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.

Breaking the cycle

As controversial as the Australia Day long weekend is, I’m happy to have an extra day to myself.

It seems like this is always happening, needing the time to think through things. That’s symptomatic of things being pretty bad. Each time I go through this process they’re bad, and each time nothing really comes of it because I have so few feasible options.

I’m really talking about work here. It’s a mediocre, middlingly corrupt organisation generally happy to exploit both customers and employees. That could be a hundred different places. That’s the broader picture. Zoom in and there’s me, underpaid for so long and generally under-valued, but committed to getting the job done right. I put my heart and soul into it despite my misgivings, because that’s who I am. I focus on the work.

That’s fine, my choice, etc, but every time it feels like a punch to the gut to discover they couldn’t care less about the effort I put in and how, despite the work I’ve done, they disregard any constructive contribution I make. No-one knows the stuff I’ve built better than me, but there’s zero acknowledgement of that, no feedback to communications, and when I send on detailed recommendations and proposed next steps I get no response – ever.

I have to admit what I think I’ve long known: they don’t care, and no matter what I do it will never be enough to make a difference to them. I’m in the position of an abused employee.

I have to wonder why this is. I think some of it systemic process ineptitude. A lot of managers have been with the company since day one and never been exposed to the rigours of a competitive, contemporary and professional marketplace. Because of that there are cliques that resent any challenge to it, and who look out for each other – and so a cosy mediocrity is perpetuated.

Structurally, it’s a confused looking business. Most organisations have either a classic pyramid or flatter structure, but this one is like a bowl of spaghetti with lines going everywhere. It makes for great inefficiency and shocking communication.

You walk into this business and you either toe the line or you push back. By nature, I push back. The people I work for toe the line. So ultimately it comes down to me. I suspect some managers resent me making proposals to them and pitching ideas. Clearly, the proposals are generally sound because often times they are adopted, but without any reference to me, and delegated to another (manager) to implement. Is it any wonder I feel disenfranchised?

Everyone knows I’m smart, but I’ve also got a masculine, direct style. I suspect as a male presence I might confront some of my fellow blokes. I get comments sometimes about how I’m a private schoolboy, about how I live near the beach in the nicer suburbs too, enough that it makes you wonder about it. In that way it’s different from anywhere else I’ve ever worked – I’m one of the minority who don’t live out west.

Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is I’m not going anywhere here.

I met with the CEO of the chatbot mob I’m working with the week before last. The first thing he said was to ask me what my plans where when I was finished with this project? I was surprised by his question as if he had read my mind. I told him I would see what opportunities were within the business but wasn’t keen to go back to my previous function. I would look elsewhere if necessary.

He reiterated what a great job I had done and suggested that surely opportunities would open up on the back of that? I wasn’t sure then, but now I’m almost certain that nothing will because nothing is recognised. He also said to me that if I choose to leave then he could probably get me a job either with him or with one of his clients.

There’s that possibility. One thing I know I have to break this cycle – I have to remove myself from what is basically an abusive relationship.

Live and kicking

My chatbot project reached its culmination last night. At 2.30am it went live. I wasn’t up for it – I’d been up till midnight checking in with Sydney and Bhopal – but I got a message at that time that it was done.

Coming into work this morning I knew it was one thing being deployed, but being successfully deployed was a different matter. We’d done all the testing and I was pretty confident with the design, but you never know. I was in a little after 8am and checked it out straight away. First glance it seemed fine. The next half hour I checked it over, found a couple of minor issues, but in general felt relieved.

It’s a few hours on now and nothing yet has come crawling out of the woodwork. Too early to make anything of the basic metrics, but early indications are that uptake has increased, handling rates are much improved, and it appears less come through to an agent to handle.

That probably doesn’t make sense much to you and that’s fine. It’s probably a bit boring too. For me, it feels quite an accomplishment because like no other project I’ve been involved with this is all me. Scandalously so. I was the BA and project manager. I came up with the design, I wrote the scripts, defined the rules. I did all the comms for it. Throughout I had no-one meaningful to turn to for assistance outside the developers who, regardless, are only doing what I tell them to do. And leading into this I had no experience in this nor any special insight – I had to figure it out for myself and apply it using my best judgement.

That was one of the issues going through, one of faith. This was my baby, but was it the right baby? I mean, did I have a true and accurate perspective of it? Was the solution I defined the correct one? I’m a confident man but I’m not stupid. You need other perspectives and contrary voices, but every time I sought one the feedback was blandly encouraging – this is great, H! – or non-committal. When I went to the managers seeking their input and feedback I got fucking zilch (a good indication of how timid they are. No-one will go out on a limb, that’s left to me).

And so I had to keep forging ahead pretty well solo. And now it’s in and working and looking good and yes, very early days yet, but it looks like it hit the mark.

Not surprisingly I feel pretty frazzled now. That’s often the case when a big project finally comes to fruition. You’ve held it in for so long working intently towards a goal that a part of you is permanently tensed. Then it is implemented and you hold your breath until the point comes that realise that yes, it works as you planned. Then it catches up with you. All the pent up stuff is let out. You relax finally, what a fucking relief!

Anyway, I’ll be here over the next week tracking it pretty closely to make sure nothing untoward pops up. We’ll be extending it further now it’s been deployed successfully, and it will become a much bigger thing. And now I’ve got to knuckle down and finalise the reports I’ve been designing. No rest for the wicked.

Hard and ruthless

I watched the first episode of a new TV series last night. Succession seems loosely based on the Murdoch family – and aging patriarch and media mogul, a brood of clever and ambitious children, and the wrestle for power. Only episode one but it was very good.

As I was watching, I had a nagging sense of recognition watching the patriarch, played by Brian Cox. Something in him reminded me of my father, I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps it was the sense of quiet but undeniable authority, wrapped though in a declining body. The will still strong, the body becoming frail – though the last time I saw dad he couldn’t be described as frail.

It wasn’t just my father I saw in him though, but who the other is I’ve yet to identify.

While I watched, I reflected on something that had happened earlier in the day. For context, as I have explained previously, one of the projects I’m running is to upgrade a chatbot. It’s quite frustrating often as I get very little support, have no resources, no budget, and most seem indifferent to it. There’s a dotted line to a senior manager who has no real practical involvement, but who seems to be conducting a guerrilla operation promoting the upgrade – I feel almost surreptitious in my role.

I’m dealing with vendors who are well intentioned but must be micro-managed – I can’t presume they’ll know to dot the i and cross the t, I must be explicit in instructing them. This is time-consuming and very often frustrating. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get anyone interested in what I once believed to be basic project management principles and tools. And I’m doing this while trying to carry on with my usual role, which is particularly busy right now.

Because I’m practically solo the design is almost 100% mine. To get to that point has required a lot of analysis and consideration and – wherever possible – consultation. I think it’s pretty good, but my aim is to make it great. Always is.

It’s getting towards the pointy end and I’m reviewing what’s been done and making refinements. Problem is that I’m too close to it to be truly objective now. I asked my offsider to go through it and he made some useful observations but still, he knows the business too well. So I popped upstairs to speak to the manager.

I wanted to discuss with him the option of getting some focus group testing. He’s ex-marketing and I made the assumption that they do that as a matter of course and he would be know how we go about it.

What happened instead is that after I asked him he called me into a room. You’re coming to me with problems instead of solutions, he said. I’m telling you this for your own good, he went on. He went on a bit, all on the same theme, while I remained silent. In truth I was bemused. I watched carefully, leaning forward, fascinated by what he had to say. Gradually I got pissed off – I have a low tolerance for bullshit these days. At the end of it, I told him the solution was that he should tell me who I needed to speak to to make it happen.

By now I was quietly seething. I could have said a lot, but didn’t. I’d have happily punched him in the face for his patronising manner, but didn’t do that either. Fact is – as I could have told him – is that I’m dealing with problems all the time and finding a way to solve them. I’m on the phone to the vendors 2-3 times a day, and probably by email another couple, fixing things up and resetting direction. The whole bloody solution we propose has come out of my head. I’m not someone who runs for help, I find it myself. If I come to him seeking assistance then it’s legit.

By now we’re out of the room and he has given me the answer he should have given me five minutes before – speak to so-and-so. Now I’m discussing another issue with him and it’s clear that he has no real idea and sees me bringing up such things as obstructive. True, they’re pointless as I realise, as he knows too little to be of help – but the things I raise are legitimate and must be sorted out and require someone at a management level to intervene. By now I have become very steely. I cut him off. I take it up to him. In front of his staff, I’m now dictating the conversation. Are we on the same page? I ask in conclusion. Yes, we’re on the same page he answers.

I walk away and think, what was that? And I’m almost a little concerned at my manner. I can’t really disagree with much I said – I was restrained – what I worry about is how absolutely implacable I was. He couldn’t touch me. I listened, I watched, and I was absolutely clinical. In the end, it was the force of my being that had him back-tracking.

Is this the man I’ve become? It seems incongruous given my recent efforts to be home and honest and vulnerable. It seems strange when I think how delicate I was on the weekend with someone who wanted to share with me, and generally how affable I am at work, how kind and compassionate I can be. Yet, it seems, I can be all these things.

I also watched an episode of Ray Donovan last night. There were times when I was struggling when I would watch Ray and relate to him somehow, even while wishing I could adopt his direct manner to deal with some of the issues in my life. This season’s Ray is more vulnerable than before, more inclined to gentleness, and as he heads that way I become more as he was – at least in certain aspects.

I’ve always said I treat everyone the same. What happens after that depends on the other. It’s useful perhaps to be so ruthless sometimes, but I’m not sure it’s good for me.