a great position to take advantage of that. He actively encouraged me to stick with it as a great vehicle to further my career. We discussed, in general terms, how advantageous it would be if there was a consulting arm of their business and agreed on how it would work.

I don’t know if the CEO has told him of my restlessness, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he had. Regardless, the meeting yesterday served to validate much of what we have done and encouraged me to believe that if I make the break that something more will be available.

It’s still not a done deal. I’ll size things up over the next week. I’ll meet with the CEO. I’ll see what happens here. Hoping though that I can leave with something good to go to. A holiday in between would make it perfect.

Bringing the walls down

So, last week caught up with my direct manager and after a bit of preamble spoke to her about what happens after I wrap up the project I’m on. I said I’d been in this job for over two years now and didn’t want to go back to what I was doing before. She said there was an opportunity ahead, though not until July, where there’ll be budget for a new function incorporating chat, social media, complain management, etc – basically all stuff I’ve either dome or designed processes for. Theoretically I’d be in the box seat to head it up.

At the back of my mind I’m thinking, and what happens for the rest of this financial year? – but she went on. You do great work, she said. The problem is that you’ve rubbed some people up the wrong way.

This is an old conversation she circles back to every time. I’ve come to think it’s her way of keeping me in my box. I understand in a way. I’m a forceful personality, generally sure of myself regardless who I’m speaking with. I also happen to be articulate and smart, and she’s trying to remind me you’re not perfect buster. Fair call, but I sense there’s something personal in it for her, as if those qualities in general are a threat to her.

Whatever the case I know there’s truth to what she says but, as I told her, I don’t really care.

I accept you’re never going to please everyone. I take the general view that if someone doesn’t like me it’s their problem. Of course, there are exceptions to that, but it’s generally the case – it’s no good going about worrying what people think of you. I’ve come from far more robust environments than this one. I’m never nasty or abusive. I don’t harass anyone. I never make it personal. As she admitted, the worst I get is a little gruff with some people. Part of that is a focused, direct way of dealing with things, which is much more common in the corporate environments I’ve been part of. No-one bats an eyelid there (never, in my experience), and are grown up enough to get on with things regardless.

This is the least professional organisation I’ve ever worked for, on top of which I’m working to the side of a contact centre, and I’m prepared to accept that the culture of such places is much different from the general cut and thrust of what I’m used to. The other factor, perhaps, is that the times are different now.

Whatever, as I told her, if I’m gruff with someone it’s generally no accident. There’s a bunch of people here I have no respect for because of how they treat their staff. I have no time for them so my interactions are purely business. I’ve no interest in being more than that, and would feel a hypocrite if I acted differently. It’s worth bearing in mind that one of those people has since been suspended after complaints from her staff – so I’m imagining this.

The other lot I’m gruff with are those standing in the way of things, the people who obfuscate and shirk responsibility, who don’t return calls or don’t do what they promise to do. Mostly they’re in IT, and many of them senior to me. I don’t take no for an answer, I keep going and I’ve no doubt it annoys some people but in the end it pays off. As I’ve told my manager previously, the best way to get things done is to do them (something many people could learn). I’ve got no problem with people who do their job – but if you’re being paid to do something and you don’t then you’re fair game.

As I pointed out to her for the millionth time, you expect me to get results but haven’t given me the authority to make it easy. I can either accept that or press on, but you can’t have it both ways. If I do great work it’s because I don’t relent.

All of this, regardless of my rationalisations, was disappointing. I felt boxed up again, and in fact, I’ve scheduled a meeting with HR to discuss it and put it on the table.

Beyond that I wonder where I’m heading here. I was given more encouragement yesterday from another source but it’s all terribly vague. The fact is I don’t like it here. It kills my vibe big time, especially when I’m trying my best to get things done and get frowned upon.

I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done on the project I’m on, but frustrated always that the work I do is far in advance of the salary I’m on. There’s not a day I don’t feel exploited, which is a big part of the problem. And then I’m frustrated that while I deliver a really good project I’m not let into the plans about where this is heading, even though it would make the job easier, and I don’t get a response to my many queries. Ultimately, I’m frustrated that while this has been good I can do so much more, but am never given the opportunity to show it. In the end it all feels pretty small, and so do I.

I know I don’t want to live like this. You get so many years and what you get is a gift that can’t be squandered. I’m lucky that I’ve been made smart and strong and willing and I can’t let it sour in me. I made a lot of it before. I explored a lot and learnt much. I was a goer. Here I keep running into walls. Unless the walls come down I have to find somewhere else, but all this I’ll discuss with HR first.