Archive for March 2010

To greet or not to greet…

March 26, 2010

Working in an open plan office in my profession can be a challenge.  Many of the documents I read are confidential, along with the papers on my desk.  I have to lock away contact information for participants of sessions I run, not to mention the concern of colleagues overhearing discussions with and about local Councillors.

Yet all of that is manageable.  What I am yet to identify the etiquette for is greetings.

On my floor are (without exaggeration) hundreds of people, all working on similar or related projects within the directorate.  Due to my job involving cross organisational, directorate and team support, I actually have worked with or am known by a worryingly large number.  This is not a bad thing, as it allows me to know about loads of the goings on in the Council, and means others know about me and my team.

Generally when people walk past my desk and catch my eye they nod a cheery hello, with some stopping to talk for a bit or to impart some knowledge/gossip/opinions on Spurs’ chances of finishing fourth (still not as good as hoped for in my opinion, but that’s for another blog).  Again, not a bad thing, albeit quite annoying if I have a lot to do.

The challenge for me lies when I venture away from the relative safety and protection that my desk offers, be that to go to a meeting room or just to stretch my legs.  I find myself walking past colleagues, most of whom still aim to at least catch my eye and often to spend even more time chatting and smiling.  I’m not saying there is anything special at all about me either discussion-wise or in the looks department, but it’s just the way things are.

This leaves me with a dilemma.  How much time can I give to any of them?  And what form should that contact be?  Is it enough to catch eyes and nod, or should I be looking to check in with them all?

My fear is that this constant chat and subsequent positive feelings escalate to the point where I walk along with my arm stretched to one side whilst my route is lined with cheering, whooping colleagues waiting for their turn to be high-fived.

A remote and unlikely fear perhaps, bit just as likely as a spider laying its eggs in your ear overnight, and I still worry about that.

I’m hoping that a polite nod will continue to be enough as we’re due to move to a more densely populated building soon, and I just haven’t got the time to be crowd-surfing between meetings.

What we need is more meetings – no, really!

March 16, 2010

Without revealing too much in the way of details (this anonymity thing is harder than it looks!), our Council has been through a rough time recently.  With changes internally and externally, more than usual amounts of media coverage and in the run up to elections, things are a little fraught to say the least.

It’s at this time that you’d expect people to pull together and make a united effort to stand up and be counted.  When the going gets tough and all that, we should all be following the advice of the Stereophonics: keep calm and carry on (sounds familiar for some reason…).

So it should be more of a surprise when I look around and see everyone spending most of their days covering their own backs.  In no way am I a management-basher, I’ll leave that to the Unions (it seems to make them as happy as a 15 year old schoolboy with two appendages).  However, it does seem that the higher up the greasy pole you go (nothing at all to do with those schoolboys) the worse this is getting.

Take partnership working for example.  In fact, you should be able to take it from any of the senior managers here – they are all trying desperately to give it away.  Not that they don’t like the idea of it of course, but that when things land on their desks they forget all of the years of best practice and effort that’s gone into creating and maintaining appropriate governance structures in order to concentrate on the basics.

I understand that they are paid to get a specific job done, but the seeming disregard for fulfilling their commitments to attend these meetings is stunning.  Partnership working saves a fortune in time and effort, and is unarguably a good thing.  So why is it the first thing to be ignored?

Almost every senior member of one of our highest partnership structures has pulled out of the next meeting which aims to ensure things are on track, addressing issues and keep an eye on our long term objectives.  Seems like a no-brainer to me and to most others, but it’s being dropped faster than UKTV’s planned marriage advice show starring the Terry’s and the Cole’s.

I’d have hoped that keeping your eye on the prize is exactly what our senior managers and councillors should be doing right now and allowing their teams to manage the day to day tasks instead of feeling now is the time to micro-manage and get involved in everything, just to show they are ‘still grafters’.

Forget back to the floor for now – back to the office with you!

Thou shalt not blog

March 1, 2010

You may have noticed a bit of a gap between posts towards the end of January.  I’d love to be able to say that I have been undercover in the process of smashing an international drugs cartel, but alas I’m not actually allowed to talk about my work with MI-6.

Nope, the truth is far more mundane than that.  On top of a busy workload, we had to shut a blog down in the office.  Not this one of course, but a different, work-related blog which my blogging colleague had been writing and I had been reading.

Was this blog racist?  No.  Sexist?  Nope.  Homophobic?  Not even close.

The crime this blog committed, the heinous act that got it closed down entirely and wiped from slate was that it said that we were expecting some things to happen which then didn’t happen, and telling people that this was a bit frustrating.

That’s about it.

The argument given was that if we hadn’t told anyone that we were going to have something completed by a certain time then we wouldn’t have had to say that something hadn’t gone to plan, resulting in a stunning coup-de-grace whilst hiding any perceived inefficiencies.

I for one think that’s a load of bollocks.  People are sick and tired of having good news and success stories rammed down their throats where the Council puts itself across as having done no wrong – this is simply codswallop.  The Council is made up of people and is therefore entirely fallible.  People make mistakes all the time, things get lost, work is delayed and (as in this case) external suppliers sometimes promise more than they can deliver.

It was not a deal breaker for the project which was being blogged about, in fact it was a minor setback which was entirely out of our hands.  However, the adage of facts and a good story appears to ring true here, and as soon as a senior manager saw this they alerted our director who swung into editorial action like Piers Morgan playing Tarzan.

Admittedly there was something else they also found which they didn’t like.  In one post a humorous aside was thrown in referencing the Iraq war in the same context as a bad decision.  It was decided that if a local MP or Councillor saw this they would explode in incandescent fury, raining vengeance upon us with furious anger Samuel L Jackson style.

Firstly, the whole point of a blog is to share thoughts with people – that’s why I write this and hopefully why people read it.  It is not to lay the official line down, but in that case it was to share progress and put a human personality to a faceless project.

Any debate had over it – positive or otherwise – could only be a good thing.  If someone had a go at us for the late delivery of some brochures then we are in a better position to say ‘it wasn’t our fault, guv’.  Likewise, if something we say sparks a response to do with us being frustrated that progress isn’t as straightforward as anticipated surely this is a good thing?

People are sick and tired of being pitched perfection, and we just don’t like it any more.  Like the surgeons who wanted to promote plastic surgery found when they did a recent survey, people don’t like perfection and packaged fake goods, no matter how pert.  People prefer things slightly asymmetric, slightly imperfect and infinitely more human.

I’d rather know that real people were running things in my Council rather than it being a faceless entity.  If nothing else, at least then I’d know exactly who to blame if things do go wrong.