Monday, June 25, 2007

Delayed Reaction

Summer blogging - Warning the frequency and content of my summer entries are likely to be erratic. So take what you get, when you get mind is on vacation.

What I learned today: seeing is believing.

Like if you see someone running around looking busy – you are likely to believe that they are busy. I am living proof of this.

For the past week and half, maybe even longer, I have been completely distracted even though my workload is as heavy as it ever has been. Perhaps even more. I’m starting to think that my level of distraction is directly proportional to the amount of responsibilities I have.

If I see someone that rarely leaves their office and I see that they issue novel length emails, then I believe that they are irresponsible and inept managers…I mean people. Okay, maybe that’s just an isolated instance. No doubt all others who do the same are perfectly functional people. Uh-huh.

So, how much of what surrounds us should be taken at face value. People’s authority, the level of their expertise, the ability to handle stress, their friendly nature…how often is it just what we see (and thus believe) and not what is truly behind the surface?

Most of us aren’t honest enough to totally admit mistakes or own up to what is really going on, which is why I always find it fascinating when people speak their mind. Sometimes I don’t want to hear what they say (la-la-la-la…I can’t hear you…) because it makes me uncomfortable, but generally I think…wow…I can’t believe they just told me that.

I literally walked into an old friend yesterday. It’s the most “fortuitous” meetings (his words) that I’ve had in a long time. I haven’t seen him in about twenty years and I bump into him basically in front of my house. And I live in the boonies. I knew his parents lived down the road from me, but my understanding was that he rarely makes it back (lives in Toronto).

Anyhow, I certainly didn’t expect to see him strolling along the road with a baby strapped to his chest. I almost didn’t call out since I wasn’t sure if it was him. I did and it was.

This was my first “crush”, the first guy to make a small, yet painful stab in my heart, and probably the only one I actually wondered about once in awhile (not “what if”, but rather “I wonder what he’s up to”).

I invited him in to meet my family and we chatted for a bit. Not having kept in touch, I only knew about his professional news (he’s a musician) and I didn’t want to assume he was married…so I asked where “mommy” was. Without hesitation he said that they had gone for a walk, gotten into a spat and each walked away in their own direction.

I was so completely surprised to have him admit that. I immediately thought of 50 other versions that I would have used, but then realized – wow…I can’t believe he just said that. I haven’t seen him since high school and he’s chatting us up like we just spoke last week.

I believe that he is one of those people with whom what you see is what you get.

Lately I have found myself surrounded more by this type of person. Sometimes the honesty can be hard to swallow, but for the most part I don’t have to second guess whether they are “just saying that”. It’s certainly a refreshing change from the disappointment that comes from realizing that you’ve been played by someone you thought was in your corner.

The scary thing is that when your first impression is based on what you see, it’s generally after the fact that the dis-belief sets in. Which would explain the time delay between when someone is screwing around at work and the time that they actually get called on it.

For my sake, I hope that I can get this distraction thing under control before my delay is up!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Let me give you some advice

One of the beautiful things about working with a diverse group is that there is such a wide range of experience and personalities. It would be deathly boring if we were all the same – how could we move forward, brainstorming would become staring contests, and office jokes would all fall flat.

It’s a wonderful thing to work with a group of unique individuals. People we can go to when we are unsure of what to do. People we can bounce ideas off. People we can do the above and then completely disregard.

I don’t know about you, but if someone asks my opinion and I share it with them, I do not automatically assume that they will do what I suggested. In fact, sometimes I would rather not, since it makes me feel responsible for their choices. No. I would rather someone listens to what I have to say, mull it over, mix it with their own views, and then make an informed decision.

However, if I ask a few people the same thing and they all give me the same answer, I’m more likely to go with their suggestion. Not thoughtlessly, but I would like to think there’s truth in numbers. I’ve learned is that this generally true. Unless you are polling a cult that blindly takes all their directives from an egomaniacal, power-hungry freak.

Speaking of egomaniacal, power-hungry freaks...

When I see my boss listen to HR’s recommendations, listen to my recommendations (which were quite similar to those of HR), and then decide to go in other direction, I have to wonder.

I wonder what amazing insight does he have?

Although he readily admitted that he isn’t very good at reading body language and the subtleties of people’s answers, he has suddenly become adept at figuring out the best candidate based on staring at pieces of paper.

Oh, and the one he liked the best. The one who he felt he would work best with.

Except….he isn’t the one who will be working with the new person. He may not even know where that person is located and what they are doing (based on current trends). He may even forget (and likely deny) interviewing and hiring this person.

So, what I’ve learned is that it is futile to ask other people’s opinions if you do not plan to take them into consideration. If you have made up your mind already, then go with it. If you are that confident in your abilities, don’t feel you need to humour the rest of us by "asking for input".

I realize that sometimes it’s necessary to just get a sense of what others are thinking – even if you are pretty sure you know what you are going to do. I do this. Most people do this. It’s those that make a habit out of doing this that made me realize that it’s an incredibly annoying and useless practice.

Lesson learned – if you continually disregard the advice that you solicit from others, they are bound to get irate.

They may even contemplate feeding you ridiculous suggestions in the hope that you actually run with it.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Build a fence if you want, but don't sit on it

I like themes. I like something that ties everything together. I have been contemplating this for the blog; however, I don’t know if I can commit myself to one theme. Up until now – the common theme has been "me" and while that may be a fascinating subject, maybe there needs to be just a bit more to it.

The one thing I’ve tried to do is learn from other people’s mistakes. Vicariously experiencing other people’s troubles has allowed me to cringe along with them, but not actually have to go through the pain. It’s like participating in a life-size version of What Not To Wear.

So, for the next little while I think I’m going to try and focus on this. What I’ve learned to do (or not to do) based on those around me. Now, some may say this is taking the easy way out – that you have to live the experience to truly benefit from it.

So? I will pull my share of uh-ohs and doozies, but come on, it’s just not as fun to write about your own shit.

To start things rolling, here’s what I’ve learned about continually sitting on the fence, or if you want a more polished way of putting it, the inability to make a timely decision.

My muse for fence sitting is my boss. Actually, my boss and his boss.

I can appreciate the need to process information and make an informed decision; however, I get very impatient with double-speak and stalling tactics that are meant to detract from the fact that you have no clue what to do. It is also meant to mask the fact that you don’t want to take responsibility for your choices.

Throughout the interview processes, my boss was quick to make judgement, but slow to commit to a thought.
His most used terms say it all: "I don’t disagree with what you are saying" or "I feel the same, but differently". It is completely aggravating to have someone try and dance around the situation and refuse to give a concrete answer.

I do not have time for that. I do not have patience for that. And I certainly do not have respect for that.

Sitting on middle ground does not mean you are being diplomatic and fair. Tailoring your answers so that everyone feels that you are agreeing with their point of view is not a crowd pleaser – literally and figuratively. Refusing to take a stand and be accountable for your role and responsibilities is not hands-off management – it’s poor management. In fact, it’s non-management.

I do not have all the answers, but I sure as hell try to find one and then have an opinion. I’m willing to change my mind and admit that I was wrong, but to do so, I actually have to make a choice.

Although it’s annoying as hell to hear, "whatever you want" or " you choose" when it comes time to decide what restaurant you are going to eat at. I can live with it. It’s not a high-impact situation and the only fall out is that we are going to eat where I pick. Again.

I’m not talking about this type of indecision (although it does drive me nuts). I’m referring to the type of indecision that results in a worse choice than had you been blindfolded, spun around, and reached your hand into a jar to pull out the answer.

At least you would be able to justify the choice by pointing out that you had no clue what you were getting into.

You don’t have that luxury when you are dealing with the management of people. You can’t say – I didn’t know that they were like that. You can’t stick your head in the sand (or bury it behind a computer screen) and hope things will resolve themselves. You can’t ignore obvious issues and then quickly point your finger at someone else when things fall apart. You can’t apply a Band-Aid to a flesh wound and expect it to get better.

So, I’ve learned a lot from my boss. I’ve learned what not to do in a managerial role.

I’ve learned that the only true decision he has made is the decision to not make decisions.

I’ve learned that the supposed "soft skills" are the strongest part of the foundation of a good manager – without them, you have a technically competent (?), overpaid worker with too much responsibility and not enough skill.

I’ve also made a decision. I’m gunning for his job.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

More tales from the other side of the desk

I made it through eight interviews yesterday. I find it very interesting, but at the same time very mind-numbing so it’s a bonus when you have someone who breaks the mold.

I interviewed a candidate who I’ve seen before. In fact, he is my no-show from a previous session. Actually he arrived 15 minutes late for a 25-minute interview and pleaded ignorance (I just found out). I see a lot of familiar names, so I didn’t make the connection when I selected him for this session’s interviews.

When I saw him in the waiting room I recognized him immediately. My first thought was "greeeeat" and then my second thought was, "okay – maybe he deserves a second chance".

Whoever said that first impressions were overrated was dead wrong.

This kid is beyond being on another wavelength – we’re talking about another universe. When I asked him about how he stays motivated in work he proudly declared that he has a "minimalist" attitude. This intrigued me until he expanded that this means that he does the minimum amount of what it takes to get to the next step. He claims that he applies this logic to his overall living, his contribution to the universe (?), and work.

He sees no value in expending unnecessary energy. (Like thinking before you speak?)

I felt really awkward. Clearly I was in the wrong place – I thought I was at an interview. Too borrow my daughter’s term, "my bad".

To be honest, I almost burst out laughing. He followed this up by saying that the only conflicts that he’s really had with co-workers involve working in a job that he saw no point in, oh and his supervisor whistled all the time.

I can forgive him this since he had the eye-opening experience of finding out that being an adult doesn’t necessarily mean being "grown up". At his last term, he was very disillusioned when his respectful perception of people who are older than him was shattered when he found out that they swore and joked around all the time.

I’m thinking that a marathon viewing of all episodes of The Office is needed. Stat.

Anyhow, he won’t be joining us in September – unless a managment position opens up.

** And the saga continues.... I'm in second round interviews for the permanent position. Three interviews today and then it moves into decision mode. I'm confident that this will be an excercise in frustration and definitely fodder for the blog. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Tales from the other side of the table

I have to say that aside from the obvious benefits (experience) that I am getting form participating in interviews, I find it incredibly enlightening.

Recently I was one half of an interviewing powerhouse (the other half being my starfish of a boss). We interviewed all eight people that applied. That was mistake number one. One that I would like to say for the record, I had no say in the matter.

Previously I could only imagine the diversity of the people that are out there. I’ve now been witness to some of the most interesting interview tactics and answer. If you are in doubt of how to proceed at your next interview, may I suggest the following:

1 – Pretend that you don’t want the job. State that you know you make more than the position will pay and that you will not take a pay cut. Make sure that you emphasize that you will not be able to start until September. As a parting thought, leave the interviews with this gem – “I don’t want to brag, but I probably know the most about the business in the building”. (That’s a seller when you are applying for an entry-level position)

2 – Play the sympathy card. Tell us you want the job so that you don’t have to move out of the city (because you have another job lined up). You want to stay with your girlfriend so that you can start a family.

3 – Tell us nothing. Hem and haw about the answers and admit that you don’t know how your experience relates the to position that you are applying for.

4 – Admit you know nothing about the job, but that you are sure you can do it.

5- Your only motive for applying: to get off shift work (honest, I know, but perhaps not the BEST thing to say in an interview)

6- Why should we hire you? Everyone likes me. (They won’t if we give you this job)

7- How do you resolve conflicts? I don’t have any. (I beg to differ…)

In this day of self-promotion, I find it incredibly humbling that many people can be so open and honest. To a fault.

I know I’m picking on the interviewees – those that are under the glare of the spotlight and are nervous. Truly, if I were to pick on my interview partner, this blog entry would be MUCH longer. I suppose I’m just fascinated at the range of the human behaviour.

And so continues my covert study of the average person in average conditions. Don’t tell anyone though. If word gets out that I’m not really working for the company, but in spite of it, then all hell could break loose.

Of course, that would also be interesting to watch…