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!

Unfamiliar paths, and the people you meet

I’ve just come back from having lunch with Jeep, the Thai girl who managed the massage shop for me. It’s her birthday so I shouted a meal at one of the small Thai cafes that sprinkle the city, this one in an arcade off Flinders Street.

I always look forward to catching up with her, and with the others when they occasionally join her. I have strong memories of the shop. It seems a strange time in a strange period of my life. It was not an easy time, but there was good that come of it.

You have to be open to things I reckon, if you mean to live fully. If you were sensible you would suggest taking on the shop was a serious misstep, and you’d be right. Except living is more than just about sense and practicality. I could have maintained the straight and narrow and I wouldn’t have learned anything much, and certainly wouldn’t have a bunch of good stories to tell. Sometimes you have to venture off the familiar path. It was an experience, and one of the positives of the experience were the people I encountered along the way.

For a guy used to working as a corporate taking on a massage shop will always be a daring idea. You reckon you’re smart, you reckon you’re savvy, you even reckon you’ve got some toughness about you, but gee, it’s a steep learning curve.

I would never have managed without huge amounts of help. The nature of the business is that you need human bodies, and the more you need the more complex it becomes. Machines are predictable, humans aren’t.

It’s a transient type of business and there is constant turnover of staff. You employ students, travellers, massage professionals, and they come from all over, Australia and Europe but most of all from Asia. Most are pretty good, though not always reliable, and some not so good. It’s the nature of things, the odds you play. But you have to manage it. As an Aussie private schoolboy from the ‘burbs you’re not really equipped to take this on without trial and much error.

I was lucky in that I got help. Over the journey probably most of my staff were Thai, and most of them hard-working, bright, considerate and kind by nature. I had genuine relationships with a lot of them. I liked them and they liked me.

Jeep became my manager. She’s someone I would recommend her for anything. She had a brusque efficiency and innate integrity. She had a great ability to bring order and intelligence to complex situations. It’s pretty hairy running a massage shop, let me tell you. We were open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. You have to manage rostering and salaries, bookings and customers. Every day there’s a challenge. Someone is sick or turns up late. The phone doesn’t work or the air-con is broken. Or, worst of all, there are no customers.

It’s stressful because – as an owner – you never really rest. Even when you’re home you’ve got half a mind on what’s happening at the shop, and as it’s open 84 hours a week there are few moments when you could relax.

You have to have someone you can trust implicitly. Jeep was that person for me. She was never flustered, sometimes stern, and often funny. She had the respect and affection of everyone, which is one reason we still keep up.

She’s always given me a bit of cheek. In the years since the shop closed we catch up erratically and otherwise connect by social media and the odd message. She’s never shy of calling me for help with her tax, her CV, a job application, or pretty well anything. I don’t mind helping. I sort of feel I owe her that, and good karma, etc.

What I represent to her I’m not sure. They – the girls – used to call me best manager ever. So maybe that’s it. I always treated them with respect and affection, and we had fun. It was what I believed in, treat everyone as an individual. Whatever the reason I’m always chuffed when we catch up. Regardless of how the shop wound up, it feels a worthwhile achievement. I expect we’ll be friends for life.

Seeking fair work outcome

Received a kick to the gut today.

When I took on this job I was promised that when payment reviews were conducted at the EOFY then I would receive an automatic pay rise of $6K annually. As I took on the role I had further discussions about my role and how it was classified, and the salary that went with it. At the time I contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman seeking information. When they offered to represent my complaints to the company I demurred, deciding to see how things played out. You may recall I made comment on it at the time.

My two major issues are that I was classified within a clerical award when my role does not fit within it. I am basically a business analyst, with a bit of project manager thrown in. I believed the classification was a rort to justify the modest wage. In terms of dollars I am being paid approximately $30k – $40K beneath the market rate.

I was made a variety of promises at the time, none of which have eventuated in any meaningful way, but I was willing to give them a chance.

In discussions leading into the pay review my manager told me she had recommended a substantial pay rise for me. Today, when I was called in to receive notification of my revised salary, I learned that my pay-rise was a measly $2,600, including super.

I didn’t say much. There’s not much to say at this point. Had I a handy shotgun I might have made a scene, but really I’m the pretty calm type. I returned to my desk and checked again to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake. I was stunned. I couldn’t quite believe it. I was a sceptic going into the process, but I presumed that at a minimum they would pay what they had promised me. Aren’t I the fool?

Whatever loyalty I felt towards the business evaporated. It’s hard not think them a bunch of nasty cunts.

Look, the money is important, not just the principle of it but for practical reasons – but what really riles me is the sheer arrogance of the organisation. I tried to be fair and reasonable with them, I was patient, and they go and snub their nose at me without even bothering to uphold their commitment. They could offer me an extra $20K now and I’d still want them to burn. It’s a shocking organisation and it’s time they became accountable.

I’ve gone back to the Fair Work Ombudsman, making the additional point that it is company practice to fill roles from internal staff knowing that they don’t have to match market rates. Basically it’s exploitation, and pretty widespread.

What that means for me I don’t know. I suspect it makes my tenure here untenable, but I’m not about to resign. I can deal with some awkwardness, and if they want to be rid of me then they can pay for it. Otherwise, naturally, I’m on the lookout.

Scary times, again, but I don’t think I could do otherwise.