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Posts Tagged ‘professionalism’

Mentoring

I put my hand up for the Department’s mentoring program recently. They’ve matched me up with someone a couple of levels above me and working in an area that I’ve been interested in, which should at least allow me to check out exactly how green that grass is.

I’ve had… interesting experiences with mentoring. The first was cross-departmental group mentoring. The idea was, four new hires from completely different departments would be matched with a senior executive from yet another department. I guess the idea was that we’d have fertile cross-pollination of ideas and viewpoints. In practice, we had one meeting where the executive, a nice enough guy, spouted platitudes and bragged about his golf handicap. Not long after our one and only meeting, he was sacked/left under a cloud because his staff basically stole every single phone, laptop, PDA, pager, radio, stick drive, Sticky Note and stick of charcoal that wasn’t actually in his hands at the time. Basically, if you could communicate with it they stole it. I hear a few blankets and bundles of kindling went missing.

My next encounter with mentoring was through a professional association, and could be considered anti-mentoring. At first, I fell head over heels in love, as I have a bad habit of doing – “OMG we’re like TWINS!!1!”. Unfortunately, the main benefit of this experience was unintentional. I’d asked the mentor to help me with my professional conduct – the fact is that while I have a few very close friends, I’m widely considered obnoxious, which is why I’m a junior public servant despite being in early middle age.

This turned out to be the one thing my mentor absolutely would NOT help me with. Happy to tell me what I should eat, buy, rent, wear, etc, but not to help me with my one specific goal for the mentoring. It was didactic, condescending… and obnoxious. The lesson learned was “holy shit – people think I’M like that??1!?”. Which, to be fair, is an extremely valuable lesson.

I’m currently reading First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You, by Ann Demarais and Valerie White. It’s extremely good in that it breaks down into very basic components the factors that make people like you (and the converse). It’s like the parts of speech – you use the building blocks all the time, but you use them more effectively when you know what they are. The best part of them being building blocks, of course, is that you can choose the ones you need.

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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”.

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