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Document Everything & Do Nothing


A long-time colleague had this idea for saving paper: increase the margins on printouts. Management would regularly ignore this and her other ideas. So she would save them in an Outlook folder.

Three years would pass, or four, or five. And Management would come to her one day with a "brainstorm." What do you know? It was invariably the same concept. And she would produce it, and Management got the credit of course, and everybody knew where the brains were in the shop.

Sometimes Management would contact her with a "gotcha." A complaint, accusation, mixup or miscommunication. And again, voila out of her Outlook would come a response. Nip it in the bud she would say. Always be ready for war.

She and I worked together on a Tweet one time. Yes, it was a Tweet. A single Tweet and we had to submit it for approval. 

Hours we waited and still no word. No approval, no response and of course the window of good social media time had passed.

How had she "submitted" the Tweet? In writing, of course, like the good Govie she was and had been trained to be over twenty or thirty years' time.

But no answer was forthcoming. None ever did. Because the person she wrote to was a Govie too. 

It was the early days of social media still. And while my colleague took action and kept meticulous notes, her counterpart had discovered another truth about documentation:

Often you are better doing nothing at all. 

I watched all of this. Surprised. Angry. Disappointed. 

Time has passed and I understand both of them a little better. 

In the military, you have to take action or you will get killed: There is a clearly identified enemy targeting you, and it's either shoot or die. Maybe 50-50, but you have no other choice.

In government, the war is not so clearly defined. 
  • For some of us the enemy is inefficiency, lack of productivity, laziness, complacency, and of course waste, fraud and abuse. To me these are useful targets, because we can all agree and shoot them and walk away better for the trying.
  • For others though the struggle is murkier. They feel undervalued, marginalized, bullied, harassed. They can't think about the bigger picture because every day is a struggle to keep the job.
  • For some it's the day-to-day between the civil servants and the political appointees. The first group is focused on maintaining and enforcing the system. The other is focused on shaking it up and making it work better. So there's either frantic action or mutual pushback - gridlock.
  • And of course there are the self-promoters. They are incompetent and they know it, but they're going to get ahead nevertheless, using every dirty trick in the book. And in the process lots of good people sit there and watch as a potentially great organization goes down the drain.

Contrary to the popular stereotype, people who work for the government are usually there to do a great job. It would be nice if we could all agree on what we want from them. So that they can get out from Outlook, stop working in CYA mode, and start doing the jobs we pay them to do.

* All opinions my own.


The Unbearable Helplessness Of Managing


Photo by Robert McGoldrick via Flickr

I wanted to write about super-strategic leadership today. So proud of my little diagram, wherein I organize all work around one of four things, and eliminate the rest:
  • Purpose, or strategy
  • Process, or all things efficiency and organization
  • People, or the employee or engagement or human capital
  • Communication -- the center of it all, the part that makes everything else work - and yes it lacks a "P" word.

Can't do it.

We've been going to the nursing home once a week. My husband goes more often, because we're visiting his mother. But even the once a week is difficult.

When we go there I notice these...things. All of them have to do with helplessness. I see the old people, what they go through. It's almost as if I am them, wearing their slippers with the little rubber-grooved soles and it shoots my smug little attitude right down.

They play 80's music in the dining room. On an old-fashioned little black boom box. Mom absolutely hates that music. The nursing staff likes it though. It stays on.

I've gotten in trouble a few times in the nursing home. Because I move people's wheelchairs here and there when the nurses don't come -- the old people yell for help. 

The nurses try to be nice. One said, "I know you're trying to help. But it's a liability."

Someone threw up at the table in the dining room. We sat there, watching her heaving and gobs of brown liquid dripping down her chin. Nobody noticed for a while.

Her name was Beatrice. She was gone the next time we visited.

An overweight lady asked me for apple juice. I kept bringing it and bringing it, cups and cups. What did I know. They were so small. And again, it seemed like nobody was listening.

A nurse said to me, "She's on a special diet."

Today is Friday, and the government may shut down next week. I've been trying to ignore it. Say motivational things to my team.

But now I'm feeling kind of helpless, sitting here. No control over all the shenanigans going on. No magical diagram that's going to save us. No insight or argument that makes a difference in the world.

In the nursing home the people are dying. Some of them loudly, some of them watching a Presidential address on TV.

* All opinions my own.

That Moment When You Realize Social Media Has Totally Changed, Again, And Everything Else Along With It

Photo by PhotoAtelier via Flickr

So yesterday my sister asked me what it is I do. Because my job changed. Now I run a business. Supporting a Chief Innovation Officer in building an engine we can sustain.

Offices of Innovation are new. In government they're almost unheard of.

So I got the new work plan more or less done, finally. And her question plus the work plan reminded me -- time to update the LinkedIn profile again. That is my resume - that's it. My entire career is held, suspended, cared for in the trust of an anonymous social media provider.

Everything has totally changed, again.

We have Jive at work. We use it to collaborate as well as to communicate and express our opinions.

Remember those conversations way back when (not so long ago) about what would happen if employees started speaking their minds? And we couldn't stop them?

We had so many conversations...and here it is. The sky hasn't fallen in, at least not quite yet. People grumble and gripe, but they also say they like things. And they tell us stuff we need to know.

Progress!

I remember when just having a blog was a big deal.

Now, blogs themselves are old. Nobody has time to blog. They use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr. There are so many tools that conversation has lost its meaning. There are fractured conversations among micro-groups. We talk to our tribes. We talk past each other.

A million views of GIFs showing cats flushed down toilets. A million views of the kid who got excited about a trip to Disneyland, and another million of the little sister who didn't.

You think you're smart? Put it out there and find lots of other people ready with a retort.

You want to jump on a story quickly? You are too late! Already the Internet is abuzz.

Are you sensitive, or easily offended? Then you better not spend any time online. Because so much of it is negative, sarcastic, outright nasty.

Here I sit in my little world, which would normally be bucolic. But instead it's moving very, very fast. There is so much to learn (and I once thought I knew it all).

Social media has changed but you're missing the big picture if you focus only on that.

Our entire society is changing, the way we think and the way we organize labor and think about success.

The fascination for me is how to put it all together and drive results that are exponential.

While at the same time taking care of our people. Making sure they get to offer their best.

I'm strapping on the seatbelt. It's going to be an interesting ride.

* All opinions my own.