Do not feed the officers

Can we trust staff to problem solve?

There are two main problems when you are good at your job:

  • No-one appreciates how hard it is as you make it look easy
  • People expect you to go the extra league, not just the extra mile

I’ve come across this a little this week thanks to my frustrating inability to tell people that it’s not my job, and that they should work it out themselves.

As my team is involved with public engagement we have all manner of gadgets and toys built up over the years to encourage people to get involved.  From facilitation equipment through to online widgets, we’ve got access to plenty that other teams want.

Recently a colleague asked if they could borrow some of our IT equipment for an event they were putting on.  They had used it in the past without problems, so I said it would be fine and arranged for them to pick it up.  I even showed them how to use it again as a bit of a refresher, to be sure that they would be fine on the day.

Over the course of the next three days I must have spent at least 40% of my time with them for one reason or another.  Firstly they couldn’t work out how to do something simple, so I showed them and helped get it prepped.  Then they forgot how to run it, so I ran through two practice sessions with them.  They then couldn’t work out how to link it to a projector – that’s linking a laptop to a projector, nothing more fancy than that – so I showed them.

They then broke the software.  Perhaps that’s not entirely fair to say; the software stopped working whilst they were in custody of it.  Despite being no more than a regular user I then felt duty bound to try to get it working for them, and proceeded to investigate everything in my power to do.  When these admittedly limited options were exhausted I proceeded to get our glorious ICT helpdesk involved (after answering the requisite twenty questions of course) and spent about three hours on the phone to them.

None of it worked.

Now, I’m going to sound like a pretentious twit here, but I really shouldn’t be doing all this.  Firstly I’m not anything like an IT expert; the only reason I often get involved is because I’m one of the few people in my team who knows the difference between a mouse and a joystick.  Secondly, my job these days is to develop and implement strategy, to coordinate large work programmes and to support teams and services across the entire Council; perhaps spending a few hours on the phone to ICT is not the best use of my time.

I enjoy problem solving and helping out where I can, however this experience has made me realise that I have turned into an enabler.  By offering such a complete support service I am transferring all responsibility to do things to me and my staff, rather than helping other teams to deliver things themselves.  Why should a junior member of staff be given the task of getting a specific IT system up and running when someone else can do it for you?  This has the added bonus of giving them someone else to blame as and when things go wrong.

It’s going to go strongly against my natural instincts, but I’m going to have to practice a single syllable word: no.  I will offer initial advice and support, but I need to leave some of the troubleshooting to others, lest I remove all opportunity for them to grow and learn.  As events recently have shown me, often I am in no better position than them to get some things working anyway, so I need to step back and make others step up to the plate and trust them to get the job done.

Who knows, perhaps they’ll make the job seem even easier than I did.


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4 Comments on “Do not feed the officers”

  1. LG Worker Says:

    I both have the same experience (I have a very basic understanding of Excel, but its a better understanding then my colleagues) but have also exploited great workers like yourself. So to all those I have exploited, can I just say sorry!

    • Localgov Says:

      Helping out a bit is one thing (and I’m always happy to help you!) but as I tell my kids; helping is not doing. When it turns from helping ge something done to doing it, that’s where I’m going wrong.

      Even training wheels need to be removed at some point.

      • LG Worker Says:

        Ahh well if that is the case. You know that project I asked help for, could you……!!!!

  2. Pointed to your blog by another friend. This is music to my ears and makes me realise that I – happily – am not the only person dealing with immaturity in the workplace.

    LCM x

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