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http://www.youmightlikethis.com/2010/02/your-path-to-happiness/
Are You Happy?

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Many good things have happened here at the Ministry of Silly Walks.

In the darkest days of my Shuffling Drone-dom, a god-like hand reached into my black pit of despair and offered me a band-aid position covering for an AWOL employee (“he went mad and we shot him”). A job in a real actual Minister’s office! Paid at the Mumbling Troglodyte level! Working next to real actual policy! It was like those old wives’ tales about how if you sit at the end of the aisle in the cinema a drug dealer will come along and inject you with heroin and you’ll get addicted. Except good, and except it actually happened.

And, OK, not the most flattering way to get a job – I was only approached because the 27 other people they asked didn’t want to do it, and then I got the job because no-one else was available. But it got me out of Toenail Branch – so called because it’s dead skin and likely to be cut off soon –  and into the central nervous system. I was finally working with the people who actually decide what Silly Walks does and how it will do it, from the Minister herself  down to my fellow Mumbling Troglodytes. The fact that I had no idea what I was doing, had barely touched a brief since the end of my graduate rounds and knew almost no-one in my Ministry would be no obstacle to success!!!

… which, of course, it was. My knowledge of procedure was not only extremely poor, but so poor that I struggled to crowbar it all into my tiny brain, making some fairly egregious errors. Not all of them were my fault, of course – at least one was because of a rather violent disagreement between the Minister’s staff and the policy branch over mailroom procedures which I’m still too traumatised to talk about. But ultimately I had to interview for the position, and although the interview went about as well as they ever do for me, they decided not to give me the role. The manager of the Ministerial support branch advised me that staff members “said when they were giving you instructions you looked like you weren’t listening. And then you did it wrong.” Not a ringing endorsement.

The upside of this rather intense experience was that I got to polish my Networking skillz – not a skill that comes naturally to me the way, say, important research points embedded in 800-page non-digitised tomes come up and start eating out of my hand. Because of this unnaturalness, I had to be pretty calculating – I basically identified the most common names on the briefs that were coming in, called the extension number listed and said “Hi, my name’s Grace Forthright and I’m your Ministerial Support Mole. Would you like to do coffee and tell me all about everything your branch does?”

For the most part, this was a fairly successful strategy. It helped me understand the arcane information reaching my desk, which I was supposed to help clean up before it reached the Minister. It enabled me to understand what the hell Silly Walks actually does, what its structure is, how it interacts with other departments, and how I can get free tickets to fun things because Silly Walks provides funding for activities such as pogoing and Calvinball.

When I didn’t get the job, I returned to Toenail Branch. I diligently performed my duties, which involved arranging tea-parties, folding origami dancers and replacing photocopier cartridges. I cried myself to sleep at night, masturbating furiously (in the public service we call it “insourcing”) and dreaming of a role that would justify the $25K worth of student loans looming over my head.

And I continued the networking. I spoke to anyone who would catch up with me, and then I asked them who else would be willing to talk to me. And I found out all sorts of fun stuff about Silly Walks, and our extensive Vertical Folkdancing section, and Pogoing, and Not Stepping On The Cracks In Case The Bears Get You. I applied for jobs in these areas, meeting the policy officers who worked in my area of interest. I grilled my friends in internal departments about how to interview and how to get around the fact that I know very little about pogoing or vertical folkdancing.

And it paid off, in a rather odd way. Suffice to say I now have another band-aid position in our central policy branch. When I started I already knew several of my cow-orkers through my diligent coffee meetings or other job interviews. It’s a temporary position, but hopefully it’s my ticket out of Toenail.

The other day I wrote about working on a doomed project. It’s not a worthless project – it’s about improving services, always a worthy aim – but for various political reasons not able to be mentioned here, its future is already limited. 

But pretend for the sake of argument that it’s not to meet an untimely demise soon, because I think it’s good to improve services. I am the most junior person involved with this project. We hired a contractor for a sum that is just shy of the amount where we would need to get our purchasing unit involved ($100,000.00). This contractor has done the project that THEY wanted, not the one we wanted. They were hired to undertake some internal research for us, and when I received copies of the proposed research in my email, I immediately identified that there were some problems, which I brought up with our divisional director. The director thanked me and wrote back to the contractor to advise some changes. In the meantime, some additions were made to the project, which *should* have required changing the marketing and management of the research to correctly target the new stakeholders. This was not done, so the new stakeholders were being spammed with requests for information appropriate only to the original stakeholders. Quite rightly, the new stakeholders were not that interested! 

To make matters worse, the original stakeholder management was… poor. We did not do the work of getting the support of the higher levels of management of the stakeholders we were asking to help us, and unsurprisingly, these people were anything from unsure if they should co-operate with us to outright hostile at being approached directly. My immediate manager was complicit in this as she sent spam emails to the new stakeholders that did not differentiate in their language from the spam emails sent to the original stakeholders. Did I mention we spammed our stakeholders? 

So, we’ve got a project that no-one from the most senior management down to the most junior shit-shoveller (ie me) believes in, where the groundwork of people management hasn’t been done, and where we’re doing acts I find morally reprehensible (spam). I have mentioned my concerns to my oboemaphone-playing HR person, who said “Did you say something to your manager?” And the answer is no, I did not, because I did not feel that I could do so or that I would be listened to. You wanna know what I did? 

I hid. 

I put off doing my tasks (like calling stakeholders to ask why they haven’t answered our spam… uh, because it’s spam, maybe?), did them in a half-arsed way, avoided them, and just plain didn’t do them. 

That’s probably not the professional approach to take in this situation. One day I will be in a job interview where I am asked “Tell us about a time where you identified a problem, and talk us through the way you solved it”, and I’m going to freeze up because I’ll remember this project and say “I hid”. 

What have you done in this situation? What could I have done to change anything? Anyone about to write “You should have spammed the people just like you were told to do” should keep in mind that one day I’m going to be interviewed by one of the people I’ve spammed, and they’re going to say polite words to the effect of  “I remember you… your project sent us that bullshit survey spam and kicked up a stink when we told you to get stuffed”.

I Am Public Service

“The mission of “I Am Public Service” is to inform US citizens about the success stories of public sector personnel and to inspire the next generation of public servants. We achieve this mission by highlighting and honoring people who have dedicated their careers to leaving a legacy of effective and efficient government.”

I think describing IT and human resources staff as “nothing short of heroic” is a tad exaggerated, but it’s good to see the pubes taking pride in their work. This is quite new, so there’s not a lot of content – if you’re a US public servant drop by and give you and yours a big-up.

Understanding Government

Subtitled “Better Government through Better Reporting”, or as they say to us at work, “Would you want to see something you’d written on the front page of the Deutscher Scheissekopf?” [insert correct name of daily yellow rag of your choice]

Spaghetti Testing (Canada)

Nifty looking public service blog by a communications specialist in Ottawa examining the possibilities for “web 2.0” (but come on, we’ve gotta be up to at least web 2.8 by now).

 

As a government drone employee, what do you do when you’re working on a project that you don’t believe in, your manager doesn’t believe in, your department head doesn’t believe in, and your stakeholders don’t believe in? A project that, to add insult to injury, has been given a ‘fun’ acronym? (Project for Excellence in New Information Services… no, that would be too much fun.)

I return to my position at the Department of Silly Walks under a minor cloud, having completed graduate rotations at the Department of Knights Who Say Ni! and the Department of The Blessed Cheesemakers. The Knights Who Say Ni! were, how do I put it in HR mumbo-jumbo, unimpressed with my communication skills, personal conduct, hygiene and speculated parentage. Having followed some controversy in my initial rotation, the Department of Silly Walks  punished me by keeping my pay at the Snivelling Shit level, rather than the expected leap to Shuffling Drone. This upset me, not so much because of my limited ability to buy Louboutins as because the Blessed Cheesemakers had viewed me as productive, hardworking and kinda neat, and it was a shock to return to Silly Walks and find that SW regard me as a loose cannon and are effectively charging me $200 a fortnight to demonstrate this.

Having voiced my displeasure to our human resources representative, a multi-talented person who plays the oboemaphone and is not directly employed by Silly Walks, it was suggested that a journal may assist in gathering one’s thoughts, improving one’s outlook and venting one’s spleen. I am not a reflective person – if I was I would be writing poetry in an attic and coughing glamourously rather than project managing internal spam for a provincial government. However, given that one of my problems was and is communication skills – I do not have Asperger Syndrome, but will do if you need someone in a hurry – I felt that a venue to reflect on issues encountered in the workplace would fill the need for truthful monologue, permit self-expression banned in “internal stakeholder relations”, and prevent me from getting bored on the train home.

The title comes from one of the many, many external contractors, of widely varying quality, employed by my government, who suggested that rather than public servants providing “frank and fearless” advice to politicians (an admirable but possibly unrealistic aim), we should instead be “forthright with grace”. One may be frank and fearless if one is utterly charming as one does it. Given that one of my many disabilities is a distinct lack of grace – and comparatively little charm – I feel it advisable to staple a sticky note with this slogan to my eyeballs.

Despite my distinct lack of grace, I did see my former manager of the Knights Who Say Ni! today, and managed not to slap the shit out of the stuck-up little fembot. It’s important to recognise your small victories.