Sunday, January 25, 2009

Office Politics

WARNING: the following blog is vague and nebulous to protect the innocent and the guilty. If you can't follow along, draw a picture. That usually helps.


I've noticed something this week. People handle thing differently. No real big surprise there, but I wanted to share two different situations with you.

Situation number one.

I work as a contractor for the military. Not a building contractor. I have a contract with a branch of the military to do specific work for them. My military boss is a Lieutenant Colonel. For those of you who don't know, lieutenant is derived from the French for "in the place of", and colonel, well, it has the word colon in it, so use your imagination (just kidding on the colonel part). Military people move around a lot and have different job experiences within the same career field. This particular Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col from now on) has had many "assignments", to include being in Hawaii for several years at the Pacific Air Forces headquarters.

Recently, a new military person came into the office; a Major, with more time in the military than the Lt Col who is in charge. That's not an issue in the military. It's not about time seniority, it's about what you wear on your sleeve or collar that matters. Here's the interesting part. The Major worked at Pacific Air Forces headquarters at the same time the Lt Col did; but at that time, the Lt Col was a Captain, and the Major was still a Major, so was of higher rank. The roles had changed. The interesting thing with the dynamic here is, there's no animosity, no angst, no anger. That's just the way it is in the military some times. Now the student is the master.

There's no power play, no "Ha ha, I outrank you now!" none of that nonsense. It just works. The Lt Col is in charge, knows what needs to be done, delegates work to everyone in the office, including the Major, and everyone reports back on progress. That's how it is with the contractors in the office, too; most of them are retired military, one a retired Colonel. We all know who is in charge, do what we're assigned, and report progress or lack thereof to the boss. It's a very smooth operation, mostly because the boss takes most of the heat for all of us, but that allows us to continue to do our jobs.


Situation number two.

This one goes back almost two months. As background, one of my responsibilities is the standardization of all operating system and office productivity software for this particular branch of the military. One of the individuals in a cubicle near mine was having issues with a particular piece of office productivity software. It seemed to be a configuration issue. The problem started about two months ago, but I was asked about it two weeks ago. Because of my responsibility, I know a lot of the folks responsible for configuration control of the software on all the computers in this service. There was a configuration change made at our office (mandated from above) that "broke" this particular office productivity product. As far as we can tell, they are the only office in all of this branch of the service that is using this software. Like I said, I was asked to help out, and I volunteered to step in to see what I could do.

The issue seems to be bigger than we all thought. I had people in many places working on the problem, with minimal success. Since any changes will likely affect more than just this piece of productivity software, great care must be taken not to break any other software with this fix. However, the boss of the individual I volunteered to help is getting concerned that the repair is taking so long. That boss has threatened to bring in the bosses of the people who are trying to fix the problem. Now, I don't know these particular bosses. I will say, I'm not impressed with the techniques used to try to expedite the resolution. If I were trying to solve a problem directly and you threaten to get my boss involved, I would hope that my boss would support my stance and tell you that I'm doing all I can considering I have other responsibilities. What I'm hoping is that over the weekend the problem gets fixed and no bosses need to get called. But if that doesn't happen, I hope that one of those bosses tells the individual who is trying to play politics that they need to back off and let people work.

I guess it all boils down to this: threaten me all you want; I know I'm doing the best that I can do and that's better than anyone else can do, so just wait until I'm done. If I weren't the best at what I do, I wouldn't be here. That's not being conceited, that's being honest.