Photo by Dan Zelazo via Flickr
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.