Rabbit Hole

My boss is on leave. I have a number of tasks to complete. Two of these involve providing instructions about using software to people in the office. The office has installed a video capture/presentation program on my computer to help with exactly this sort of thing. I am inexpert in its use, alas, but the end products genuinely seem to help people understand how to do the stuff they’re being asked to do. One of these tasks is Urgent and Important and potentially complicated; the other is neither, in comparison, but it has fewer moving parts.

I decided to spend a few minutes on the one with fewer moving parts this afternoon – you know, because it would be easier and help me do the other one (Urgent and Important) faster and better. Four hours later, I had a poorly edited video which I will have to totally redo before it will be of much use to anyone.

The Business Management Institute at Muppet Labs ™ is quoting reliable sources as saying that saving work frequently on a computer may prevent wasted effort. They are also reporting that doing the most important work first is more likely to result in faster completion of important work.

In unrelated news, I just spent the last 90 minutes playing Solitaire (with an actual deck of cards) over and over again.

Economy Act

Last week I took a course at Graduate School USA, the venerable training institution formerly known as the USDA Graduate School. I learned a lot about the subject matter of the three-day course (“Non-Defense Working Capital Funds,” or the financial management basics of administering USG activities that are supposed to run off of earned revenue instead of base budgets). I liked the instructor. I liked the location. But I really did not like the text-bound materials or the relative lack of computer access compared to Management Concepts. I also missed the free coffee, danish, and soft drinks provided by same. C’mon, Grad School USA, up your game.

 

Resume Killers

Liz Ryan is one of three HR writers I follow on Twitter, and I agree with all of her picks for “Ten Phrases That Are Killing Your Resume” on Forbes.com. Here is another resume formulation I’d like to see less often:

  • “Seeking to advance my career”

Not that I begrudge anyone the opportunity to advance, but that’s not why I need to hire someone. I need to hire someone because I have an unmet need in my organization. Candidates who demonstrate awareness of that fact and pitch themselves accordingly warm the cockles of my bureaucratic heart.

My pet peeve as a federal hiring manager is when I can’t figure out from a narrative descriptions of position duties what someone actually did at a job or how they demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and abilities* I’m looking for. Five thousand characters gives you enough space to simply say what the job was and how you did it before you start plugging in all the key words and phrases from the job announcement text to satisfy the Hiring Manager Algorithm.

For federal employees, I recommend keeping a human-language version of your resume on hand. It will give you something to share when a prospective boss or mentor wants to see your CV. It also helps in customizing your USAJOBS resume(s) when you’re applying for positions.**

*Yeah sure, they say they got rid of KSAs on federal job applications. What they really did was eliminate the KSA essay you had to include along with your resume on each job application. So instead of having a resume you could use for multiple job applications …

**Now you have to weave the KSA language from the job announcement into the narrative for “position duties” for each job on your resume. In other words, you have to customize a resume for each and every job application. Thanks, OPM!

Voyage of Learning

This morning I embarked on my first live-action procurement class. It’s two weeks long. The instructor is much livelier than Procurement Woman and Procurement Man, plus the school has a nice break room with generous refreshments. (Someday a bureaucrat blogger will review the private sector purveyors of training to federal employees and their amenities. Input welcome in the comments.)

Life lesson of the day: sweat and sunscreen can really highlight lady whiskers. Second life lesson of the day: olive oil really soothes the delicate skin of the upper lip and chin post-waxing. Much better than the awful chemical they package with the little Sally Hansen facial waxing kits.

Games People Play

I attended a Virtual Human Resources Training Conference last week that was offered by the Office of Personnel Management. I don’t currently work as an HR specialist, but I am trying to stay as looped in as possible so that I can eventually find my way back into the HR fold. This was a good investment of $95 In Ur Takses in so far as it provided me with at least two nuggets of information that I can use/share with colleagues – even non-HR ones – and one or two ideas I might be able to use later. The format was novel, at least for me as someone who rarely participates in web chats, and the networking was more robust than I expected for a virtual event. Thank you, OPM.

The last session I “attended” was one on gamification, featuring a case study from FEMA. I don’t know from Game Theory, but I have watched my kids play a lot of Fallout 3 and Assassin’s Creed, and I once played a couple of hours of Cards Against Humanity. I have also taken a lot of online training for my contracting warrant (two more in-person classes to go and I’ll finally be eligible!) and things HR. Friends, online training for office work can be deadly dull. Given the potential for procurement and HR matters to go horribly, horribly wrong, it seems like some game-based training for these disciplines could be reasonably entertaining as well as memorable and effective.

“Bureaucracies create games – they are just games that are in no sense fun.” (Andre Spicer paraphase of David Graeber)

If any attempt to dismantle bureaucracy creates more bureaucracy (Graeber again), and if big fixes create bigger unintended consequences and more fragility (as I understand my other brain hero Nicholas Nassim Taleb to be saying), then maybe the simple introduction of more play into the seriousness of bureaucratic games is the best chance we bureaucrats have of disrupting the system in a positive sense (making the rules of the game more transparent, helping our taxpaying customers “win”) short of simply throwing down our rule books and going off into the woods to live deliberately or whatever.

Alienation

This whole “branding” thing just isn’t working for my blog. For one thing, I don’t post often enough. I haven’t figured out a way to blog in a timely and career-enhancing manner about the professional topics dearest to my heart, namely employee relations and supervisor-craft in large organizations. This is largely because I find blog-worthy inspiration on these topics primarily at work and forget what I wanted to say by the time I am home. When I do post, it’s usually the kind of personal stuff I posted on my old blog, only less of it.

One problem common to large organizations is the way that individuals find themselves feeling far removed from core functions. I can reasonably argue that that the work I do frees up people who do perform those core functions from worrying about adminstrativia, and that’s neat. But it’s not the same as really owning a piece of the action. When I blogged regularly about personal stuff, I felt uniquely entitled to speak about it because it was my life. I can’t summon the same feeling about my professional interests, and it shows.

Marx would describe the organizational issue as “alienation.” (Nothing says “finger on the pulse of today’s workplace” quite like name-checking Karl Marx.) I’m reading a book about alienation now to try and figure out what it is I’m alienated from that keeps me from wholeheartedly writing about professional topics. Is it the David Graeber factor?  A lack of professional confidence on my part? I shall have to ask my alienist.

 

Participation/Consent

I once worked for a Senior Leader who believed that addressing people’s fears out loud would legitimize the objects of their fear. This was an otherwise skilled political appointee whose good opinion I coveted but failed to secure. She appeared to think that if we addressed employee concerns about a building system malfunction or an impending government shutdown, we would be somehow endorsing those things as acceptable outcomes. I couldn’t get my brain around the idea that sharing information about something we didn’t control might constitute acceptance or that recognizing an unpleasant reality might constitute endorsement thereof. (Since I am still bitter, let me add that I’m glad no one put this person in charge of responding to actual environmental or public health problems. Radiation? What radiation?)

Reality is not waiting for our participation. The building ventilation system will continue to function (or not) whether I talk about it. Congress will do what it does without my endorsement. The lab will continue to send me bills whether I open them or not. Employees are still subject to office policies whether they acknowledge them or not. The government will validate the results of the elections regardless of the opposition party boycott. Unless you’re living as a revolutionary – or a hermit in a remote freehold, healing your own ailments with roots and berries – there isn’t a valid “opt-out” option for most institutionalized life processes.

When I’m in a funk, I feel like withholding or withdrawing my consent from the early 21st century suburban wage slave wife-and-mom terms of service. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In either event, I often confuse consent with participation. I stop opening envelopes and don’t clean up the pile of crap that’s accumulated near my basement desk because I just don’t want to participate anymore. I don’t want to be responsible for these people. I don’t want to make the effort. In those moments, I fantasize about opting out in terms that range from impractical to immoral to downright irreversible.

(Sooner or later something wakes me up and reminds me that it would be smarter to participate in such a way that I can find my way to some version of the aforementioned freehold (or at least a comfortable approximation thereof) without bringing shame upon myself or surplus sorrow upon my family. I’m rooting for that something to kick in soon, because damn. Dino Spouse and Mouse both look worried, and the basement is a mess.)

I wonder how many bosses refrain from talking about problems in the office because deep down they’re annoyed at people for getting distracted by unpleasant realities (like malfunctioning building systems or looming shutdowns) and demanding reassurance.