Sunday, 8 February 2009

Not burning our money, part II

In this post, I will focus on two clowns that I will call Bozo and Bumbling - I had to deal with them on all contracts that exceeded a certain value - I think it was $100,000. The two sat together at a single workstation with no partition between them. However, they refused to talk to each other, and communicated only by email or memo.

If I went to visit Bozo to discuss some aspect of a contract, he would talk to me as if Bumbling was not there, saying that he would have to take this up with Bumbling after I left - even though Bumbling was sitting there listening in.

Bumbling could not be enticed to join the conversation unless I ended my "meeting" with Bozo, at which point Bumbling would schedule five minutes for me to see him - generally in about two weeks time, and always in the middle of a meeting that he knew I couldn't get out of.

Although they worked on the same contracts and supposedly used the same policies and procedures, they could always be relied upon to contradict each other and sow endless confusion within the ranks. They were roundly hated by one and all.

I had to attend a project meeting every week with another bunch of managers, and we'd discuss our progress (or lack of it) at these meetings. A continual stumbling block for everyone was these two clowns. During one particularly exasperating meeting, one manager explained how Bozo had told her that say a purple X-41 form now had to be filled in as part of the contract approval process, which caused another manager to pipe up and say that Bozo had told him that morning that the X-41 was not to be used ever again under any circumstances.

At that point, I suggested we call Bozo. The first manager got him on the speakerphone, and we all sat back silently. He told her that the purple X-41 was now mandatory, and had to be completed for every project. She thanked him and hung up. The other manager then took the phone and called Bozo again. We all listened in some amazement as Bozo now told him that the purple X-41 was superceded, and not to be used ever again.

The manager of this group sat there slightly stunned for about 10 seconds, then blew a fuse and stomped off to tear Bozo a new arsehole. For the previous 6 months, he'd had to listen as we all told him how these two had been giving us the run around, and until then, he really didn't believe us. Usually, we'd tell him that Bozo had told us one thing, which we had done, but when we gave the file to Bumbling, he'd blow up and ask us why we had done something so stupid. For him to hear Bozo contradict himself within a 2 minute time period was just too much.

When Bozo was confronted not 5 minutes after these two calls, he denied everything - even talking to those two managers, even though a dozen of us had been listening in. The clowns certainly had a lot of front. In the state sector, you can get away with this sort of crap on a regular basis. We all knew that if he got the shove, the unions would be called in 1 minute later, and all of us would spend the next 6 months in an out of the arbitration commission, arguing over the minutae of conversations, and in the end, his lawyers would convince us that we were confused, rather than the clowns.

By a stroke of fate, the two clowns would end up reporting to that manager a few months later, and he did all he could to get rid of them - but in the end, he failed. They wore him down, and went back to their stupid old ways. None of their processes were documented or flowcharted, so no one could tell when they were being led up the garden path. The first thing that manager did was to bring in a process engineer, who sat with them for a month in an attempt to work out what they did.

After a month, the process engineer quit in disgust. They pulled the same stunt on her. They'd have a talk about a process, she'd document it as described, and in their next meeting, they would flatly deny everything they'd told her. I advised her to tape the meetings as a precaution against this - something she found preposterous at the start, but something she tried just before the end, only to see the two clowns walk out of the meeting as soon as the tape recorder was switched on. That was it for her.

I really don't know what their problem was. I suspect a lot of it had to do with there being two people doing the job of about 1/3 of an efficient employee. It was in their interests to make their jobs look as difficult and time consuming and confusing as possible, thus guaranteeing their future employment.

I usually spent my meetings with management pushing for both of them to be sacked for their appaling behaviour, but that was just too hard to contemplate. Much easier to delay, frustrate and damage millions of dollars worth of projects, as well as waste the time of rather expensive managers and staff, than sack the clowns.

I am still writing this. I had to publish it partway through due to some Blogger error. Come back for more later if you are still reading.


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