Ups and downs

So, I get into work tomorrow determined to let things go and, of course, two things happen.

First one is someone does something inappropriate which basically threw me under the bus. It was recognised as being wrong and management scrambled to rectify the situation, but a lot of the damage couldn’t be undone. Safe to say I had steam coming out of my ears.

Then later in the day I have a meeting with the enigmatic digital manager, the guy ultimately responsible for the project I’m managing. We meet downstairs in a café and talk confidentially. Probably as I’m writing this (8.47am) he’s presenting to the board a strategy he wants them to opt for. It’ a departure from the present steady as she goes philosophy and is contentious with many. It accords with both my assessment of the business and my general philosophy. The things we do should be determined by an overarching strategy and be part of a roadmap in which one things leads onto another. Momentum is built that way and economies of scale achieved.

For this business it’s quite a bold strategy and there’s no certainty it will be adopted. If it is there will be a whole raft of related projects and BAU activities, and he wants me to be responsible for a great slew of the operational components of that. I would basically become a channel manager, which would suit me fine and satisfy much that I need. It changes the conversation from the other day – maybe there is hope here, and maybe I can move on.

The other side of it is if his proposal is not adopted. In that case he reckons there’ll be no place here for him and he’ll move on, and it’ll probably be the same for me It’s all a gamble.

What do I think? I know this place. They’ll aim for a safe compromise solution that satisfies no-one. It’ll blow up to the point they need to make a cal. Which call I don’t know – there’s a lot of politics involved.


The dying parrot

I’m still working hard, but it’s been a struggle the last few days. Normally I’m full of man juice, but it’s been on the wane since I got the news. I’m still at work but I feel a little like the man having caught out his partner cheating on him and persuaded to not do anything drastic, discovers the feeling has gone, the magic has fled, it is, as Monty Python would say, a dead parrot.

There’s no love in me after this. I’m a wholehearted character and I take pride in that. I invest heavily. I put my shoulder into everything I do. I’m self-motivated and enterprising, but I feel now as if I’m going through the motions.

I still haven’t been told why I missed on the job, though it’s becoming clearer. The appointment was announced on Tuesday. The job went to a woman I know and who none of us considered a contender. She was never considered a contender because no-one believed she had the experience – certainly not the technical expertise, and though she has leadership experience, not project management experience either.

I felt both disgusted and relieved when I found out. The surprise was general. I quipped that I now understood why I missed out – clearly experience is unimportant.

I like her in a way, but I’m not as enamoured of her as some others are. She’s generally friendly, and generally gives off the impression of competence, but she has a better reputation with her seniors than she does with her juniors. Had this job gone through a recruiting agency she’d have been screened out in the first phase because of her lack of experience, but there’s the rub.

My offsider despises her. He thinks she’s a phony. As soon as I heard he said “there you go man, that’s why you didn’t get the job”. He reckons I was never a chance once she applied. I didn’t know this, but apparently her brother is on the board and whatever she applies for she gets. Others have since told me the same. If this is true then it’s pretty rude, but probably more common than you think.

I’m not going to think about that too much. It’s pretty scurrilous in the end, and not her fault. I wish her the best. I may have a nasty taste in my mouth, but if it comes to it I’ll support her any way I can.

If it comes to it. The last few days I’ve felt like I just want to give the whole thing away. That’s not sensible, but I feel poorly treated and generally disrespected. I wonder what I’m supposed to do after this, and as if no matter what I do it will come to naught here.

There was another example of that the other day just to rub salt into the weeping wound. About three months ago I attended a vendor presentation, then came back and wrote a high level proposal by email and sent it off to the head of Ops. I articulated clearly a few points which might have a significant impact if adopted. I got zero response.

On Tuesday I was called into a meeting where someone else was presenting exactly what I had proposed months ago. While my email had been ignored this guy had mentioned something in the last month and been encouraged to take it further. Again, I’ve got nothing against this fellow, he’s just doing his job – and he’s a lovely bloke too, if a bit of a duffer. What bit hard is that clearly my opinion counts for nothing. This was my idea, and right in my wheelhouse too – it’s what I do well. But I was disregarded.

It’s hard not to feel put out right now. I sat there last night thinking I’m close to being depressed. It’s funny, I’m very open minded and sensitive and considerate. If someone’s depressed I feel compassion for them. I want to be supportive. When it’s me there’s a residue left over by that masculine juice. I don’t deny it but it riles me. It probably goes back to my competitive instinct – I don’t like to be bested, even by something as insidious as depression. (This is something I have to address one day as it goes to the heart of who I am).

I’ve felt this way before and when I do there’s a moment when I choose to defy it. I won’t go into my shell. That moment came overnight and the response is classic for me. Be big, H, I tell myself. Be bigger, smarter, harder, be better than the situation, go hard in your work, show the world why you are who you claim to be.

The ironic thing is that it goes against what I wrote a couple of weeks ago about hoping to live smaller. I believe that still, but there’s comfort in reverting to old customs, and protection in it too. Choosing to live smaller takes a different type of courage, and makes you more vulnerable.

So I’ll be big again. I assume this role and the world looks upon it and sees someone striding ahead making wisecracks, with no insight into the man inside. It goes against what I want, but perhaps it’s necessary sometimes. So I’ll fake it until in a week or so I’ve made it again. Story of my life.

Time’s up?

Last Tuesday I had an interview for an internal job my experience made me near perfect for. I came away from the interview less confident than I should be. It felt as if they were going through the motions, a view supported by the fact that not one question was asked of my resume – which details previous roles similar to this one, in a range of different organisations. Of course I was itching to share, but could only allude to it.

Everyone told me I was a shoo-in. I’d learnt that there had been no other applicants from this area, which should have held me in good stead given the work will be done in this department. I left the interview being told I would be told the outcome by the end of the week.

Friday came and I was very cool about the whole thing. Experience is in this place is that though something is promised it often slips, so I wasn’t holding my breath. As the day went on without any news though I became more dubious. It was not pessimism. I knew that if they were making a decision then their first priority would be to inform the successful candidate, and the others after. Chances are I had missed out.

I was still in the office at 5.30 Friday. I was having dinner with Donna and was killing time. The department head wandered around on other business but spotting me, called me into a meeting room. What followed was a 27 second conversation in which I didn’t say a word, the basic gist of which was that I had been unsuccessful and he would catch up with me next week to explain.

I was unsurprised. I probably felt disappointment. I felt a kind of anger, but held back on it not knowing who had got the job, and not knowing the reasons why I missed out. By my reckoning there’s maybe one other candidate the equal to me, and then it would be stretching it. Her advantage is that she’s been here a long time and is very efficient. The other options were, to my knowledge, strong technically, but had shown no evidence of the project or change management skills necessary.

I went out, had a nice dinner and a long conversation with Donna, who has just returned from a month in Europe. We discussed my situation and I shared with her my suspicion: that I have been denied this because supposedly I was difficult to deal with.

This is something that has reared its head in the last 6 months, but with very little evidence to support this. In fact, the few times this has been alleged to me no actual circumstances have been cited. The fact is I am more than usually popular with the rank and file who see me as easy going and unpretentious.

If I have issues it is with select groups. My direct manager wants me to engage more with the team leaders. I don’t like them much as a group because they’re basically jumped up mediocrities with pretensions to competence. It’s not actually that which offends me, rather it’s the tyrannical abuse of the small amount of power they’ve been given. It sits very poorly with me observing someone like that stand over their staff either making unreasonable demands or ridiculing them. I deal with them, but I’m polite and well mannered – almost always a sign I don’t like someone.

Otherwise I’ve been told I ask ‘too many questions’ – my response to which is surely scrutiny is better applied to the person unable or unwilling to answer such questions, rather than the person asking them? To be clear, my questions are all about process or the job at hand: what about this? What’s happening with that? And if this happens, what happens then? It’s the way my mind works, but also my experience, always looking a few steps ahead to anticipate issues and outcomes. In my day it was a part of risk management, something that barely exists here. I’ve been uninvited from meanings because I ask too much, but projects go live and predictable issues arise when they may have been prevented. I suspect there is some resentment towards me then, as if I said I told you so (I don’t).

The only other thing I can think of is when I raised the issue of incorrect budgets and the legal risk that posed. That was a very unwelcome discovery and made me very unpopular, even though I was doing the right thing: exposing a flawed and dangerous process. I was threatened with being banned from sales for blowing the whistle. I’m sure there’s still a residue of bitterness to me regarding that.

The other thing I wonder is that because I’m smart, strong and confident if it puts some people on the back foot from the get go.

All these are suppositions, of course. I might be told of a very legitimate reason why I missed out. I’m prepared to accept that, but it has to be good. If this line gets trotted out about being hard to deal with then I’m going to demand the evidence of that. It’s time for them to put up or shut-up.

I was asked if I was angry over the weekend, as if everyone thought I was entitled to be. In response to one such question I said I felt ‘brutal’. Whatever I felt it was heavy and implacable. It felt as if it might roll along crushing anything in its way. It’s rare that I feel that spontaneous, spiky anger that I would occasionally when I was younger. I’m not volatile in that way. That sort of anger can be violent, but can also burn out quickly. If it’s anger I feel these days it’s much more measured, and it is defused by logic. That’s how it has been. I’ve applied my mind to the situation over the weekend and come to work Monday unhappy at what has happened, but at peace with it to.

What that means is that I still expect an explanation, and a good one – and if it’s note I may take it further. Otherwise I realise the writing is on the wall for me here. I told a colleague before that I missed out and he was astounded. He couldn’t believe anyone could have got it ahead of me. Then he said, probably means you’re done here. He’s probably right.

The merry go-round

I don’t want to talk about work, but so much is happening that I must.

I hopped along to the interview on Monday feeling a tad sour because I didn’t want to be there. I’m sure it showed for the first 15-20 minutes, but then I got interested, as predicted. The job sounded interesting and not as full on as I thought it would. It’s a big organisation too and – this counts for me – housed in a great piece of architecture. Somehow I had presumed that the guy interviewing me would be a stuffed shirt, but he turned out to be a younger than I expected, a personable, humble guy, clearly switched on and interested in my take on a lot of the challenges he’s encountering.

What he was particularly interested in was my consulting and stakeholder management experience, and how I managed to influence change in that capacity. That’s his challenge, but he has a team of technocrats good at the technical stuff but with no aptitude at selling it.

I walked away more enthused than I went into it and with an open mind. The money is good which makes a big difference. I doubt it will happen but should have an indication by end of week.

Then here at work I’m flat out, including having to present at an ‘expo’ showcasing all the developments coming through the business. There were a bunch of us in the room and me in the corner with my laptop doing my bit. I didn’t know about this until the Friday before, but given my name was on the banner clearly it was something organised prior to that.

I did my spiel feeling parched by the end of the session. ‘Customers’ came through at regular intervals an in big batches, like Chinese tourists infesting a souvenir shop from the tourist bus outside.

I returned from my stint and an hour or two later a job was advertised internally which had me cocking an eye at. Business Transformation Lead was the job title. Within a few minutes my phone was ringing. A mate on the other side of the building asked if that was my job. He seemed to think that’s effectively what I’m doing now and basically it was mine to be had. Then my offsider said just about the identical thing.

I was very curious about the mechanics of the whole thing. The job hadn’t been mooted to me, though I’d stood beside the Ops Manager at the expo. On top of that the job is very similar to that I espoused a few weeks back and had ultimately rejected. What did this mean now?

I wondered if I was being set-up for this. I’m in the good books right because of my work. It’ll pass, but just for the moment, there’s a decent crowd who think I’m some kind of wunderkinder thanks to my recent work. On top of that, there’s a good argument that I was asked to do the expo in order to expose me to a bigger crowd. The Sales Manager, who did a presentation of his own, whispered to me that this was a great opportunity. So maybe it wasn’t an accident.

I’ve had my fingers burnt before, so while I’m willing to believe that I’m a good show for this – perfect if my experience and CV count for anything, I don’t take anything for granted. I’ll put my name forward, but if I don’t get it I’d feel very pissed off – so pissed off I don’t think I could continue here.

No stomach for it now

Tomorrow morning at nine I have a coffee meeting with a CIO about another potential job at another iconic Australian organisation. When I got the call I said yes, naturally, I’m interested but, you know what? I’m not.

I go tomorrow with a degree of reluctance. It doesn’t sit right in my stomach and hasn’t for days. I suppose I could call it off now, but I’m not yet at that stage.

It doesn’t take much for me to figure this one out. On the surface of things, I’m in the market for a new job. I want a more challenging role and a better salary. I’d like to work in a more professional and supportive organisation. No arguments there. What I’ve come finally to accept is that I have no real appetite for the great responsibility I would once come to grasp with both hands. This has been an uncomfortable realisation.

Right from very early on I was an unconsciously driven man. It was rarely an overt thing with me. I didn’t proclaim it, I didn’t think about it much, and if you met me you’d probably come away thinking that yes, I was pretty switched on, but also pretty laid back.

It was an unconscious thing because I didn’t really know anything different. If I was to do something then, of course, I’d do it to the best of my ability. I was drawn to better and more challenging roles largely because they were more interesting, and why wouldn’t I want to do something more interesting? Then the perfectionist in me wouldn’t allow me to stand by and watch as things were done not so well so I’d step forward, put my hand up. All these were innate to my character but combined they propelled me onwards and upwards. It worked well because my ego fed off that. Never in my life did I refuse a challenge, which mostly I took as an opportunity to test myself. I relished this. It was like adrenalin to me.

When I returned to the workforce after my break I wondered if I would be the same. I was relieved to discover I’d lost none of my smarts, and the edge remained. In many fundamental aspects, I’m no different. I still strived, I still wanted more, I was still impatient to achieve.

A lot of things underneath had changed though. I still had the energy, the focus, even the fierce intent, but the passion had subsided. I always wanted to be ‘the man’ before. I always wanted to be number one. Number two meant there was someone ahead of me. This is the thing though. Like the job a few weeks back, the job I’m meeting about tomorrow is a full-on, high-profile, demanding position, the sort I’d have loved before, but which – I know now – I have no stomach for.

In a lot of ways, it’s a tough realisation. You carry on with attitudes out of habit sometimes, and when habit begins to wane you do it out of attitude. Like I said, I’ve never turned down a challenge in my life – what does it mean if I start doing it now? It felt wrong, even unmanly, just to consider it.

In my mind I understand it better, my id if you like – it’s the ego I have to overcome. But then its the ego I’m trying to overcome in many aspects because it’s time.

I’ve had a bunch of jobs pop up lately, including two on one day last week. I wonder why it’s happening now, but I expect little of it. I expect at some point tomorrow in my conversation I’ll be enticed by the prospect of taking the reins again. The imagination will get going conceiving of what I can do and my mind busy figuring out the how of it. In concert with my imagination, my ego will whisper in my ear. I’ll be tempted, I know that much, but right now I go there because I said I would, and because – as a salve to my ego – to prove I still can.

Assuming I survive tomorrow’s meeting I have to consider what this means for me. Some of the reasons I find roles like this less alluring now is the work/life balance, and the belief that I should be writing. That means I set my sights lower. I can still earn a perfectly good salary and do good, interesting work without putting myself on the line.

It’s funny I speak of the ego here for I’ve been contemplating a bold and uncomfortable act that will expose me to many. A few of us are having mini-profiles of us published in the office. One of the questions relates to revealing something of yourself which is true but which no-one would believe. Originally I wrote about how I memorised pi to 155 decimal places when I was a kid. That’s a typically glib response from me.

Somewhere along the line, I wondered if I should reveal I was homeless, but wonder if it’s inappropriate for such a forum and self-indulgent.

The thought of everyone looking at me and knowing that of me is very uncomfortable. At the same time, I want it behind me. I’ve found that revealing these things goes a long way towards defusing them. The bloke who sits next to me is very open about how he ended up at AA and I marvel at such casual candour. That ain’t me – never has been, never will. I need to be more open though as I so often repeat.

I know I think more than most people, and I think that leads to more feeling too. Contrary to outward appearances, I feel a lot. For most of my life, all of that has been contained within me. I’m trying to let it out, but it’s slow and awkward. I think maybe it needs something like this, something more dramatic not to break the container, but to put a crack in it at least.

I’m very much in a dilemma about this, but must have it figured out by lunchtime tomorrow.

First steps

H is in a benevolent mood today. It’s been a productive week at work, and while work isn’t everything it keeps the embers aglow. I’m of the type that needs to achieve things to feel satisfaction, muddling through or ticking boxes or cruising on auto-pilot is not my thing. It’s a bonus if the things you achieve are of a particularly clever nature. That feeds the ego and justifies ambitious expectations.

I had a break-through with one of my projects yesterday which should make a big difference. It means I can probably wrap it up a lot quicker than anticipated. It was a leap of imagination that did it, enabled by finally having some obstacles removed from my path. Some way to go but on the right track.

Satisfying as that is, more satisfying were the first few steps towards building a greater engagement in the office.

It may surprise some, but this is something I’m pretty passionate about. Everyone deserves opportunity. Everyone deserves a chance at being their best self. Everyone should have access to a work environment that is safe, welcoming and empowering. Everyone is an individual, and everyone deserves to be recognised as such.

I get really sour sometimes in places like this were staff are either treated as children, or as drones. It comes down to poor leadership and management mostly, as I touched upon yesterday, but there are structural faults that allow for it as well.

I’m lucky because I have a strong sense of self and am naturally independent, I don’t fit into any moulds. Not everyone is as fortunate and it’s common for people to be squeezed into round holes, never to emerge. I just don’t believe in that. This is a human life! We should be free to find our own shape and speak our own words – and you know what, most organisations would benefit from it.

I’ve achieved a lot over my professional career, including much I would describe as clever and creative, and sometimes things much against expectation. All of that, as I said, is good for the ego. None of that factors in to what my most satisfying experience has been – taking a dysfunctional, underperforming team and turning them into a happy, driven and successful team of achievers. It sounds corny, but the pleasure I got from the pleasure of my guys then was like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s a cliché, but the term heartwarming is very apt for the sensation I experienced back then – and now still, as I reflect upon it.

Managing a team of people is different challenge to creating an organisational environment in which people can thrive, but there are common elements.

About 10 years ago I worked in a place where the IT manager, a buffoon, was fired on the spot by an exasperated CEO who could take it no longer. Both the manager and his team had underperformed for ages and were disdained throughout the organisation. I was called into the office straight after, had explained what had just happened, then asked if I was willing to take the job on (as well as my current job).

Was I ever! I had watched on with dismay as the IT function had been ground down into a virtual irrelevancy. I had my own ideas of how it should operate and what could be done and so I was in like Flynn.

First thing I did was to undo some of the constraints. These were all IT professionals, everyone of them competent in their own right and willing to do more, but inhibited by a demeaning structure. I sat down with each and every one of them and spoke to them man to man to get an understanding of what they were feeling, why they got into IT initially, and what they wanted to do. I asked for their ideas as to what was wrong and what we could do to fix it.

I wanted them to be part of the solution. Nothing would work without their buy-in, but the cost of their investment was trust and recognition – these were pennies well spent and easy to give over.

I gave every one of them a responsibility. I made them accountable for something. That something was aligned to their skillset, their experience, their desires. One guy became responsible for infrastructure. Another was given application management. A third was told he was going to be the SharePoint guru and these were the big plans I wanted him to get started on. The younger guys were given helpdesk, but told they were responsible for the efficient management of it, and given responsibilities shadowing the other guys. Each person walked out of that meeting knowing what was expected of them, and empowered by the knowledge that they would be exercising their expertise productively. They were delighted every one of them.

My role in this was to facilitate. I set agendas, I defined strategies, and I reached out to the business, but the guys were involved. I was by no means a technical IT expert and made no claims to be – I made it clear that I was relying on them, but they had my full trust.

Trust is a mighty powerful thing. I would support them every step of the way, but in return expected them to fulfil the trust placed in them. It’s rare that people don’t, but unusual for people – average managers – to understand. Trust is a gift given by me to you, and creates a hopeful obligation in the recipient. Few want to disappoint that.

I always the best sort of authority is no show of authority at all. It’s the mistake that many junior or managers make, feeling the need to demonstrate they are the boss. True authority comes with a sense of humility – in your hands are the lives of these people – but for many managers those people are playthings.

I never worried about being the boss. I knew they trusted and respected me. We got on well, could share a joke, and I took them all out for drinks soon after starting, but no-one was in any doubt that I was the man – and that’s how they wanted it. I was hard, but fair, but I took the pressure off them too and gave them space to do what they did best. In no time we turned the department around. By the time I left them morale was sky-high, performance had hit the roof, we had engaged with and earned the trust of the business, and had a bunch of exciting projects on the go.

For me I appreciated how much people want to be themselves. If that’s all you offer then people will be drones and the quality of their work will reflect that – but if you recognise them as individuals, each with unique qualities, and acknowledge them, then there’s no limit to what they can achieve. This encapsulates my philosophy on engagement, and indeed leadership, and explains why I’m so passionate about it.

This is what I want to introduce here. It’s a tall order but you have to start somewhere. This week I wrote and posted something to the constituents detailing what we’re about as an engagement committee and what we hoped to achieve. The possibilities thrill me.

Happily wary

All my finagling seems finally to have paid off, though in an incomplete and not entirely satisfactory manner.
Regular readers of this thing will recall that I proposed for myself an ambitious new role 6-8 weeks ago, which was ultimately scotched. Yesterday I got a whisper that something was afoot, and today learned a bit more.

The good news is that basically I’ve been appointed to a role very similar to what I proposed. This came about because there is a need for it, as I made plain, and because my mate the Digital Manager made representations that led to this. I begin on Monday.

The not so good news is that it’s only for a “month or two”, and they seem to have contrived it in such a way – because it’s only temporary, I presume – to give me the role without giving me any of the pay rise that goes with it. It’s all very sketchy and vague and the details may turn out to be different, but that appears to be the case.

I’ll be shifting desks, and indeed floors, to the surprise of my immediate manager. I’ll be sitting with a Sales team, though won’t be working for them. I haven’t always seen eye to eye with sales so that will be interesting. I’m to be handed a laptop and almost certainly will need to travel to Sydney occasionally.

What this provides me with is an opportunity and some exposure. While it’s only temporary at this stage I imagine there’s a possibility that it might spin off into something more permanent.

I’m happy, but wary. I wish I knew more. I’m very glad though to have responsibility over something that till now I’ve been managing as if I had one hand tied behind my back. I’m a partner in the process now, and not just the dude trying to make it work.